It's no coincidence that three players from the Buffalo Bills' 2015 defense hightailed it to Jim Schwartz's defense in a 48-hour span. Inside linebacker Nigel Bradham and cornerbacks Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks all signed with the Philadelphia Eagles this week, back to a scheme they hope will showcase their abilities.
There's a good chance a few more players would've joined them if they could.
Throughout the 2015 season, multiple defensive players were blunt when asked about Rex Ryan's scheme. And in speaking with Sirius XM Wednesday night, Bradham likely articulated what others are thinking.
"I feel like our personnel was really more built for the Jim Schwartz scheme," Bradham said. "And you know it changed, and we were real dominant and we knew how great we were, and some things with some of our top players didn't like some things the way he was running it. It just didn't work out. So I think the personnel and the scheme didn't match."
We've regurgitated the numbers enough on the blog here. The Bills' defense fell from No. 4 to No. 19. The sack total free-fell from 54 to 21. In rapid-fire succession, Tom Brady (466 yards, 3 TD), Eli Manning (212 yards, 3 TD, 1 int.) and Andy Dalton (243 yards, 3 TD) all picked apart Buffalo's defense at Ralph Wilson Stadium to set a dreary, frustrated tone.
By the time compromise was reached against Dallas and the New York Jets the final two weeks, it was too late.
That finish certainly does provide a ray hope for 2016. Maybe the Bills, with a full offseason, improve under Ryan. Maybe that thick playbook sinks in that much more. And at the Senior Bowl, GM Doug Whaley cited the fact that the Bills were in a 3-4 before under Mike Pettine. But make no mistake about it: Three players from Ryan's defense all returning to a Schwartz-led defense is another sign that the pressure's squarely on Ryan to get it right in 2016.
In allowing the head coach to hire his twin brother, Rob, it's clear the Bills are doubling, tripling, quadrupling down on Rex. He insists they'll even be "fully pregnant," this season.
As for the personnel?
The Bills could look to sign a veteran once the free-agent market is a tick more sane and they hope to find a starter or two in the draft. Yet for the most part, last year's personnel will be next year's personnel. Ryan must maximize the talents of Marcell Dareus (arguably the best defensive tackle in NFL under Schwartz), Preston Brown, Kyle Williams and others within his own X and O's.
This week, playmakers past officially departed.
Bradham looked like a budding star at times in 2014, while Mario Williams strung together seasons of 10.5, 13 and 14.5 sacks before Ryan arrived. Asked about Williams' effort, Bradham again brought up the defense the end was asked to run.
"It was just one of those things where he didn't want to drop in coverage," Bradham said. "That's not his strong point. He felt like he was doing something that wasn't his strong point. And he wanted to play the game at his strong point. I felt like his effort was always there. The guy's a big guy. He can't really cover too many people. So he felt like he was at a disadvantage. And for him to be a captain and leader of this team and somebody this team was built around, he felt it wasn't built around him. The scheme didn't fit him. So I think it was just a thing where, with him and Rex, it just didn't mesh."
The Bills sure hope there's more meshing next season.