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The Buffalo Bills are an organization adrift, yet again

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If there’s a fire you’re trying to douse, you can’t put it out from inside the house.

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Pardon my French:

What the hell is going on at One Bills Drive? Today the Bills fired offensive coordinator Greg Roman, two weeks into the 2016 NFL season. The team just came off of a 37-31 loss to the New York Jets. While the offense spun its wheels Thursday night, that was clearly overshadowed by the abysmal performance of Buffalo’s defense. Yet when Rex Ryan decided to make a change (and there was no directive forcing his change), it’s Roman who gets the boot? Not Dennis Thurman, who was the coordinator as Buffalo’s defense took three steps back last season? Not Rob Ryan or (even) Ed Reed, the newfangled saviors of the secondary?

Going off of recent memory, this is the earliest a Bills coach has been fired in the season since Turk Schonert was canned right before the 2009 season. Remember that guy? Let’s jog your memory.

Schonert was an NFL quarterbacks coach for 15 years until he got promoted to replace Steve Fairchild. He coached Buffalo’s offense for one season, and the team ranked 23rd in points, 25th in yards, and 24th in turnovers that year. He unsuccessfully tried to put together a no-huddle offense, then Alex Van Pelt was given the nod. Since then, he has worked in the UFL, and most recently coached receivers in the CFL.

Greg Roman began as an offensive line assistant. He was Jim Harbaugh’s offensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers from 2011-2014, and also ran Buffalo’s offense last year. Here’s how he did in that span:

2011: 11th in points, 26th in yards, 1st in turnovers
2012: 11th in points, 11th in yards, 2nd in turnovers
2013: 11th in points, 24th in yards, 2nd in turnovers
2014: 25th in points, 20th in yards, 11th in turnovers
2015: 12th in points, 13th in yards, 8th in turnovers

Does that look like a problem to you?

Greg Roman was the highest paid offensive coordinator in the league. He comes from a strong coaching tree. His teams produced clear results on the field. He’s widely considered to have a serious gift for building up a playbook with options on top of options for countering defenses. He has a “ground and pound” mentality, but so what? The guy is innovating even if he’s doing it with extra linemen.

Incidentally, that much-decried fourth-and-short package that was pulled out three times last night? I really don’t see a problem with it. In fact, I love it.

  • EJ Manuel has a good hard count. We’ve seen demonstrable results of him drawing opponents offsides. This works when you clearly don’t want to run a play but have the chance to earn a free first down.
  • Manuel is actually really good at the QB sneak. On 3rd/4th and short, he has rushed 16 times in his career and earned 12 first downs.
  • It’s not like you’re snapping the ball to a defensive tackle or something. Manuel is still trained in handing the ball off or throwing it like a quarterback, so defenses have to account for that threat. He just happens to be 6’5” and built up with plenty of bulk.
  • Tyrod playing at wide receiver is a real interesting wrinkle that gives Buffalo’s offense big-play potential if the defense is caught sleeping.
  • The players (especially EJ) clearly love running it.

(By the way, this is the type of discussion I’d like to be having after a game is over. Not trying to find words to explain why the Bills just fired the highest-paid offensive coordinator in the NFL)

What I’m getting at is this: Greg Roman was not the problem at One Bills Drive. At least, not on the field. for one thing, it’s only two games into the season. The offensive line has been passable (and had to go up against two well-respected defensive lines). The running game was stymied, but that’s what we were expecting against Brandon Williams and Muhammad Wilkerson. Receivers have been winning their matchups. The real problem on offense has been Tyrod Taylor. He’s not processing the field fast enough. He’s not setting his feet and throwing with authority. The spark from 2015 hasn’t found kindling in 2016. But there’s no way to know if Taylor will continue to struggle, let alone who’s to blame for that. Certainly not a fireable offense, and certainly not two weeks into the season. Something else is up here. It must be nice to have Pegula on your side.

No, the issue here is traceable back to Rex Ryan. Last night, Ryan was thoroughly outcoached. He left both Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby one-on-one the whole night long, and Ryan Fitzpatrick and his receivers feasted by forcing them to run deep and anticipate if or when the route would break off into a back shoulder fade. Both players were out of their element and both were gassed (although Darby finally got his feet under him in the second half), but Ryan completely failed to provide them any kind of support. Where the hell were the safeties?

