The Bills have questions that need answering in what could be a make-or-break season for Rex Ryan.
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
By Erik Stewart
It was a disappointing 2015 season for the Buffalo Bills. A team with such a talented roster, an accomplished coaching staff, and high expectations ended up finishing where they always do: outside the playoffs. It seems the Bills are always winning 6, 7, 8 games, enough to not blow the team up, but never enough to reach their ultimate goal, and this past season was no different. With the roster they have, the Bills' pressure to make the playoffs is more intense than ever, and with some rumors of an ultimatum for GM Doug Whaley and coach Rex Ryan, the heat is on.
The Bills have talent, but there’s still plenty of holes that the Bills need to fill, both roster wise and schematically, if they want to reach their ultimate goal in 2016.
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Will the players buy into Rex Ryan’s scheme?
The biggest storyline of 2015, and for good reason, was the failures of the Bills defense under new coach Rex Ryan. The Bills, who led the NFL in sacks in 2014 and finished fourth in total defense, saw their rankings plummet in Ryan’s scheme, finishing 19th in total defense and 31st in sacks. Yikes.
The Bills had all the makings of a 4-3 defense, with Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes controlling the edge, and Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams securing the inside. Ryan, a lifetime 3-4 guy, tried combining the two schemes, and the results were poor to say the least. The Bills were shredded on multiple occasions this past season, topped by Tom Brady’s 466 yards in Orchard Park, a franchise-worst for the Bills.
The defensive players did not hesitate to call out Ryan and his scheme, with several players voicing complaints to the media, many of them considered leaders of the team. The most notable was DE Mario Williams, who went out of his way to criticize Ryan’s defense time and time again, a strong indication that guys weren’t buying in, and all around weren’t happy with the changes. With Ryan’s job safe, and roster changes on the horizon, it’s time for the Bills to keep the guys who will buy in, and get rid of those who are too stubborn to try, even if it means getting rid of some very talented players like Mario. Expect big changes for the Bills defense this coming season.
What to do about the offensive line?
The Bills offensive line showed a ton of improvement this season, helping the Bills lead the league in rushing, and it started with their dominant left side of Cordy Glenn and Richie Incognito. Cordy Glenn, outside of some rough stretches here and there, has been a solid, consistent piece on the Bills line during his time here, but 2015 was his best season by a long shot. Glenn has turned himself into one of the league’s top LT’s, one of the most coveted positions on the field. That means he’ll cost a pretty penny to keep, but if the Bills are serious about winning, and keeping QB Tyrod Taylor upright, they’ll give him his hard earned money.
The Bills also have to attempt and bring back Richie Incognito, the man the Bills gave a second chance to, and they were rewarded greatly. Incognito was the Bills best lineman this year, and it’s tough to find guys with his combination of skill and nastiness. Incognito was on his best behavior this year, and with his bullying scandal in the background, he’s in the market to command some serious cash. The Bills offense was much improved this season, and consistent line play had a lot to do with it. The Bills need to find a way to bring both of these guys back long term.
Is Tyrod Taylor the answer?
Be honest, you wanted Tyrod Taylor to start, and likely because he wasn’t Matt Cassel. You thought he’d be OK, maybe even pretty good. No one thought he would be this good.
Young QB talent is tough to come by in the NFL, but the Bills may have found a real gem in Taylor, who was signed this past offseason based on pure potential alone. Everyone knew Taylor was a great athlete from his Virginia Tech days, but many questioned if he could actually make NFL throws on a consistent basis, and he proved that he certainly can this season.
Taylor finished 2015 with 3,035 yards, 20 touchdowns, and just six interceptions in his 14 starts. Those numbers aren’t groundbreaking by any means, but for a player getting his first crack as a starting QB, it’s pretty darn good. He showed the ability to hit the deep ball, seemingly every week, dropping a perfect dime into a receivers awaiting arms. He developed a great chemistry with WR Sammy Watkins, who broke out the second half of the season, on route to his first 1,000 yard campaign.
Taylor also proved how dangerous those legs could be, shaking defenders, extending plays, and adding four rushing touchdowns to his record, on his way to becoming a Pro-Bowl alternate. When’s the last time the Buffalo Bills had a good, young, QB prospect like this?
Taylor wasn’t perfect. He had some bad games, missed some throws, failed to make some reads, but don’t forget, this was his first real season. He played well enough to start in 2016, and based on his play this year, the Bills will have a tough decision to make. Franchise QB’s aren’t cheap, but they also aren’t common, and Buffalo will have to decide whether or not they believe Taylor can lead this team to bigger and better things. If Taylor can have an even better 2016, he’s going to become a very, very rich young man.