LONDON – This wasn’t the offense Greg Roman expected to be run back in August when the pads first came on.
For months, the Buffalo Bills’ offensive coordinator plotted ways for LeSean McCoy, Sammy Watkins, Charles Clay, Percy Harvin, Robert Woods, Karlos Williams and company to sync together in harmony. Then, Tyrod Taylor won the three-way quarterback competition with his rare speed.
Seven weeks in, this group will have missed 11 combined games. Roman must make major, on-the-fly changes.
“Huge, huge, huge adjustments have been made,” Roman said. “And that’s to be expected. But that’s just part of life in the NFL. You adapt or die and we’re adapting and we want to live and prosper. We’ll make whatever adjustments are necessary.”
Roman isn’t going to Xerox copies of the Bills’ game plan this weekend for everyone, even joking on Thursday, “I have a copy of my game plan here if you want to see it. Do me a favor and give it to Jacksonville, too.” But it’s probably no secret how the Bills must adjust to “live.” McCoy will see a heavy workload and EJ Manuel must take advantage of one-on-one opportunities downfield against a lackluster pass defense.
Opposing quarterbacks have thrown for 10 touchdowns and only one pick with a 103.6 passer rating against Jacksonville. Manuel will have opportunities.
He just will be without his No. 1 wide receiver.
On Thursday, Watkins (ankle) was officially ruled out. The former fourth overall pick was spotted at practice in street clothes, but without crutches.
So Roman takes on arguably his greatest challenge yet in the NFL.
“My motto is I’ll do anything I have to do within the rules and that’ll never change,” Roman said. “If you check my past, you might accuse me of that.”
His first year in San Francisco, Roman helped revitalize Alex Smith’s career. The quarterback who had seven coordinators in seven years, never living up to the hype of a first overall pick, posted a 90.7 passer rating through a 13-3 season under Roman in 2011. Colin Kaepernick took over midway through the 2012 season and, suddenly, the 49ers’ quarterback was a read-option weapon on the ground.
Game to game, Roman would change the plan.
In the 2012 postseason, he used Kaepernick, the runner, to rip the Green Bay Packers for 181 yards on the ground. In the 2013 opener – after the Packers spent a full summer studying up on the option, even visiting coaches at Texas A&M – he unleashed Kaepernick, the passer. Kaepernick threw for 412 yards.
So, true, Roman has adjusted plenty before. He also had more talent in San Francisco, especially on the offensive line.
At least getting McCoy back last week helps in Buffalo. He’ll likely be getting the ball a lot on Sunday.
“You’re talking about one of the best running backs in the world,” Roman said. “Each player of that dimension brings a dimension that you can’t quantify. And when we start getting all those guys together, then it starts to force multiply. Then, everybody becomes a little bit better. So I can’t overstate how important having him healthy and getting back 100 percent is. I love what he brings every day.”
It’s far too soon to judge whether Buffalo or Philadelphia made out better from last offseason’s rare blockbuster trade. The Eagles took 25-year-old linebacker Kiko Alonso, who returned to practice this week from an injury. And the Bills took the 27-year-old running back McCoy.
Buffalo’s defense is sputtering six games in. But coach Rex Ryan hasn’t second-guessed that trade at all.
“Not for two seconds. No,” Ryan said. “If they offered that trade again I would do it.”
Back from his hamstring injury last week, McCoy still looked spry in rushing for 90 yards on 17 carries. The key now is staying healthy.
In addition to Watkins, the Bills will be without the following players in Sunday’s game against Jacksonville: right tackle Seantrel Henderson (concussion), defensive tackle Kyle Williams (knee), running back Karlos Williams (concussion), Harvin and Taylor. Limited at practice were cornerback Leodis McKelvin (ankle) and wide receiver Marcus Easley (shoulder).
McKelvin must be lifted from the non-football injury list before playing. And with a bye week after London, the Bills are hoping extra time helps Taylor heal.
“When you look at it,” Ryan said, “you probably, let’s face it, it will be a full month before he plays the next game off the injury, which makes sense. But really it is based on that he is … it is just not healed yet. The fact that he will get that extra week and all that it makes sense. We would have played him this week had he, had it been healed. But it hasn’t healed.”