It only took six weeks for players from the Buffalo Bills defense to start questioning Rex Ryan's coaching acumen publicly. That has to be some kind of record for a coach who took his previous team to not one, but two AFC Championship games. It's amazing how swiftly the tables have turned since the Bills beat the Colts in Week 1 while making young Andrew Luck look decidedly below average.
That Bills team was exciting to watch, especially on defense. A half-dozen weeks later, I'm not sure who switched brains with Rex Ryan or got in his ear, but whatever the reason for this relatively conservative coaching style on defense, I don't like it.
What's wild is that I had heard that defensive end/outside linebacker (I guess) Mario Williams complained about the defensive schemes right after last week's game. I hadn't actually read his complaints until Tuesday morning. I figured it could wait until I was done watching the all-22 of the Bengals' blowout win over the Bills. I wanted to see if what caught my eye on film were the same things Williams was talking about, without the power of suggestion moving the needle.
As soon as I was done reviewing the film, I Googled his comments. Lo and behold, by that time Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus -- like Mario Williams, another $90 million-plus man these days, also came out on-the-record complaining about the scheme.
Both Dareus and Williams griped about how much the Bills pass rushing (and highly paid) defensive line was being asked to drop into coverage instead of rushing the passer. It was way too much in their estimation. I had the exact same complaint after watching them lose to the Bengals.
But, there was more to it than that.
Both Williams and Jerry Hughes, the defensive end/OLB opposite Mario (who also just got paid), dropped quite a bit more than I thought was beneficial for the Bills against the Bengals. Sure, they can do it, and hey, neither one of them got really exposed in coverage -- aside from one time that Hughes was covering Bengals running back Jeremy Hill in space and missed the tackle on the sideline that turned into a 13-yard touchdown.
Yeah, see, what happened was ...
Well, aside from that they were at least decent, OK. Stop bringing up old shit; that ain't the point.
The point is why would you not use your high priced, elite pass rushers (Kyle Willaims don't come cheap either, bro) to do what they do best? Especially when the Bills -- the guys who blitzed Luck 25 times on 55 pass dropbacks in Week 1 -- only blitzed the Bengals 13 times the whole damn game.
Yes, that means those guys were dropping sometimes when there wasn't even a blitz coming.
Well, it seems like Rex Ryan is suddenly determined to put square pegs into round holes by putting his scheme over talent, at least he was Sunday. We know that the Bills have four dominant defensive linemen who fit best in an attacking 4-3 scheme. However, Ryan has mostly been a 3-4 guy as a head coach. His father, Buddy Ryan, utilized the 4-6 zone, which might as well be a sister to the 3-4, as defensive coordinator of 1985 Bears to lead that team to a Super Bowl win. People were interested in seeing how well he would mesh his philosophy with the skill sets of the highest paid guys on his roster. Well, results are in and it ain't pretty.
Instead of putting his best players in the best positions to not only be successful and productive, Ryan seems to be clinging to his 3-4 roots a bit too fiercely and holding them back. While the Bills lined up 19 times in either an over or under alignment (4-3) against the Bengals, they lined up in a base version of a 3-4 defense 22 times (those numbers do not include third-down plays).
I'm not a math major, but I'm pretty sure 22 is more than 19.
It's much worse than just Ryan having his best pass rushers dropping into coverage too much rather than actually, yanno, pass rushing.
One edge guy, either Williams or Hughes, generally gets to stand up and either set the edge/pass rush on the edge or drop into coverage when they line up in a base 3-4. The other edge rusher often has to line up on the offensive tackle rather than being on an edge. That's pretty much the opposite of an ideal situation for most highly skilled pass rushers.
Even having Mario Williams, a human cheat code with his ridiculous combination of size, strength and athletic ability, two-gapping an offensive tackle is a pretty dumb thing to do on a regular basis because it's obvious he doesn't like doing it! I greatly admire Williams' game, but he's just not that guy who wants to be lined up head-up and wrestle with a 300-pounder all game. (He's in the red circle in the image below).
That goes double for Hughes, who plays with plenty of heart, but doesn't have nearly the kind of size and strength you generally want in a 3-4 five technique defensive end.
Seeing Dareus and Kyle Williams line up at zero nose struck me as also unnecessary.
So why do it?
I know the Bills have had some injuries in the secondary. Maybe that makes Ryan a little more nervous about blitzing and hanging those new guys out to dry. So I can find a way to excuse the lack of blitzing because that is definitely a legit concern.
My thing is that with the defensive line the Bills have, they should never have to blitz to get pressure anyway. Yeah, it would be cool to call them, but not what I would call necessary against most NFL offenses. I would think they could actually call a little more zone or maybe even some two-man under to take some of the pressure off your secondary, while also enticing opposing quarterbacks to hold the ball a little longer. Then he could unleash those four monsters he was blessed to inherit the moment he signed his name on the dotted line to coach this frigging team to do what monsters do -- get after the damn quarterback.
Nah,, I guess.
Ryan seems intent on trying to scheme his opponents rather than just his letting his players play. Hue Jackson coached circles around Ryan and put clown shoes on him on Sunday. That's obvious when you turn on the film. The f%#&ing chess games Jackson played with Ryan using personnel, formations and distribution to all of the Bengals' playmakers were pretty amazing. For most of the game, Jackson also schemed ways for Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton to get the ball out of his hands quickly, which mitigated the pass rush the Bills did manage to muster.
I say all that to point out that Rex Ryan put his best pass rushers in a sub-optimal position to rush the passer for most of the game. The payoff was that his secondary still couldn't consistently force Dalton to go through more than his first couple reads before finding someone open, many times wide open.
It's a wonder the Bengals didn't hang half a hundred on the Bills.
Yeah, I was hard on Ryan earlier this season after he after he called a soft-as-puppy-shit game (with all due respect and in my opinion, of course) against the Patriots, but I kinda thought that dismal performance was just due to him choking against a division rival coach who he happens to fixate on way too much. I really didn't expect to see him flop that bad again in any game that did not involve the Patriots, not even against a team with as much talent as the Bengals have.
Yet, here we are.
Look, I'm seriously dumbfounded trying to figure out what Rex Ryan is trying to do from game to game. Where is the big, bad loudmouth who gets off the bus calling blitzes? Where is the dude who was going to play to his players' strengths? Where is the cat who said he was going to turn the Bills into bullies?!
Because, real talk, that was a dude I liked a lot. That was a dude I could see winning big consistently in Buffalo, even without a top quarterback. That was a dude I thought could coach his ass off if given the right pieces.
After watching this film, I have no idea who this version of Rex Ryan is. And that is unfortunate. As tacky and inadvisable as it is for players to call out their coaches to the media, I do think Ryan should do himself a favor and actually start listening to what they are saying. The reason is simple, they are not wrong.
Take the shackles off your front four, help them help you win some damn games, coach. Now, let's all go and eat a f%#&ing snack!!!
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