If Rex Ryan is to be believed, the Buffalo Bills’ defense hasn’t been struggling to pressure quarterbacks for most of the season because he and defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman have force-fed a new scheme to players unable to mentally detach from the old one.
Quite the opposite, in fact.
Ryan attributed one of the defense’s best performances of the season, during Monday night’s 20-13 loss against the New England Patriots, to employing the full measure of the philosophy on which he made his coaching bones as defensive coordinator with the Baltimore Ravens and head coach of the New York Jets.
The Bills only sacked Tom Brady once, but they harassed him throughout the game. They hit him 10 times, hard enough on at least one occasion to prompt him to get up slowly, and twice caused him to yell at his offensive linemen on the sidelines. Brady threw for under 300 yards and only one touchdown – a far cry from the 466-yard, three-touchdown passing day he had during the Patriots’ 40-32 victory at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sept. 20.
After that game and others, Bills defensive players expressed frustration over their inability to generate the sort of pressure they consistently produced last season on the way to leading the NFL with 54 sacks.
Defensive linemen directed growing complaints toward Ryan’s new defense, which features a 3-4 base, for not providing the same opportunities to get to the quarterback as the approach used last season by former Bills defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. Schwartz’s scheme featured a 4-3 base and aligned the ends wider than Ryan’s does. It also didn’t require linemen to drop into coverage nearly as often, something Mario Williams made a point of noting sarcastically after the Oct. 18 loss against Cincinnati.
But Ryan revealed Wednesday that, from the start of the season, he went out of his way to try to make a softer transition between the schemes – and it backfired.
“Look, I made a mistake tying into what was effective the year before, running similar defenses to what they had done the year before,” he said.
“But that is really not – to me, especially when you play New England – probably the best way to go obviously, evident by the Week Two performance” against New England. “OK, I knew better. I am sitting back there, I am telling Dennis Thurman I knew better, I know how to defend” against the Patriots.
“I should have taken that approach instead of, ‘Hey, we got this talent, we can do this.’ This is what we (as coaches) know how to do. Right now, this is our defense, this is what we will be moving forward.”
Whether it will do anything to dramatically increase the Bills’ sacks remains to be seen. With only 15 in 10 games, they’re are on pace to finish the season with 24. But as Monday night’s game demonstrated, knocking around the opposing quarterback can have positive results, too.
How much will the Bills be able to do that in Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs? The chances could very well be limited by the fact their quarterback, Alex Smith, is far more mobile than Brady and because the Chiefs throw a high volume of screen passes.
“This team is going to screen you a zillion times,” Ryan said. “They run all kind of different things … On each opponent, there are different challenges. So will (the defense) look exactly like it looked this past week? I doubt it.
“Now, do we think we will be effective? Absolutely.”
Ryan sounded more optimistic about defensive tackle Kyle Williams, who is expected to miss his fifth game Sunday with a knee injury. Last week, the coach put his chances of playing again this season at “50-50.”
“You know, maybe that’s still probably where it is,” Ryan said. “But we feel pretty good about the latest … MRI or something like that. It looks like he may have a chance to come back this year.”
As defensive line injuries mounted Monday night, the Bills were close to moving guard Richie Incognito to the other side of the line. How close? “Like, really close,” Ryan said.
Sunday’s game will feature two of the NFL’s top cornerbacks, the Bills’ Ronald Darby and the Chiefs’ Marcus Peters.
“I think Darby is a little better, but I really like this kid, man,” Ryan said. “I liked him when he came out (of the University of Washington). They don’t care who they put him on, so you will see him on Sammy” Watkins.
The Bills Wednesday re-signed wide receiver Marcus Thigpen and signed guard Ryan Groy, who had been a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ practice squad.
To make room on the 53-man roster, the Bills released running back Boom Herron and wide receiver Denarius Moore.
Thigpen spent time with the Bills earlier this year and also part of the 2014 season. The 6-5, 320-pound Groy joined the Chicago Bears last season as a rookie free agent from Wisconsin. He made three starts at guard for the Bears, who traded him to the Patriots during training camp.