Rex Ryan passionately defended Mario Williams on Monday in one breath.
Then in the next, he said he wants Williams back on the Buffalo Bills in 2016, but that “changes along the way” are inevitable.
“I would love for him to be back next year,” Ryan said Monday, a day after Williams publicly questioned his coach’s defensive scheme for the second time this season. “A coach never wants to lose a player, but that’s the nature of the game. That’s the unfortunate part of the game.
“Do I wish Mario had 20 sacks? Heck yeah I do. No question I do. But that’s not where we’re at right now.”
Not even close. Williams has just four sacks and 17 tackles. With a salary-cap charge of $19.9 million in 2016 – and a clear disconnect with the defensive scheme – that has led to plenty of speculation that Williams is playing in his final games as a member of the Bills. Cutting him in the offseason would save the team nearly $13 million in cap space.
Following Sunday’s 35-25 loss to the Washington Redskins that eliminated the Bills from playoff contention, Williams sounded off about the team’s frequent substitution of players, saying he’s never seen a defense do it so much in his 10 seasons in the NFL.
Ryan concluded those complaints were born out of frustration in what has been a hugely disappointing season for both Williams and the team.
“I sense there is a great deal of frustration,” Ryan said. “Anytime you underachieve, so to speak, then obviously … I think that’s where it comes from.”
The coach, however, defended the way he matched up personnel against the Redskins, saying those types of moves are common on “every team I’ve ever been on.”
“You’re not going to put a small personnel grouping out there when they’re going with extra linemen,” Ryan said. “Sometimes they are a little late when they’re running on, those things happen. You have to match, in this league. You have to match personnel.”
Ryan said the Redskins would sometimes send two extra offensive linemen into the game, which necessitated the Bills going to a bigger lineup.
“Maybe the plays don’t come in as fast as you want them to as a player, because you got to match,” Ryan said.
While the coach and player may not see eye to eye on that issue, Ryan passionately defended Williams in refuting a report from ESPN before Sunday’s game that said some members of the Bills’ organization were skeptical that Williams was indeed sick last week.
“There is nobody in this building that questioned whether was Mario was sick,” Ryan said. “I can tell you this: When I saw him, he had a mask on. … Look, we can get on Mario about things or this or that. But I am going to tell you this, this young man wanted to play in the worst way possible.”
Ryan said Williams didn’t eat for three days, but still came to the team facility to get the game plan.
After the loss, Williams questioned whether there were “insurgents” around One Bills Drive who would leak that type of false information.
“To be questioned that somebody makes up this thing, fictitiously in my opinion, I think would set off anybody,” Ryan said. “I can tell you this: No one on the coaching staff, in the locker room, would question whether he was sick or not, because he clearly was sick.
“The thing I respected the most was here is a young man that would come in try and get the game plan, the things that he was missing. He tried to make up during the week. That is really where we’re at. I admire the fact that he came back and toughed it out. Instead of being questioned, I think maybe somebody else made up that part about questioning or whatever. Because I don’t believe there is one person in this building that would ever question the fact that he wasn’t legitimately sick because I know for a fact he was.”
At this point, it might be easier to just list which players on the roster are healthy.
A day after being beat up, sometimes literally, by the Redskins, Ryan grimly ran down the team’s lengthy injury report.
• John Miller suffered a high-ankle sprain, aggravating an injury he originally suffered in Week 11 against New England and that forced him to miss two games. “Any time a guy doesn’t finish a game, a lot of times it’s not a good indication if he’ll be ready for the next week,” Ryan said. “It doesn’t normally happen. His could be a little different situation. We’ll see how it goes. We expect him to be limited during the week, but we’ll see if there’s a possibility of him playing.”
• Running back LeSean McCoy was scheduled for an MRI on Monday for a knee injury. ESPN reported it as a torn MCL, declaring that he would be “week to week.”
• Reserve linebacker Randell Johnson suffered a high-ankle sprain. “He had played more snaps this game than he had all season, and right at the end of the game he suffered a high-ankle sprain, so that obviously doesn’t look good,” Ryan said. “As soon as I heard ‘high ankle,’ I’m like, ‘that doesn’t sound good.’ ”
• Robert Woods suffered a groin injury that Ryan called “pretty severe – there’s a possibility it could end his season.” Dez Lewis is a possibility to be called up from the practice squad to replace Woods, Ryan said.
• Safety Bacarri Rambo was able to finish the game with a knee injury, but “clearly wasn’t 100 percent out there,” Ryan said. “He toughed it out with that knee, so we’ll see how he does during the week.”
• Defensive tackle Stefan Charles suffered a shoulder injury that requires more evaluation.
• Running back Boobie Dixon suffered a knee injury, but was able to return to the game. Fellow running back Karlos Williams played through a shoulder injury, with Ryan saying he was sore, but that it was a good sign that he finished the game.
• Chris Hogan suffered a wrist injury, but should be available in Week 16. “We expect him to be fine,” Ryan said.
• Linebacker Nigel Bradham missed his third straight game because of a high-ankle sprain. Bradham had a setback in his recovery last week. “Hopefully, he’ll be ready to go this week,” Ryan said. “We’ll see how he looks.”
• Right tackle Seantrel Henderson remains out of the lineup with an illness. There is no timetable on when, or if, he’ll return this season.
• Ryan is hopeful both tight end Charles Clay (back) and cornerback Ron Brooks (concussion) will be ready to face the Cowboys in Week 16.
Ryan spent most of his Monday news conference issuing rebuttals to national reports that surfaced Sunday. One of those from CBS Sports centered on a divide between the coach and General Manager Doug Whaley.
“I know from my end there is a great deal of respect that I have for Doug and I think the feeling is mutual,” Ryan said.
The coach reiterated his comment following Sunday’s loss, that he believes this team can get to the playoffs.
“I think we have a good nucleus of talent,” Ryan said. “The talent that it takes to go the playoffs. I think we have a quarterback that has the ability to take a team to playoffs. That’s a big plus.
“Fundamentally, we are set up to be a really darn good football team. I truly believe that. Do we have to get better? We absolutely have to get better. But I know one thing, I know this team will work to get better. We’re going to do whatever it takes, where we’re not outside looking in.”