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Rex Ryan's Greatest Strengths Are His Greatest Liabilities

Can Ryan reel in his worst impulses for the playoffs?

By Josh Alper
|  Tuesday, Dec 28, 2010  |  Updated 11:00 AM EDT
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Rex Ryan's Greatest Strengths Are His Greatest Liabilities

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There is no doubt that the supreme confidence that Rex Ryan has in himself and his football team has been a boon to the team this season.

You need only look at the wins against Cleveland, Detroit and Houston as signs that the Jets draw a great deal of strength from their coach's unwillingness to concede defeat. The win over the Steelers showed that the Jets are able to block out negativity and focus only on their strengths when push comes to shove. The same could be said of last year's playoff run, which everyone but the Jets said was impossible because the Jets were gifted a spot in the postseason by the Colts' unwillingness to try for a win in Week 16.

Those are all great positives for a team and for a coach who has the Jets in the playoffs in consecutive years for only the fifth time in their mostly miserable history. The only problem is that his immense confidence comes with some strings attached.

On Sunday against the Bears, Ryan's unwillingness to consider the downside of his decisions cost the team dearly. The failed fake punt on the first series of the second half was a well-designed play that only failed because Brad Smith dropped a good pass. That doesn't make the idea of handing the ball to the Bears inside your own territory up by a touchdown any smarter, however.

There are times to take big risks, but that wasn't one of them. Nor were the punt and kickoff that followed later in the third quarter when Ryan elected to let Devin Hester get a crack at making returns. Hester predictably made them pay and gave his offense short fields that they turned into two more touchdowns. There's the hubris involved in thinking that kicking to Hester will work out well for you, but there's also the wild overconfidence Ryan has in a defense that doesn't deserve it.

The defense didn't have its first terrible game until the Patriots shredded them a few weeks ago, but the writing has been on the wall for some time. The lack of a pass rush has made the team susceptible to passing attacks for months and Ryan's response has been to constantly trumpet their statistical ranking in relation to the rest of the league. The team's been failing the smell test for weeks, though, and those statistics have been the refuge of a blind fool.

The only defense for kicking to Hester or going for it on fourth down is the idea that your defense can stand its ground in front of a short field. Ryan's pride in his defense knows no bounds, which is what makes him the only man in town who actually thinks that defense is capable of making such a stand right now. That blind faith killed the Jets on Sunday and it will sink them come the playoffs if Ryan continues to rely on what's in his heart at the expense of the evidence right in front of his eyes.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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