Just for kicks, let’s return to Rex Ryan’s introductory news conference after the Bills hired him as their head coach and savior. Unless you have a memory like a cornerback, you’ll recall Ryan emphatically telling anyone willing to listen the Bills were going to be bullies in the NFL this season.
“It’s the truth,” Ryan said. “We can put it up there. Put everything you want on our opponents’ bulletin board. That’s fine. The Bills say they’re a physical football team. They say they’re going to out-prepare you. We’re going to outwork you and all that stuff. Go ahead and put it up there. I don’t care.”
Anyone who has come across bullies knows the majority are only tough when they’re not really being tested. They usually back down when some quiet, confident kid comes along and refuses to be intimidated. That’s when the bully extends his hand, claims he was only kidding around and asks to be friends.
Ryan has been exposed much the same this season. It has become more obvious with every loss that he’s just another big talker who schmoozed his way through the interview process, gained support in Bills Nation by embracing the community and came up soft when it really mattered.
Let’s face the facts: Rex has backed down.
For all the talk after the game Sunday about Ryan getting his clipboard handed to him, and all the blunders made in their video-replay system, it was another persistent problem that ultimately doomed the Bills in Kansas City. It begins and ends with the passive approach from their fast-talking head coach.
It comes back to attitude. Far too often, the Bills have shown too much deference for their opponents and failed to throw the first punch.
Ryan in his opening comments Monday confirmed how the Bills have allowed opponents to dictate how games will unfold rather than the other way around. In his second sentence after taking the microphone, he made a reference to the Bills struggling to stop the run after they turned to “seven-man spacing.”
Question: Seven-man spacing, you mean like seven in the box?
Rex: “Sometimes, seven-man spacing is that if” the offense extends “a guy, then we may extend a guy. So it might not necessarily be seven, but they are not with all their guys, either.”
Hey, Rex, how about this concept: The Bills determine how many blockers the Chiefs keep along the line of scrimmage. They stick to their strengths for as long as they can and see what happens. They trust their players and attack, attack, attack. And when they grow tired of attacking, they attack some more.
Ryan should have recognized when he took the job that the Bills’ biggest asset was their front seven. He had built a reputation for dialing exotic blitz packages, for punching with both fists and asking questions later. It doesn’t work with your hands in your pockets while trying to dodge left hooks.
If what worked on defense in the past wasn’t obvious in the first nine games, it should have been infinitely clear after the Bills unleashed their assault on Tom Brady and watched him run for cover before a national television audience. The Bills played like a desperate team with nothing to lose because … they were.
Their response to beating up Brady was backing off against the Chiefs’ injury-riddled offensive line and opening up the defense for a third-string running back and a marginal quarterback in Alex Smith. They didn’t plug holes in the running game with blitzes. Smith never saw the pressure Brady experienced a week earlier.
And along came this question Monday:
Q: When you went back and watched the film, did you find any more answers to why Sammy Watkins wasn’t involved more in the second half?
Rex: “Well, they did roll their coverage to him. So they did a lot of things, quite honestly, it was a mirrored game plan. I mean both teams tried to make the same adjustment. So that was one thing. And we’ve got to be able to win one-on-ones on either side.”
Seriously, when did Rex start acting like such a wuss?
Never mind that Watkins had six catches for 158 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. At times, Tyrod Taylor threw passes in Watkins’ general direction and watched him come away with the ball. The Bills threw his way once in the third quarter and didn’t look to him in the fourth.
How about this concept: Watkins is Plan A until further notice. Keep feeding him. The only person in Arrowhead Stadium who was capable of slowing down Watkins on Sunday was Bills offensive coordinator Greg Roman. Kansas City should have invited Roman into its locker room and presented him with a game ball.
Look, if rolling coverages toward Watkins is enough for the Bills to blow up their game plan and ignore their best receiver, why bother putting him on the field? They didn’t trade up for Watkins so he could become a decoy. They took him fourth overall in 2013 because, like many great ones, he was open when he was covered. Watkins proved as much in the first half.
It doesn’t take coaching genius to figure out what worked and what didn’t against the Pats and Chiefs. It’s common sense. Pressure the point of attack until proven otherwise. Give the ball to your biggest weapon until the opposition stops him.
The best teams decide how games will be played. Lesser teams allow that to happen.
Again, it comes down to attitude.
The game Sunday was yet another reminder that, no matter what he says, Ryan doesn’t have enough confidence in his players. If he did, he would have turned them loose against the Patriots in Week Two and never stopped. He would have told them to keep punching until someone pulled them off the pile.
That’s what bullies do.
Instead, he examined the size and toughness of the opponent, looked them square in the eye, puffed out his chest and took a step back. And that’s what phonies do.
After a while, you start wondering why a Buffalo team with more talent than it had a year ago has a worse record under Ryan than it had under Doug Marrone through 11 games. The Jets, 4-12 under Ryan last season, were 6-5 this year with basically the same roster, plus Ryan Fitzpatrick, and a new coach.
As people around here of a certain age would attest, the Bills once dictated how games were played. They exploited weaknesses and attacked until someone stopped them. They determined the pace and waited to see if anyone could slow them. Far more often than not, it worked.
Granted, these Bills will never be confused with those Bills, but the team playing for Ryan has too much talent to not be more aggressive. The old Bills were bullies, too, but in a different way. They bullied teams with their intelligence and talent and ingenuity. They didn’t pick street fights and take stupid penalties.
Unlike these guys, they struck fear into teams because they worked to their strengths. They may have been beaten, but they didn’t back down. They reaffirmed their competitive toughness with their performance on the field. They reminded the other kids on the block that they were willing to throw a few haymakers.
The Bills have been backed into a corner under Ryan. We’ll see over the final five games if they start swinging or, like their coach, back away. Good heavens, man, reflect the community you represent.
Stand up and fight.