IRVING, Texas (AP) — Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan doesn't pretend to ignore that the Cowboys are playing Cleveland for the first time since the Browns dumped him when they fired Eric Mangini two years ago.
Even when he's pretending.
"Honestly, I'm going to say no," Ryan said when asked if he had discussed this week's personal motivation with his players. "Honestly, I haven't talked about it. Honestly, I don't know how that got out there."
How about dishonestly?
"I've addressed a few things," said Ryan, the twin brother of New York Jets coach Rex Ryan.
Ryan says Sunday's game at Cowboys Stadium is personal for a pretty simple reason. He didn't think two years was enough to try to turn a franchise that has now missed the playoffs nine straight years and reached the postseason just twice since 1990.
To him, it doesn't really matter that Cleveland's ownership and front office changed in midseason, and that more changes are likely in the offseason.
"Anytime you pour everything you have into it and apparently management didn't see it as it was good enough, of course it's personal," Ryan said.
Ryan's animosity doesn't extend to his former players, though. He sounds like he wouldn't mind having some of them still on his side, particularly defensive backs T.J. Ward, Sheldon Brown and Joe Haden in a secondary that has Cleveland ranked sixth in the league with 10 interceptions.
"These are some of the best people I ever coached, so I still love those guys," Ryan said. "But I plan on beating them."
Ryan's first year in Dallas after the Cleveland firing was a little rough. The Cowboys had one of the worst pass defenses in franchise history and rarely made big plays when they needed them late in the year. Two late-season losses to the New York Giants essentially kept Dallas out of the playoffs, and the Cowboys didn't sack Eli Manning once in 47 pass attempts in the first game.
That's not exactly what Dallas had in mind when Ryan brought an attacking style to go with his boisterous and demonstrative sideline behavior, but this year has been better.
The Cowboys harassed Manning and held him to 190 passing yards despite losing 29-24 in the first game after defensive leader Sean Lee was lost to a season-ending toe injury. Dallas held Atlanta, unbeaten at the time, to 19 points in another close loss before the defense scored twice in the fourth quarter of last week's win over Philadelphia.
"We've been playing pretty well the last few weeks," Ryan said. "I think we're hitting it at the right time. I think our guys are starting to go after it."
Ryan has cut his hair and the size of his waistline since he was in Cleveland, but the Browns will probably be able to recognize him.
"He was a hoot," Browns offensive lineman Joe Thomas said. "He's really funny and he's a great defensive coordinator."
Ryan will be out to prove it Sunday.
Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL
Follow Schuyler Dixon on Twitter at https://twitter.com/lschuylerd