BOCA RATON, Fla. – If you only looked at frequent offerings of viral videos showing rowdy fan behavior in the parking lots surrounding Ralph Wilson Stadium, you’d assume the Buffalo Bills have a massive problem on their hands.
Russ Brandon, the team’s president, insists that isn’t the case.
“It’s never positive when you see stuff like that because it doesn’t reflect the fan behavior of 98 percent of the people in the building, but that’s the unfortunate part of the society we live in with technology and so on and so forth,” Brandon said Tuesday at the NFL meeting here. “A lot of times I look at things in a factual way, and what’s a mythical way.”
As far as Brandon is concerned, those seemingly endless series of clips of fans getting drunk and hurling themselves into vehicles – and each other – falls into the “mythical” category of what the Bills’ faithful are truly all about.
“The facts are that our game experience has never been better, the facts are that arrests are down significantly, ejections are down significantly,” Brandon said.
The Bills released the following information to support Brandon’s remarks:
• In 2015, they averaged a team record low of three arrests per game. The year before, they averaged five. Their high was 25 per game in 2010.
• In 2015, they averaged a club record-low 57 ejections per game. The year before, they averaged 80. Their high was 134 in 2011.
“And it starts on policing outside the building,” Brandon said. “We have great support from law enforcement officials. The fans “have bought in to what we’re trying to do with our guest ambassadors and everything that we’re trying to do to improve that experience.
“Yes, it is disappointing when you see (the viral videos) because that becomes the perception. But what’s nice to know is you see it in your surveying, and in your data, and when we get tremendous notes and letters from fans about what a great experience they had. Fifteen years ago, I’m not sure how comfortable some people were bringing their family to a game, but I think we have turned the worm there.
“It’s never going to be perfect, but we strive for perfect.”
The Bills also say their Designated Driver program saw a team-record 19,969 fans register to be DDs in 2015. That placed them second in the NFL after ranking fifth in 2014. In 2011, they had 3,375 fans sign up.
During the annual AFC coaches’ breakfast with the media Tuesday, coach Rex Ryan lamented the fact the Bills failed to meet his expectation of a playoff run, and his disappointment that their defense wasn’t the “strength of our team,” as he also expected.
“I think we were attacked differently than I thought we would be early in the season,” he said. “People spread us out, went to empty the whole time, getting the ball out in two seconds. It’s hard to get to the quarterback when that happens. So we had to alter things as the season went on. And then we had a few injuries that kind of maybe had us play a little differently than we really wanted to. But no excuses. We figured it out.
“I made some assumptions, I think, of trust and faith in what players would have in me and things, but you forget at the end of the day these guys don’t know me. It wasn’t like I brought anybody in from another team that (he previously coached). It was only late in the year where we really started having great communication, and I think it showed as we went on. The trust level and the communication got better.”
As he did at the NFL Scouting Combine, Ryan called out inside linebacker Preston Brown to do a better job of handling defensive signal calls. Brown struggled so much in the role that, near the end of the season, the more-experienced Manny Lawson took his place.
“He has the physical attributes you look for in a Mike linebacker, an inside ’backer, he really does,” Ryan said. “And he’s a good football player. But that spot, in particular, it’s like a quarterback of the defense. You’re in the middle of it, you need to step up and communicate that way. I know it’s not his personality off the field, he’s a very quiet individual. But you’ve got to be a leader on it. That’s the challenge to Preston, and he understands that. We’ll see how he does in that role.”
Ryan said he planned to “put a pretty good coach with (Brown) to make sure that that goes the way we want it to.”
He wouldn’t say who the coach was, but told reporters, “You guys know who it is.”
Ryan said his twin brother, Rob, the Bills’ new assistant head coach/defense, will primarily work with the team’s outside linebackers and that his coaching role would be “fluid” and include “projects.”
“There’s maybe certain things down-and-distance-wise that he’ll be in charge of,” Ryan said. “Maybe there’s some field things when it gets to this point or whatever, backed up, red zone, you guys figure it out. But he’ll be (doing) similar things that I’m sure (Bill) Belichick had him do when he was a coach for him as well.”
Ryan said the Bills told the NFL’s schedule-makers that, with three games on the West Coast (against Seattle, Oakland, and Los Angeles), they do not want to play any of them back-to-back so they would stay there for a week. The league tries to meet such requests for teams with multiple West Coast games.
Ryan said he worries that spending a week on the road would put his players in a “vacation” frame of mind. Brandon later said that the Bills are at the mercy of the league’s schedule-makers.
The Bills plan to change their in-season schedule, according to Ryan, moving their day off for players from Monday to Tuesday, which is the case for most NFL teams.
The coach said he originally opposed the idea of having players in on Tuesday, but gave it a try. He discovered that coaches working on the game plan from Monday through Tuesday morning was more difficult than he anticipated and he “never felt prepared” going into a game.
• Whether he wanted the Bills to appear on the HBO series “Hard Knocks,” something his Jets team did: “My understanding is that it was going to New Orleans or the Rams or somebody. I’m OK with that.”
• How to defend New England tight ends Rob Gronkowski and newly acquired Martellus Bennett: “I have no idea. … I just think it’s unusual to have two guys that are like 6-7 and can run, catch, block. So, yeah, it’s going to be a major challenge. There’s no doubt about that. It’s scary when you look at them. Those are two huge guys. How we’re going to defend them, I don’t know.”
• Former Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones leaving the division by being traded to Arizona: “Well, that’s nice.”
• Ryan Fitzpatrick’s uncertain future with the New York Jets: “I hope he goes somewhere else. He’s tougher than heck.”
NFL owners voted Tuesday to make chop blocks illegal.
They also voted to:
• Table the proposal to eject a player who draws two unsportsmanlike-conduct fouls for punching, kicking, taunting or directing abusive language at another player. New York Giants owner John Mara said the proposal had too much opposition, but could be visited again at some point.
• Permanently adopt the increased distance of extra-point tries from 20 to 33 yards;
• Allow offensive and defensive play callers on the coaching staffs to use the coach-to-player communication system regardless of whether they are on the field or in the coaches’ booth;
• Expand the horse collar rule to include when a defender grabs the jersey at the name plate or above and pulls a runner toward the ground;
• Make it a foul for delay of game when a team attempts to call a timeout when it is not permitted to do so;
• Eliminate the five-yard penalty for an eligible receiver illegally touching a forward pass after being out of bounds and re-establishing himself inbounds, and make it a loss of down;
• Eliminate multiple spots of enforcement for a double foul after a change of possession.