LONDON – Rex Ryan, who is rarely at a loss for words, was silent here on Tuesday. The Bills’ loquacious head coach was not available to provide updates on his team’s mounting injury report, or to respond to the latest criticism of his defense from a prominent member of his front four, Mario Williams.
Ryan, who hadn’t gone two days without addressing the media since the start of training camp, wasn’t on hand at the posh training facility of the Premier League’s Tottenham Hotspurs, where a handful of Bills collaborated with soccer stars in a joint NFL football clinic for a couple of hundred local kids.
No doubt, Ryan and his assistant coaches were squirreled away in some temporary English retreat, summoning their considerable coaching genius to prepare their staggering squad for Sunday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium.
That left Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly, the historic face of the franchise, and Marcell Dareus, the newly minted $100 million defensive tackle, to handle the tough issues. And both joined Mario Williams in questioning the way Ryan has been using his fabulously rich front four this year.
“Dropping Mario Williams into coverage a lot?” Kelly asked. “Didn’t we pay him a lot of money to hit the quarterback? If I’m the opposing quarterback and I see him dropping into coverage – and Jerry Hughes – oh, that’s a big plus. I would definitely have a big smile on my face.”
Dareus had a smile on his face for virtually the entire morning. The Pro Bowl defensive tackle can be a knucklehead at times, but he’s an affable guy, a big kid at heart. He was the only defensive starter to participate and took a lot of joy in kicking around the soccer ball with the Tottenham youth.
He said he wasn’t aware of what Mario Williams said after the loss to the Bengals on Sunday. But when informed that Mario had expressed frustration with Ryan’s defensive schemes, Dareus backed him up. They might not know where they’re lining up on any given play, but the defensive linemen are standing together on this issue.
“Well, he said it,” Dareus said of Mario’s comments. “They want us to perform. They pay us all this money. We feel like we’re biting the bullet on some things, because we want to use our talents to the best of our ability, but we want to work together inside the defense.”
The Bills had no sacks and no takeways in Sunday’s 34-21 loss to Cincinnati, their third consecutive home defeat. They have nine sacks in six games, which is tied for 24th in the NFL and on pace to match the team’s lowest total since the strike season of 1982. They had 54 sacks last season and a franchise record 57 the year before.
“The combination just ain’t there yet, because we’re still trying to figure things out,” said Dareus, who has one sack this season. “But it makes me a little crazy when people look at us like, ‘Well, you all aren’t getting the sacks.’ You media come to us and ask questions. It makes it look funny, but we’re not doing the things that got us there last year or the year before that.
“Teams are getting rid of the ball,” he said. “We do have schemes going in, and we’re trying to work them. It’s football. They get paid, too. So it’s hard.”
Yes, but most teams don’t have a front four with aggregate contracts paying more than a quarter billion dollars, and a head coach with a reputation as one of the game’s top defensive minds pulling down more than $5 million a year.
Mario Williams talked about the defensive line’s “income” after the embarrassment against the Bengals. He and Dareus both have $100 million deals. It’s clear that they’re feeling the public pressure to justify the lucre, and resentful that Ryan’s complex blitzing packages are compromising their ability to get to the quarterback.
“They pay us a lot of money,” Dareus said. “We want to use our talents to the best way that we know how. If we’re going to be dropping, we don’t want to get questions about why we’re not getting sacks, and that’s simply it. We want to make some plays.
“We don’t want fans to look at us crazy. Shoot, we like making plays.
“We like being out there, exerting a lot of energy and having fun,” he said. “But when we’re dropping, when I’m not on the field on third down, or I’m dropping or Kyle (Williams) is dropping or Mario is dropping or Jerry (Hughes) is dropping, it’s like there’s not been a lot of times it’s all four of us, full tilt, ears pinned back and we’re just going after it.
“We haven’t had a lot of that this year,” Dareus said. “So hopefully, Rex is going to implement it and we’ll see what we can do.”
I’m sure Dareus felt Ryan’s time was better spent tweaking his pass rush than preaching the joys of NFL football to the Tottenham youth. This is no tourist stop. It doesn’t matter if they play this game in Buffalo or Britain or Bahrain, the heat is on Rex to getting the Pegulas’ money’s worth out of the Quarter Billion Club.
Kelly joked that Bruce Smith would have ignored the coaches and done his own thing. Asking Bruce to drop into coverage would have been like asking Bruce Springsteen to do 75-minute concerts. Kelly said Mario should have taken his complaints directly to the coaches, but this isn’t the first time the linemen have expressed their feelings publicly.
Two weeks earlier, Hughes, Dareus and Kyle Williams suggested simplifying the scheme. That clearly emboldened Mario Williams, normally a reticent and elusive spokesman, to join the chorus. They’re calling on Ryan to make this right. I can only imagine what they’re saying about him behind the scenes. The words “Jim Schwartz” come to mind.
Ryan will address these and other issues Wednesday at the Bills’ practice facility when he speaks for the first time in three days. By Rex’s standards, that’s an eternity. I imagine he’ll assure us that he’s been around the game a long time and is confident that the pass rush will come around very soon.
The Jaguars gave up a league-leading 71 sacks last year. There better be a lot of smiling faces after Sunday’s game at Wembley. We’re nearing the midpoint of Year One in the Ryan era. How in the world could he still be trying to figure it out?