Now that owners Terry and Kim Pegula have assured head coach Rex Ryan and general manager Doug Whaley are staying put, the onus is put on personnel. On the players. For better or worse, Ryan's defense is here to stay into the 2016 season. His scheme. His X's and O's.
And this scheme has been under fire all season.
End Mario Williams, of course, has been calling out the defense for a while and now looks like a goner. Preston Brown has said calls have come in late from the booth, a persistent problem. As he explained, relaying late calls into teammates is especially difficult when offenses then substitute different personnel in and the Bills try to match. Defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman didn't have any answers on this. Against Andrew Luck and Tom Brady (at least the second time), the Bills pressured with great success. And yet many, many other times, they've sat back and paid the price. The loss at Kansas City was most puzzling of all. Injuries mount.
Buffalo never found a rhythm. More injuries mounted. So here they are, at 7-8, staggering into Week 17.
Blame, right or wrong, will likely be placed on the players this off-season. A group that finished with a NFL-high 54 sacks a year ago, one ranked fourth in total defense might be picked apart. And Brown, the one at the central command center of it all, might be a player the front office pegs a problem. He has 116 tackles this season, but has been rated the worst player at his position by Pro Football Focus.
Brown said he "definitely" wants to be the inside linebacker running the show in 2016 but even he admits he has no clue what to expect.
"You always want to go be that guy," Brown said. "But I'm not in control of that. If I'm here, if I'm not, I don't know what happens with everybody. You never know. I'll just go out there and try to do my job each week."
And asked if he feels such uncertainty, Brown added there was uncertainty the moment he entered this league as a third-rounder in 2014.
Said Brown, "I see guys going out every day. You never know what will happen but I'll go out there and try to give it my best."
In mid-August, the power of disguise sounded unstoppable. As Brown detailed at St. John Fisher College, Ryan installed 10 new plays one camp day and each one had “six or seven” checks. Quite a change from staying set in a play under Jim Schwartz.
“It was kind of when you’re set, you’re set,” Brown said then about Schwartz's scheme. “Now we change the whole… everything. It’s a lot more checking this year. It’s a lot more complex. It gets us in the best position possible. We can change the front, the back, whatever we have to do with that formation, we’re going to make sure we’re in the perfect defense for it.”
And the 2015 Bills defense never found such synergy. Ryan could shake up his coaching staff this off-season and/or find someone else to relay his calls in. Brown still has two years left on his rookie deal and fellow inside linebacker Nigel Bradham will be a free agent.
How complicated has this defense been? Difficult, Brown says today, "but it's our job."
"We signed up for this," Brown said. "We do our job in front of thousands of people. Everybody has their opinion. We go out there, try to give it our all and if it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out."