As expected, the mail piled up on the digital doorstep while I was off in London. There were a lot of submissions to sift through, many of which reflect the mounting disgust and skepticism among Bills fans toward Rex Ryan and the struggling Bills.
It’s amazing, and a little sad, to see how quickly many people have turned on Rex. Many were dubious from the start, of course, but even the most critical observer couldn’t have predicted that his defense would underachieve to this degree.
Anyway, it was a good time for a bye. After the debacle overseas, we all needed a break from the dysfunction and drama at One Bills Drive. And it was refreshing to find at least one piece of mail about the other professional team in town.
Let’s dip into the bag. Remember, you can submit your questions and scintillating insights via Twitter (@TBNSully) or my company email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
@bcredmosquito asks: Any chance Rex is fired after the season if things really fall apart (6-10 record or worse) or does he still get another year?
Sully: Whoa, let’s pump the brakes, folks. I understand the displeasure with Ryan, but it’s been only seven games. There are genuine reasons for skepticism, but it’s preposterous to think the Bills would fire him after one year.
They’re paying Rex around $5.5 million a year over five. The Pegulas have piles of money, but they’re not going to eat that sort of cash. Besides, Terry isn’t one to make hasty decisions about his employees. He proved that when he stuck with Darcy Regier as the Sabres’ general manager well beyond his expiration date.
Ryan brought credibility to the organization at a desperate time. He helped sell the most season tickets in franchise history. He’s the face of the franchise and a guy with a solid track record as a defensive coach. There’s still hope for this season and if they flame out, he can use injuries and bad quarterback play as an excuse.
That doesn’t mean Rex is on a permanent honeymoon. He needs to win soon or he’ll wear out his welcome with the Pegulas. But if anyone gets tossed into the volcano if they don’t make the playoffs this season, it’ll be Whaley. Which leads us to:
email@example.com asks: Does Doug Whaley get fired January 4th or will it be sooner? There’s no way he makes it through the offseason, so the Bills might as well get a jump on hiring someone, right?
Sully: If the season doesn’t turn around, Whaley should be fired for his failed EJ Manuel experiment – reaching for EJ in the draft, doubling down with the reckless Sammy Watkins trade, and forcing Ryan’s hand by trading Matt Cassel.
As I said earlier, Terry Pegula is reluctant to fire people. He might give Whaley credit for some of his solid draft picks and roster acquisitions. And he might use the injuries as a plausible excuse. But if there’s a power struggle between the coach and GM, it’s one that Whaley has little chance of winning.
The Bills need a franchise quarterback. Tyrod Taylor don’t fit the profile. So the question is, will they trust Whaley to draft the next franchise guy? I wouldn’t.
Peter Zaleski asks: Mr. Sullivan, is there some type of formal/informal discussion between the Bills and the league regarding official calls from the previous game?
Sully: There is a standard procedure for teams to submit dubious officials’ calls to the NFL on a weekly basis. Teams send electronic complaints to Dean Blandino, the league’s vice president of officiating. If he agrees a call was botched, he can admit it in private.
Teams can submit up to a dozen plays for review, though I’m sure the NFL doesn’t want teams to abuse the privilege. Keep in mind, the NFL has official observers assigned to every game. The observers submit their reports on the officiating.
Word is, Doug Marrone sent 12 after last year’s loss in Denver. That’s the game in which two officials fist-bumped after a Broncos TD.
Joe DiSalvo asks: It’s hard to believe that this defense is so out of sorts. What are the chances that something is done over the bye week, from switching up the scheme to something as unheard of as rehiring Jim Schwartz to put his system back in?
Sully: Come on, Joe. Do you honestly think Rex Ryan’s ego would allow him to bring back Jim Schwartz to help coach his defense? As far as tweaking the defense over the bye, I imagine they’ll take a hard look at their blitzing schemes to see if there’s a better way to rush the quarterback.
Considering that each member of their vaunted front four called to simplify the pass rush, Ryan and coordinator Dennis Thurman ought to give serious thought to dialing back the exotic blitzes.
Scott Jax asks: Jerry, I thought the Sabres looked like an improved hockey club when they beat Philadelphia 4-3 on Tuesday night. Do you think the rebuild is on track?
Sully: Yes. Despite the record, it’s a promising beginning. I wasn’t a fan of the tank job, but you can’t deny that getting Jack Eichel in the draft was a colossal boost to the Sabres’ plan to construct a Stanley Cup contender.
I watched the OT win in Philly and was impressed on the whole. They’re a much better team than the last two sorry editions. Of course, it’s hard not to be significantly better than an uninspired squad that knew management was trying to lose and often resembled an AHL team.
They’re faster and stronger and their puck possession numbers are way up, as the early Corsi stats show. They’re more fun to watch. Holdovers like Tyler Ennis and Zemgus Girgensons seem elevated by the presence of real talent around them.
Eichel is a revelation. He’s strong and hockey-wise beyond his years. It’s hard to believe he just turned 19. I find myself watching him for an entire shift to see how he navigates the ice. He’s still learning, as we found during a brutal second period against the Flyers, but the kid is the real deal.
This doesn’t mean I expect miracles. I still think people are nuts if they expect a playoff team. This season is about the young guys developing and finding out what it’s like to play an 82-game NHL season. Eichel will endure some inevitable down periods. The same goes for Sam Reinhart.
They look like a 78- to 82-point team, well short of a playoff team. Enjoy the ride and don’t torture yourself by setting expectations unreasonably high.