INDIANAPOLIS — Rex Ryan is currently employed as the Buffalo Bills’ head coach. Chances are, he won't be hired as a sex education teacher in Western New York.
Again, Ryan insisted he tried to combine the Bills’ 2014 defensive scheme with his version and it backfired.
“We’ve got to be all in,” Ryan said at the NFL scouting combine. “It’s kind of like being half-pregnant. Forget that. We’re all in. We’re fully pregnant now.”
So there you have it, your unofficial 2016 Bills slogan: “Fully pregnant.” Whatever that means. At Lucas Oil Stadium, Ryan defended his beleaguered defense and set a clear narrative for the offseason. This is his show. Buy in or leave. And how dare you question his defensive acumen. A year ago, the NFL’s fourth-ranked defense fell to 19th. A unit that harassed quarterbacks to the tune of 54 sacks and a 74.5 opposing passer rating had only 21 sacks and finished 8-8 against a soft schedule.
But Ryan repeats that the problem was not his scheme, rather the fact that he tried to combine Jim Schwartz’s defense — and what Buffalo did before — with his own.
That doesn’t exactly jibe with what players say, of course.
Multiple players pointed to a compromise met the final two weeks, the fact that Ryan let his front line rush and the result were punishing wins over Dallas (16-6) and the New York Jets (22-17). The coaching staff — Preston Brown, Corbin Bryant and others say — listened to the players.
Ryan? He’s doubling, tripling, quadrupling down that the Bills finally ran his defense those final two weeks.
Speaking at the podium first and then to local reporters an hour later in a hallway, Ryan was a mixture comical, surly and emphatic whenever asked about his defense.
On his scheme: “Maybe if you focus on my complete history and not one season, you’d realize there is a pretty strong history there.”
On the Denver Broncos riding a simplified defense to a Super Bowl title: “When they played against New England, it looked pretty similar to me, that scheme. It looked pretty simple that week too didn’t it? It is simple once you dial it in and you figure out the communication part of it. It may appear to be complicated at first but when you get it dialed in, it’s simple. So that’s it.”
On if he should’ve let his front players rush more: “Our front guys played five games together last year. I don't know if you guys remember that or not. But they were together for five games. So, yeah, I'd like to see them rush more together. Absolutely."
Indeed, Ryan takes any criticism of his scheme — be it from his players, media, ex-Bills staffers — very personal. At one point, he sniped that the Bills’ defense was “terrible,” adding “I can’t coach defense anymore for some reason.”
So this is the story Ryan is selling now, that he tried blending schemes.
Never mind the fact that in late October he declared the Bills would "run our defense" despite Mario Williams and Marcell Dareus expressing concerns. Never mind the fact that players said a compromise was finally met and, as Bryant put, "Everybody went out there and totally cut it loose. The coaches were asking us what we were comfortable with and put together a good game plan."
However you slice it, this is Rex Ryan's World. He hired his twin brother. He hired former Baltimore Ravens star Ed Reed. He is expected to take on more play-calling duties. When Mario Williams told ESPN he's open to taking a pay cut to stay, Ryan admitted he wasn't sure how realistic that'd be. And, no, he doesn't want to hear the word "compromise."
To him, more player-coach "communication" the final two weeks was the key. He said he wants player feedback and that the feedback finally started to flow.
“It’s our system,” Ryan said. “It’s ours. It’s yours. That’s where we have to buy in and I think we saw that late in the year.”
He also shifted veteran Manny Lawson to inside linebacker, which helped. If the original QB of his defense — Preston Brown — is still the man in the middle next season, Ryan wants him speaking up more.
“If everything stays the same and we have all our players back, Preston has to be more vocal,” Ryan said. “There has to be more ownership that way. That’s not good enough to just know your job. You have to be the quarterback back there. And he can do it. He’s a smart enough kid. His dad’s a football coach. So he has to come out of his shell. ... I expect Preston to be able to make that step and he needs to.”
So Ryan puts improvement on his players, too. He hinted that through minicamp and training camp, they'll need to learn the language of the scheme faster.
And looking back, Ryan wishes he never tried to blend schemes together.
“We probably should’ve made that move a little earlier,” Ryan said, “and been true to myself.”
You know. Fully pregnant.