There was an interesting series of tweets posted today from Tyler Dunne of Bleacher Report (and formerly of The Buffalo News) regarding the breakdowns on defense from the Bills over the course of the season.
Dunne posted a series of tweets quoting an anonymous Bills defender. I’ll tackle them one at a time.
This #Bills player said that Rob Ryan -- not Rex -- was the problem. Rob was basically the team's DC in 2016. "He changed everything."— Tyler Dunne (@TyDunne) January 6, 2017
This really provides the context for everything else that was said. The identity of the man behind the Bills’ defensive playcalls last season seems to be a mystery to the general public; at first we thought it was Rex, until nominal defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman apparently took things over. Of course, according to Rex himself after the Steelers game, none of that ever happened.
Now, someone on the defense itself is saying that none of those are true at all...maybe. Rob Ryan may have been making the calls...or he may have just been installing the plays while some mystery man was actually calling them. Whatever the case, it’s likely that his influence extended beyond the red zone defense.
If nothing else, it’s a reminder that, ineptitude of the organization aside, the team is probably better off without the Ryan Brothers at the helm.
Bills defensive player on Rob Ryan's D: "Players hated it. Everything we played was dictated off the offense. We had no identity."— Tyler Dunne (@TyDunne) January 6, 2017
The arrival of Rex Ryan and “his defense” was touted as one of the things that would bring the Bills back to the playoffs under his watch, but that last sentence pretty much sums up the Bills’ defense in the Rex Ryan Era. The attacking defense that Ryan made his trademark in his previous stops showed up from time to time, but so did one that rested on it’s laurels, and on other occasions (usually against a divisional opponent) we saw one mired in chaos at all levels.
I want to bring up Mario Williams for a moment. He spent much of the 2015 season complaining about the defense and was rightly blasted for it before being shown the door (something that’s apparently becoming a theme with him). It’s okay to be unhappy with the scheme you’re playing in, as Williams was last year and a seeming majority of the players were this year. What’s not okay is quitting on the team. I could also do without the self-centered worries about dropping into coverage too often, but that’s just me.
One other note: Player I chatted with said Rob Ryan mixed man with zone so much it confused everybody. "It was all over the place."— Tyler Dunne (@TyDunne) January 6, 2017
After Rex was fired, Marcell Dareus (who had his own set of issues last season) said Rex’s defense contained “too much detail”. Bart Scott of CBS, who played under Ryan with the Ravens and Jets, ripped Dareus for his comments, saying that they “can’t put the playbook in crayon.”
This quote gives a little more context to the confusion (no word on whether Dareus himself is the one who gave it). Mixing man and zone coverage can be confusing, especially when done on a regular basis. Communication is a very important part of the game, and it helps to know what your teammates are supposed to be doing when the unexpected comes up.
Suddenly, Stephon Gilmore’s frustrations make a lot more sense...
In sum, guys on D livid because they felt the #Bills offense carried their weight in 2016 and the changes ruined a potentially great season.— Tyler Dunne (@TyDunne) January 6, 2017
This seems to be the shared opinion of just about everybody who followed the 2016 Buffalo Bills. The team finished tenth in the NFL in scoring offense and 16th in total yardage despite the 30th-best passing attack and a switch to the backup quarterback in Week 17.
Some notes to back up that claim:
- The Bills finished two games behind the sixth-seeded Houston Texans. Six of their nine losses came by seven or fewer points.
- The Bills averaged an even 22 points per game in their nine losses. Among the 12 teams with nine or more losses, only the Saints (22.1) and Chargers (23.1) performed “better”.
- The Bills led the NFL in rushing this season, yet only won the time of possession battle eight times and finished 24th in the NFL in total time of possession. A number of factors contributed to that (quick drives, turnovers), but there were many occasions where the Bills defense had a lot of trouble getting off the field.
In the end, there were plenty of things that did the Bills in. Defense, however, might be the biggest. Rex took most of the fall for that, and as the head coach (thereby assuming responsibility for game-planning, communication, and the actions of his staff) he deserves a lion’s share of the responsibility. The quotes, however, show that the “other” Ryan brother might deserve a bigger portion of the blame than anybody realized.