EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 20, 2013

No time to panic about injuries

On Pro Football
Hector Longo

---- — Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo are done for the year. Tommy Kelly hasn’t been seen in weeks. And Aqib Talib didn’t appear ready for as much as a square dance on Friday, making him at least doubtful for today’s dogfight at the Jets.

In my best Kevin Bacon on the streets of Faber, I will scream at the top of my lungs, “Remain calm! All is well!”

This is no time to panic.

The defense has arrived in recent weeks. Unfortunately, impact players have dropped like flies in the process, leaving the Pats relying on the Chris Joneses and Dane Fletchers of the world.

The Pats’ prime source of rhetoric -- yes, even bigger than “it is what it is” -- New England’s vaunted “Next man up” moniker faces a brutal test today at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey when the Jets host this band of brothers at 1 p.m.

“That’s why we have a team, it’s why we have a full team,” said Bill Belichick this week. “If we ever happen to lose somebody, somebody else has to step up and play.”

All those draft picks from trading down leave the Pats in a position to keep pushing forward.

Are their many teams in the game today that can replace a Mayo with a Dont’a Hightower? Probably not. You’re talking a young, first-round draft pick to step in and make your calls, not some free-agent scrub out of Angelo State.

Same thing in the secondary.

Guys like Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington and Alfonzo Dennard have matured. They’re playing better than they did when Talib arrived last year.

This defense dominated the Saints a week ago. That’s a fact that can’t be lost in the amazing Tom Brady comeback.

There are plenty of blue-chippers remaining, and they are playing well. Catch the recent emergence of Chandler Jones (4.5 sacks).

Most importantly, this group is young and improving. They feel good about themselves and are playing like it.

Panic without the missing studs and their seven Pro Bowl appearances? Don’t even think about it.

REX IN EFFECT

An interesting topic flashed across the local Twitter-sphere on Friday morning as several of us opined on Rex Ryan and his coaching ability.

Eagle-Tribune sports editor Bill Burt has Rex as a “joke” and “finished” in New York.

Football writer David Willis equated Rex with a “dead man walking.”

I’m here to tell you that Rex Ryan is easily in the top third of NFL coaches in the game. Last season I wrote, “Why has coaching sunk so low in the NFL?” At the time, I ranked Rex the NFL’s 17th best coach.

Since, I have moved Rex into my top 10, and not necessarily because he’s moved up, it’s just the coaching talent in front of him has spiraled downward.

Lets take a look at the accompanying graphic of my top 15 coaches, ranked in 2012 and 2013, and how things have changed.

Guys like Houston’s Gary Kubiak and Atlanta’s Mike Smith have been exposed as big-game phonies over the last half of last year and the first part of this year. The Greg Schiano myth has died quickly in Tampa, too.

Meanwhile, Ryan and Tennessee’s Mike Munchak continue to milk wins with limited talent.

Detractors point to Ryan’s 37-33 record as a head coach. Please remember, it was Mike Tannenbaum all those years picking his groceries.

He’s got the Jets, with a dozen first-year players and up to 14 different starters from last year, in the playoff hunt at 3-3. A home win today and they are in business. Rex deserves praise. Look past all his gibberish, and it’s pretty easy to see.

Ranking the NFL coaches 2012%2013 1. Tom Coughlin, New York Giants%Bill Belichick, New England 2. Bill Belichick, New England%Tom Coughlin, New York Giants 3. Sean Payton, New Orleans%Same 4. Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco%John Harbaugh, Baltimore 5. Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh%Mike Shanahan, Washington 6. Mike Shanahan, Washington%Jeff Fisher, St. Louis 7. Gary Kubiak, Houston%Chip Kelly, Philadelphia 8. Leslie Frazier, Minnesota%Rex Ryan, New York Jets 9. Jeff Fisher, St. Louis%Mike Munchak, Tennessee 10. Greg Schiano, Tampa%John Fox, Denver 11. Mike Smith, Atlanta%Pete Carroll, Seattle 12. Mike McCarthy, Green Bay%Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh 13. Mike Munchak, Tennessee%Chuck Pagano, Indianapolis 14. John Harbaugh, Baltimore%Andy Reid, Kansas City 15. Jim Schwartz, Detroit%Same