Rex Ryan is reinventing the Buffalo Bills, who were just a head coach and quarterback away from the playoffs. They still lack a quality QB. EJ Manuel, fast-fading first-round draft pick, lost his starting job as a sophomore to the ubiquitous Kyle Orton, who has since retired. But there’s hope for a ground game that ranked 25th in 2014.
Greg Roman, the new offensive coordinator, may be the most creative run designer in pro football. He put together the jumbo-packaging that helped San Francisco to the NFC Championship game three years in a row.
Ryan’s fatal flaw is the same as his dad’s. Buddy Ryan’s defenses were the best of the 1980s, but he was .500 as a head coach. The Ryans lack vision on offense because that would contradict their vision of granite defense.
Rex isn’t looking for a quarterback to win games, just one who avoids turnovers that stress his defense. Like the “46” of Buddy’s Super Bowl-shuffling ’85 Bears, Rex’s scheme deceptively rushes from so many places that no passer, not even Tom Brady, enjoys facing it.
When Ryan had good defensive players and running backs to drain the clock and rest the defense, his New York Jets did well: 20-12 his first two years, 4-2 in the playoffs. He beat Bill Belichick the one time they faced in the postseason, in 2010.
After that, the talent in Jetland slid, along with the record. Thank u Mark Sanchez and John Idzik. Could Belichick win with Geno Smith at quarterback and Dee Milliner at shutdown corner?
Ryan finds lots more talent in Buffalo, starting with the best defensive line in the league: Mario and Kyle Williams, Marcel Dareus, Jerry Hughes. The linebacking and secondary are deep, with solid starters Kiko Alonso and Leodis McKelvin back to full health.
The offense depends on Manuel being no worse than he’s been, while speedy wide receiver Sammy Watkins advances from an injury-limiting rookie season. You can count on Roman to produce a running game, even though it meant signing notorious badass guard Richie Incognito, creating a testy media moment for Ryan.
The formerly rotund, now lap-banded, coach promised to assemble a team of “bullies.”
He didn’t mean one that bullies its own, the way Incognito did Jonathan Martin in Miami.
So Ryan had to clarify: “I want the toughest, most physical football team on the field, and I want gentlemen off the field.”
Incognito, 31, missed a season and a half. If he made wise use of his time off, he should be healthier, mentally and physically, than he was two years ago when he played at a Pro Bowl level. He could upgrade the Bills’ weakest position.
“He recognizes he’s made some mistakes,” Ryan said. “He wants to prove he is not that person now.”
Incognito, who once called Martin “a half-nigger,” dutifully tweeted that he wants “to bring attention to a sensitive subject while proving to people that I’m not a racist jerk.”
Meanwhile, Roman brings baggage from San Francisco, where he was all but run out of town amid a flurry of hostile tweets. Including one from the daughter of the team’s general manager. And another from Niners tackle Anthony Davis. With a week left in the season, Davis disclosed that Roman once told him: “You know we can get someone off the street to do what you do.”
Roman may have been right about Davis: so inept at pass blocking last season that he was benched, replaced by the same Jonathan Martin who was bullied so often by Incognito.
Ryan is known as the ultimate players’ coach. He likes to laugh and mix with them much as Pete Carroll does with the Seahawks. It’s an unusual mix Rex is brewing, with his usual amount of bluster. But for the good people of Buffalo, besieged by winter storms, there’s a light at the end of the blizzard.