Buffalo Bills: Square peg in a round hole

Head coach Rex Ryan didn't adapt to the team's strengths in his first season with the Buffalo Bills.
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

By Erik Stewart

Sixteen years. Think of how truly long that is. Think of all the things you’ve done in the last sixteen years. Think of all of the schooling you’ve completed, the jobs you’ve had, the life changing moments you’ve had during that time span. You have most likely endured plenty of changes throughout the last sixteen seasons, but if you’re a fan of the Buffalo Bills, the one thing that has remained a constant is their failure to reach the playoffs.

After the Bills embarrassing 35-25 loss to the Washington Redskins, a game they needed to win to keep their already slim playoff chances alive, the Bills were officially eliminated from contention, and they’ll be on the golf course for their sixteenth consecutive January. It’s almost a relief to be done caring about what I’d consider a season from hell, and the most disappointing one yet during this record holding playoff drought.

The Bills were supposed to finally get the monkey off their backs this season, as they were a roster loaded with talent and depth, ready to dominate teams with their top five defense and tough running attack. They added a supposed defensive genius in Rex Ryan, the man who was going to take their already great defense and make it historic, turning the Bills into the Seahawks of the east, a team no one wanted to go up against. Instead, the Bills are the team opponents are drooling at the mouth to play.

The Bills ranked fourth in total defense a year ago, and led the league in sacks for two consecutive seasons. This season, the Bills rank 21st in defense, and rank 30th in sacks, all while returning 10 of 11 starters from last year. Oh, and they also have two $100 million defensive lineman on their team, who have become almost invisible after Rex Ryan took over.

The Bills bread and butter was their defensive line, complete with three Pro Bowl players, and a fourth who earned strong consideration. Let’s take a look at the difference in their play and statistics, minus the injured Kyle Williams, since the defensive “genius” took over.

Mario Williams: 2014 – 14.5 sacks/2015 – 4.0 sacks

Marcell Dareus: 2014 – 10.0 sacks/2015 – 2.0 sacks

Jerry Hughes: 2014 – 10.0 sacks/2015 – 5.0 sacks

I’m not putting all the blame on Rex, obviously the players need to perform, but these guys didn’t suddenly just forget how to play football. Mario Williams went from one of the NFL’s most feared pass rushers, to a toy in Ryan’s scheme, a normally quiet player who has spoken out time and time again, criticizing Ryan’s scheme and style. Dareus has gone from one of the best DT’s in the game, to an expensive space eater, because God forbid Rex let him play to his strengths.

These guys aren’t the only ones who have seen a big drop in play this season. Preston Brown, who was in the discussion for Defensive Rookie of the Year last season, has been horrible this season, constantly lagging behind the play and failing to make plays that he made look routine last year. Nigel Bradham has regressed mightily under Rex, and a player most fans wanted re-signed is now one most would be comfortable with walking. Even guys such as Aaron Williams, Nickell Robey and Corey Graham have seen their play falter under Ryan.

There’s one difference between last season’s defense and this year’s, and that’s Rex Ryan and his stubbornness relating to his scheme. We all knew Rex Ryan ran a 3-4 defense, and we were gullible enough to believe he would adjust his scheme to the talent he had, elite talent, in all three phases of the defense. Instead, Rex tried to go square peg, round hole, attempting to get clear 4-3 personnel to fit his style, even though it clearly isn’t working. Mario Williams isn’t a 3-4 OLB, a guy meant to cover RB’s and chip TE’s, he’s a pass rusher, and he’s paid a lot of money to rush the QB. Sadly, if Rex stays, and he will, this will be Mario’s last season as a Bill. Marcell Dareus isn’t a space eater, he’s a guy who blows by blockers and makes plays in the backfield. Rex Ryan doesn’t seem to care.

So go ahead and hang up that jersey, unless you can find a way to get excited over these last two meaningless games. The Bills get the Kellen Moore led Dallas Cowboys and the New York Jets, Ryan’s old team, who has seen major improvement since his departure, and is fighting for their playoff lives. All Bills fans can do this holiday season is what they usually do, sit back, crack open a Labatt, and watch other teams prepare for the playoffs, as the Bills get ready for the NFL Draft, hoping they can draft the player that prevents them from adding another year to their embarrassing playoff drought.

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