The playoffs continue today without the Buffalo Bills participating a 16th straight year. Here are three quick AM thoughts...
Rex’s plans. Who knows what those are? On ESPN Radio last week, Rex Ryan said that the Bills tried to “merge” defensive systems in 2015, adding that “quite honestly it didn’t work. So we’re going to be all in, we’re going to play Buffalo Bills defense, and we’re not going to be fun to play.”
Huh? This is the same coach who said “We will play our defense” when some players started to chirp in October and the same coach who said “We were playing our defense” after a loss to New England when the Bills hit Tom Brady 10 times. At no point did Ryan hint that he was trying to blend different schemes through the 2015 season.
Talk to any player on that side of the ball and it sure sounded like Ryan’s complex scheme was fully installed. Several talked about buying in, the communication involved, the disguise, etc.
'On film, this resembled a confused unit at times. Marcell Dareus dropped into coverage on two Kansas City touchdowns. Then, the final two weeks, things were simplified as Preston Brown said. Compromise helped with Ryan letting the Bills front four rush. However you slice it, the Bills are giving Ryan everything he wants/needs in 2016.
Rob Ryan is in. Ed Reed is in (as a coach). Soon, he’ll have a say in personnel.
And we might need to wait until Week 1 to see what Ryan means by not merging systems.
W2W4 Saturday. Tonight’s NFC divisional playoff game between the Packers and Cardinals is full of familiar faces.
Former Niagara Falls and University at Buffalo back James Starks is playing a pivotal role again the Packers at running back, JC Tretter is on call at left tackle and former Bills quarterback Alex Van Pelt is the team’s QB/WR coach. Tretter was an unsung hero in Green Bay’s wild card win at Washington, filling in for the injured David Bakhtiari.
After Don Barclay was beaten for four sacks in Week 16 and Josh Sitton allowed two in Week 17, the team turned to Tretter. And the former Akron H.S. quarterback who started three games this season at center helped keep quarterback Aaron Rodgers upright and pave the way for Starks and Eddie Lacy through a dominant second half.
Starks? He rushed for 53 yards and a touchdown. He gets the big picture, the fact that few from his area make it out. Starks wants to be a guiding light for his hometown, as he detailed after his memorable 2010 Super Bowl run. Running the ball effectively at Arizona will be important, too — the Packers need to keep MVP candidate Carson Palmer and his deep receiving corps on the sideline.
Then, there’s Van Pelt. He might’ve been the most honest, engaging assistant coach to deal with my four years on the Packers beat. He isn't afraid to challenge Aaron Rodgers; he finds new ways to push a two-time MVP. After coaching the running backs, quarterbacks and wide receivers now, he’s due for another offensive coordinator shot somewhere. Van Pelt put his stamp on the QB room immediately, once showing players the Outside the Lines video of Jim Kelly’s fight with cancer.
Value of McCoy. One of the topics debated on this week’s “Dunne with Graham” podcast was the decision to trade for (and then pay up for) LeSean McCoy. Sure, the Bills paid a heavy price in giving the back a $40 million deal. But let’s also remember where this offense was a year ago. Buffalo had one of the worst rushing attacks in the NFL. It had no identity, no direction, in dire need of star power. McCoy missed four games to injury his first season — and that’s a concern for a back who’ll be 28 years old in July — but when healthy, he remained dangerous as ever. He has not lost his quickness yet, one concern heading into the season.
Taking the advice of running backs coach Anthony Lynn, McCoy shed pounds to maintain his quickness. At one point, he nearly dropped below 200 pounds. And his first season in Buffalo, McCoy rushed for 895 yards on 203 carries (4.4 avg.) with three touchdowns. He's still able to gain the corner.
Now, it's even more important for McCoy to take care of his body. This is a critically important offseason for McCoy. Yoga. Pilates. Whatever it takes, McCoy must take on Father Time with everything he has because you never know when a back will hit the wall.
If the Bills are smart, they’ll lock up Cordy Glenn and Richie Incognito long term to ensure this No. 1-ranked rushing attack stays intact.
For all of his idiosyncrasies, “Shady” remains one of the best backs in the NFL.