A losing record heading into the bye week is not what any coach ever wants to have. With a large chunk of the season already completed and a seat growing hotter every week, Rex Ryan is stuck in this very situation.
In his first year with the Bills, some people will say the expectations were too high for Rex Ryan or that the “chemistry” between players isn’t right, or any number of excuses for the Bills poor performance this season.
But being a Bills fan (and speaking on behalf of other Bills fans), I see the situation a little differently. Of course fans aren’t happy with the way the season has turned out. The Bills have been ravaged by injuries seeing running backs LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams miss two and three games respectively, in addition to having Tyrod Taylor sit out two games due to injury. Also, wide receivers Percy Harvin and Sammy Watkins have battled nagging injuries the entire year. There were even rumors that Harvin may retire due to his hip problems.
The few highlights for the Bills include a win against the up and down Colts in week one, a pummeling of the Dolphins in what was actually a solid win, and a comeback victory against the Titans in a game that hinged on a 3rd & 23 conversion from a scrambling Tyrod Taylor.
Unfortunately, the aforementioned injuries have just been too much for Buffalo. Their most recent starting offense against Jacksonville included EJ Manuel, Chris Hogan, and Robert Woods. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of Chris Hogan (or “7/11” as Bills fans call him, because he’s always open like convenience store 7/11) but we can’t have him matching up with a team’s number one corner back.
While some of the Bills’ struggles can be attributed to injuries, some blame has to land on the coaching staff.
To fully understand the frustration, you first have to go back to the offseason, to the hiring of Rex Ryan. I didn’t want Rex. He wasn’t our coach, he was the Jets coach. He was the big guy in the black sweater vest that we loved to hate ever since he took over in New York. He couldn’t come to Buffalo.
But fans did believe in team owner Terry Pegula, and Terry believed in Ryan, so we believed in Ryan.
Yet here the Bills are heading in to week nine with a losing record and more critics than ever before. Ryan has made some questionable decisions this season that can’t be justified by injuries.
First of all, Ryan is all about second chances, which is great in theory. He signed lineman Richie Incognito who sat out the whole 2014 season following the Dolphins bullying scandal. He picked up IK Enemkpali who punched Jets QB Geno Smith after confronting him in the locker room about some money he was owed. Ryan also signed free agent receiver Percy Harvin who has a reputation of being unpopular with teammates, which was the reason for his departure from Seattle in the middle of last season.
When Harvin was healthy, he was one of the Bills’ top threats. Incognito has been stellar at left guard and isn’t stirring up any trouble this year. Enemkpali has been on the practice squad for most of the year, so he’s just been a depth player. Overall, those moves haven’t looked too bad.
But the bad decisions involve the quarterbacks on the roster. Ryan acquired Matt Cassel in the offseason to become the starting quarterback, or so it was thought. Tyrod Taylor’s strong mini camp performance initiated an unanticipated Bills quarterback competition. Most fans had no problem with Taylor starting, especially after his fantastic preseason. Ryan handled that quarterback controversy well. When Taylor went down with an injury, that’s when the poor choices began.
The Bills shipped Matt Cassel to Dallas prior to Taylor’s injury leaving EJ Manuel as the only quarterback on the roster. Why on earth would Rex Ryan only have Manuel as a backup?
Since he only had Manuel, that’s who he started (although the Bills later signed Josh Johnson). EJ Manuel should not start in the NFL under any circumstances.
Blame Ryan for the lack of depth at quarterback, but he can’t be blamed for the terrible throws made by Manuel.
Manuel’s arm strength has improved since being drafted (still don’t understand why he was a first rounder), but is still shaky. He’s a very inconsistent thrower who will make some strong passes followed by a weak, wobbly toss. Manuel passes the eye test; he looks like a pro QB standing at 6’5, but for some reason, he doesn’t play like he’s 6’5. He is nearly the same size as Panthers QB Cam Newton but he refuses to move out of the pocket, even when he’s really not that bad of a runner. He’s agile enough to run more, but he chooses not to. A quarterback who can move around and create time is valuable, but Manuel just doesn’t seem to grasp that concept.
The play calling has a lot to do with the Bills’ struggles as well. Rex Ryan brought in fresh personnel upon his arrival in Buffalo, mainly guys he had worked with in New York from years past. It seemed like a solid strategy, bringing in staff familiar with how Ryan wants his team to play.
But the Bills’ defense from 2014 has completely disappeared in 2015. Their vaunted defensive line, the most expensive part of their team, has been all but silenced by opposing offenses. Ryan is known for his exotic blitz schemes and aggressiveness, but the Bills are not close to their sack totals from last season. Jerry Hughes, Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, and Marcell Dareus have combined for just six sacks this year. Three of those four recorded double digit sack totals last year. Their D-line fails to fill opposing quarterbacks’ heads with fear, one of their biggest weapons last season.
Plus, the Bills are undisciplined; they lead the entire league in penalties. That is something that only Rex Ryan can fix. Personal fouls need to be addressed by him. He’s responsible for his players’ actions.
On the offensive side of the ball, the play calling with Tyrod Taylor under center was solid. With Manuel in, some of the plays that could have been made by Taylor were not executed by the less talented Manuel. He also has difficulty on third down, often throwing well short of a first down, even in third and short situations. Manuel repeatedly struggles with reading coverages, frequently throwing to double teamed targets. That blame cannot be put on the staff, but rather on the shoulders of Manuel.
So why again haven’t the Bills been playing well?
Buffalo has caught the injury bug, which took down most of their top offensive threats, including their starting quarterback. Due to a lack of depth at the quarterback position, the Bills had to start EJ Manuel. With a backup QB leading the offense, the Bills have struggled moving the ball and converting in tight situations. Their defense has not adjusted to all of the new and different schemes that the coaching staff has in place, making them look overpaid and overrated, not to mention their lack of discipline which has resulted in the Bills drawing the most flags in the NFL.
That’s the ultimate recipe for a 3-4 record.
Luckily for Buffalo, Karlos Williams and Tyrod Taylor are returning this weekend for their divisional clash with Miami. And that means no more EJ Manuel. If Rex Ryan can right the ship by taking a game from their rivals, maybe the season can be revived.