Watch CBS News

Massarotti: Rex Ryan A Worthy Adversary For Bill Belichick In AFC East

BOSTON (CBS) -- Roughly two days before kickoff, here's a very simple experiment: Ask yourself how you feel about the Buffalo Bills entering this weekend's game in Orchard Park, NY.

Now ask yourself the same question assuming that Doug Marrone – and not Rex Ryan – were the Buffalo coach.

If your answer is the same, you're lying to yourself.

Look, say what you will about Rex Ryan. He's a buffoon. Or he's a big mouth. Or he's a blowhard. They're all generally true. What is also true is that Rex Ryan is as worthy adversary as Bill Belichick has ever encountered in the middle class neighborhood known as the AFC East.

Given the history of wretched coaches who have in the Patriots' division during this millennium, maybe that is by default. But it's also not that simple. The bottom line is that Rex can coach defense, and he showed some propensity for beating Bill Belichick and Tom Brady when New England had teams that seemed out of balance.

Entering this season, the Patriots again feel like one of those teams. With an entirely new secondary, the defense remains a question. And so if Ryan and the Bills can find a way to slow down Brady, well, we have the makings for a Sunday affair that would mirror many of New England's game against Ryan's earliest New York Jets.

The Patriots won more. The Jets won less. But many of them were legitimate fights.

Let's put it to you this way: If the Patriots needed a defensive coordinator and Belichick were willing to hire Ryan, would you approve? I would. In a heartbeat. There are obvious questions as to whether Belichick and Ryan philosophically agree on the way defense should be played, but put that aside. Sexy Rexy is good at defense, and no one knows it better than Bill Belichick.

In six career games against Ryan-coached teams on the roads, Brady and Belichick are a combined 3-3. Granted, New England has won three of the last four, but the last two have nonetheless been absolute grinds. In one of them, the Pats lost by a 30-27 score in overtime. In the other, New England won by a 17-16 count. Brady's combined output in those games included one touchdown pass and two interceptions, producing ratings of 53.5 and 76.1.

Don't get distracted by all the bluster. For all the yapping he does, Ryan respects the Patriots greatly. Like Belichick, Ryan grew up in football. The game is in his blood. On the defensive side of the ball, especially, Ryan knows the game, studies it, shapes it. The Jets' upset win over the Patriots in the AFC divisional round during the 2010 season remains one of the more painful defeats in the Belichick Era, and we all know the Jets thoroughly frustrated and confounded both Brady and Belichick on that day.

Only Belichick knows this for sure, but from the outside, it certainly seems as if he respects Ryan greatly. Remember Wes Welker's foot jokes? Belichick didn't stand for them. And take a good look at the handshake after the game anytime Belichick and Ryan meet. They hardly resemble Belichick's dissing of Eric Mangini, who had barely slapped five with Belichick before the Patriots coach scurried away as if repelled.

Just because Ryan believes in something hardly means he's a dope.

Of course, we all know the recent history of the dreadful AFC East. For the past 15 years, it's essentially been the Pats and everybody else. Whether or not Patriots fans want to admit it, that reality has hurt them as much as it has helped. This year, for example, Belichick was able to completely turn over his secondary because there aren't but a couple of decent passing attacks among the opposition. That starts in the division.

Will Patriots win on Sunday? Probably, if for no other reason than that they usually do. But the outcome is at least somewhat in doubt. And if you know that, you know this: We wouldn't have been talking about this game nearly as much if the Bills were still under the rule of Doug Marrone.

Tony Massarotti co-hosts the Felger and Massarotti Show on 98.5 The Sports Hub weekdays from 2-6 p.m. Follow him on Twitter @TonyMassarotti. You can read more from Tony by clicking here.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.