Doug Marrone knows there’s a big, red bull’s-eye painted directly on his team’s secondary.
The question is, what will the Buffalo Bills’ coach and his staff do about it?
The Bills could potentially be without both starting cornerbacks and their Pro Bowl safety Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens if Leodis McKelvin — who suffered a hamstring injury against the New York Jets in Week Three — joins Stephon Gilmore (wrist) and Jairus Byrd (feet) on the sideline.
“The elephant in the room — and everyone knows — is that Gilmore is out, Leodis is out, Byrd’s not playing,” Marrone said. “You’re looking to attack, and you’re going to attack the secondary. The one thing I’ve always realized about this league is no one ever feels sorry for you. You’ve heard that expression before, and it’s really the truth.”
Bills cornerback Justin Rogers, however, might have received some sympathy cards after Sunday’s game. Rogers was flambéed by the Jets, giving up six catches for a whopping 247 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the eight times the Jets threw at him, according to the website Pro Football Focus. Those six catches went for an average of 41.2 yards. No other Bills defender was targeted more than four times and combined, the rest of the team gave up 84 yards receiving, according to the website.
“Obviously Justin had a very tough game — we all know that. We appreciate his competiveness in that and we’ll have to see what’s the best combination we have out there and what gives us the best opportunity to play well and perform at a winning level,” Marrone said.
That’s not much of a vote of confidence for Rogers, but the Bills’ options are limited if McKelvin is out.
Marrone and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine will have to decide whether they want to dial back their pressure this week in an effort to give the secondary some more support. Through the first two weeks of the season, the Bills blitzed (rushing five or more defenders) 31 percent of the time, according to figures kept by The News. That’s a substantial increase from the 15 percent of the time they blitzed last year, a league low.
“We have to see what we have to do as coaches from a schematic standpoint to see when and where to help those guys,” Marrone said.
Safety Aaron Williams was moved over to cornerback from safety against the Jets, but that’s not an ideal scenario.
“He went in there, and he played well. I think that we’re very fortunate to have a player that has that type of ability, but make no mistake — we like him at corner, we love him at safety,” Marrone said of Williams.
Behind Rogers, the other three healthy options on the roster at cornerback are rookie undrafted free agent Nickell Robey and the recently signed Brandon Burton and Johnny Adams. The Bills have used the 5-foot-8 Robey on the outside some, but he’s played most of his snaps as the slot cornerback.
Marrone said the team “is going to find out” whether either Burton or Adams or both re ready to be used in a game situation during practice this week. Their performance will likely determine whether the team shuffles Williams over again.
“We’re going to put them out there and we’re going to take a look at it,” Marrone said. “When you get out there and start practicing and the bullets are flying, you see how they perform in that situation. If they perform well, that’s great for us. That gives us some great opportunities. That’s what we expect and that’s what we’re looking forward to.”
The Bills like Burton’s ability to play press coverage. The 6-foot-0, 185-pounder joined the team off waivers from Minnesota the week before the season opener.
“I’m very comfortable with the defensive scheme. I’d say I have 95 to 100 percent of the playbook, the defensive scheme, down,” he said. “Give or take 5 percent because of the different schemes we put in for different teams on different weeks, but as far as the basics, I have everything.”
Burton said he let defensive backs coach Donnie Henderson know he was ready if called upon Sunday against the Jets.
“I mean, it’s natural. You see some struggles on defense and you kind of want to get in there and help with the cause,” he said.
The Bills instead stuck with Rogers, who endured what he called the worst day of his professional career.
“Just one of those days, specifically for me,” Rogers said. “It was frustrating. Just nothing going your way. They hit me with some double moves early, I guess they saw that on tape, so it took some of my aggressiveness away, because you’re worrying about the double move. Some of them were just good balls, great catches. Like I said, couldn’t catch a break.”
The Bills filled the roster spot created Monday when defensive end Alex Carrington was placed on injured reserve by re-signing defensive lineman Jay Ross on Tuesday.
Ross, 25, is a 6-foot-3, 319-pounder who was released two weeks ago after making the 53-man roster out of training camp. The East Carolina product played in one game for the Bills last season, spending most of the year on the team’s practice squad.
Carrington had surgery for a torn quad Monday, an injury that ended his season.
The Bills also made a change to their practice squad, releasing defensive end Izaan Cross and signing defensive end Adewale Ojomo.
Ojomo, 24, is a 6-foot-4, 270-pounder who played in college at Miami. He joined the New York Giants as an undrafted free agent in 2012, appearing in one game. He was most recently on the Seattle Seahawks’ practice squad.