It’s not like the Jets were particularly concerned with the middle of the field. While, yes, Chan Gailey is no stranger to slot receivers, they were making hay by finding space on the sidelines (and there were plenty of those moments). Where was Aaron Williams, streaking in to break up the pass from up top?

Where were the tricky blitzes, or the creative false pressures? After Jerry Hughes bit his tongue, the pass rush evaporated, and Ryan just stuck to rushing three or four with little variation. Fitzpatrick fails as a quarterback when he needs to make blind throws or anticipate a window between defenders. If you let him rear back and throw, or if you open a lane for him to improvise and run, he’ll live another day. What began as a defense being exhausted by a lopsided time of possession, turned into a circus.

And honestly, why I come back to Rex Ryan is that I consider this his first real act of cowardice. I have endorsed “the process” for the Bills since the Ryan hiring was announced, looking optimistically towards the benefits he and his staff could bring. The importance of CONTINUITY. By picking a scapegoat this early, Ryan just accelerated that “process.” If the Bills continue to struggle? He’s next.

One more hot take from a guy who would much rather cool things down. Doug Whaley, too, can consider himself on notice.

  • EJ Manuel - Probably exists somewhere on the spectrum between Case Keenum and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Highly unlikely he sticks with Buffalo next year.
  • Robert Woods - Out of a pretty forgettable wide receiver draft class, Woods ranks fifth in career receiving yards and fourth in touchdowns. As the fifth receiver drafted, he earns “par,” which basically sums up his Bills career. No one will be shocked when he signs with another team next year.
  • Kiko Alonso - One memorable season, one ACL injury, one memorable trade, and that’s all she wrote.
  • Marquise Goodwin - You could say that the jury’s still out on Goodwin, who looked like a cromulent receiver for the first time in a while last night, but still managed to get injured before the end of the game. Or you could say it’s time to move on.
  • Sammy Watkins - You know what, I’m not going to touch this topic right now. Myself and the people who speak loudest on this forum will not get along.
  • Cyrus Kouandjio - Actually looking really good. It only took three years, and apparently it only works at left tackle.
  • Preston Brown - Solid, then terrible, now back to solid. There’s still hope?
  • Seantrel Henderson - One of the worst-performing tackles in the league during his career, but they kept starting him anyway.
  • Ronald Darby - Looked good last year. Crossing my fingers that he just hit a sophomore slump.
  • John Miller - Was terrible last season, looks improved this year. Keep the trajectory, pleaes.
  • Karlos Williams - One memorable season, one memorable offseason, one suspension, that’s all she wrote.
  • Shaq Lawson - Still rehabbing that shoulder injury.
  • Reggie Ragland - Still rehabbing that ACL injury.
  • Adolphus Washington - Played the fewest snaps of any defensive lineman last night.
  • Cardale Jones - Project who will be inactive for two years.

Those are the only useful drafted contributors to stick with the team since Whaley began his contention for the helm of the ship. A backup quarterback. The living definition of “average #2 receiver.” An oft-injured linebacker who was traded after one season. An oft-injured speed receiver. A star receiver who cannot escape the ire of the fanbase. A sushi-raw left tackle. A scheme-limited linebacker. A lousy right tackle. A good cornerback, a raw offensive guard, and an undisciplined power back. Two players with unfortunate injuries, a rotational defensive tackle, and another project quarterback.

Throw in someone like Duke Williams if you want. It doesn’t really matter. The point is, Doug Whaley is not getting the job done either on the talent pool. Not often enough. The fact that the Bills needed to reach for linebacker depth and defensive linemen this offseason, that the Jets and the Patriots can put together an embarrassment of riches around the roster, that suggests to me that Whaley isn’t doing well enough.

It’s the free agents, too. For all his accolades as a pro scout, Whaley hasn’t found much more useful around the NFL than Charles Clay, Corey Graham and Richie Incognito. And for every one of those signings, he added a Chris Williams or a Jerome Felton to burden the salary cap.

I’ve been an optimistic apologist for the general manager for the last four years. I understand his process, and I know what he looks for. I don’t think he’s making the best choices, and I’m seeing other teams outdo him in real time. The Raiders and the Jets are primed for playoff competition while the Bills spin their wheels.

This Bills organization feels like a rudderless ship, and as the losses mount, it will only turn to infighting. It needs a leader, a visionary, and more importantly, someone who knows what he’s doing. These days, it’s looking more and more like the current regime can’t handle the task.