The Buffalo Bills want to get mean in 2016. Rex Ryan is counting on rookies Shaq Lawson, Reggie Ragland and Adolphus Washington supplying the nastiness that once fueled his best Baltimore and New York defenses.
Bart Scott was the soul of those old defenses with many, many crushing hits under Ryan. He played his entire 11-year career with the current Bills head coach and believes the three players Buffalo selected last week in the draft can lead a rebound.
So in addition to the story linked above, Scott explains why defense still wins when it matters, Ragland's role in this scheme/his conversation with the Bills' new inside linebacker and details why players must buy into Ryan's scheme. In this defense, players must sacrifice individual statistics. Players cannot simply fly off the edge play after play.
Lawson, Ragland and Washington are three handpicked saviors of sorts by Ryan and GM Doug Whaley. For a peak at that thinking, here's more from Bart Scott...
On the need for intimidation defensively: "Sometimes, you can beat teams simply because they’re not willing to pay the price. Big hits change games. Interceptions are one thing. But it’s another thing for an opponent to fear doing something. In football, you have to be willing to play free. You know you’re going to get hit but you can’t think about it. If you’re thinking about being hit and you know what it’s going to be like because you saw one of your teammates get laid out — or you’ve been hit by that person before—now you’re looking for him because you don’t want to feel that pain anymore.”
“I think about a guy like Keyshawn Johnson, who I’ve seen go across the middle multiple times and get hit unconscious. I’ve seen him get knocked out with his nose bleeding and he still played. That requires a different type of person. Screws aren’t as tight as they probably should be. Guys like me have to be reined back. Sometimes you cross that line and you have to be pulled back. You need some guys who can keep a level head and always stay calm. But you’ve got to have guys willing to throw the first punch.”
On if teams still win with defense: “Football is about confrontation. And, now, with some of the rules we’re moving away from that confrontation. But at some point, you’re going to be confronted in football. And the teams built that way might not have the best records. They’re not the team that’s going to be undefeated. They’re the team that’s going to be there when there’s a cold-weather game. They’re going to be there at the end of the season. That’s why the Steelers are there no matter what—they have that mentality. They’ll always be ready for a playoff run. The Ravens, always in a playoff run. The Seahawks, always in a playoff run. You think about the Carolina Panthers, always in a playoff run. And why is that? They make sure they fill their team up with tough guys. When tough guys get into a tough situation, they don’t look for a way out.
"When we got to the playoffs, it was a different kind of game. You can be built to win a lot of flunky games in the regular season. That’s fine. That’ll help you with seeding and placing. But it doesn’t help you in the playoffs when the margin for error is so much smaller. We were 9-7 but we knocked off the big dogs.
“You can build your team to win games. Think of the old Phoenix Suns who won all those games with Nash, and then they get to the playoffs and get their (expletive) kicked.”
On the need for this into January: “When the weather gets bad, these are the guys you count on. This is why the Colts used to always struggle when they’d get to the Patriots. They had Willie McGinest, Rodney Harrison, all these guys. They’d want to spread you out but at some point you have to get in that phone booth. Every game is football. It usually comes down to ‘Can you make fourth and 1 and can you stop fourth and 1?’ Forget all the other stuff. Games always have a way to even themselves out. All the (expletive) goes on — even if you’re down by 20 points — if always comes down to ‘Can you make fourth and 1? Third and one?’ Well, that’s a physical thing. There’s no way to finesse your way to fourth and 1. You have to draw a line in the sand. If you have tough guys, they don’t mind that. They might fall down but they want to go back in for the knockout. It’s ‘I might knock myself out but I’m blowing everything up. Whoever’s around me, make the play.’”
On Reggie Ragland being the soul of Buffalo’s defense he once was: “And that’s what he’s looking for. He’s got great players on that side but he’s looking for a heartbeat. That’s what he’s looking for. I think Reggie has the potential to do that. He has the mentality and the heart to do that.
“You see his body of work. You see his tenacity. He wears his emotions on his sleeve. Everybody needs an emotional leader. Steph Curry’s the man. So is Klay Thompson. But Draymond Green is that heartbeat. Everybody needs a heartbeat. He doesn’t need to be your best player. But every time he steps up, you know exactly what you’re going to get. And Rex will tell you all the time, ‘All I need is all you’ve got.’ It doesn’t have to be your best player. But every time he steps up, you know exactly what you’re going to get.
“Shaq, too. He knows him very well. He knows what he’s looking for. There’s a lot of guys who can play in this league but not a lot of guys who can play for Rex. That’s the nature of the beast. It’s the type of player that you need for his system. So he’s trying to find the type of people that he needs to send the type of message and send the type of style. The type of style that he needs and makes his defense flourish are selfless guys.”
On Ragland’s role in Rex’s defense: “He compared him to me. A lot of what Reggie will have to do is a lot of breaking the wall down. It was ‘Bart, go sacrifice yourself. Go take one for the team, Roger Dorn-style. Go step into one.’ It takes a very special person to say, ‘Listen, I’m not going to get the stat. Nobody out here is going to know that I made this play happen but the guys in the locker room. But that doesn’t matter to me. All I want is the respect of the people in this building.’”
On individual sacrifice in Ryan’s defense: “I tell people all the time that the easiest thing to get in football is stats. The easiest thing. But who are you going to screw to get them? Instead of setting the edge, are you going to rush the passer every time for the one sack you get in a game? If you get one sack a game, that’s 16 sacks. That’s a tremendous season, right? But how many times are you going to give up a big run because you’re getting up the field and they’re running right past you, right in-between? That’s why I tell people that Terrell Suggs was one of the best outside linebacker combination guys to ever do it. Because I watched guys on the Colts sprint up the field for years. Yeah, they go to the Pro Bowl and have a lot of gaudy numbers but they’re the 20th ranked defense in the league. Suggs was able to do that on the No. 1-ranked, the No. 2-ranked because he did it when he was supposed to. He got his sacks after he did his job. It wasn’t ‘get in a wide 9 and just get up the field.’ You’ve got to play the run on the way to the sack.”
On Mario Williams not buying into the Bills’ defense affecting this dynamic: “Oh yeah. It’s team before individual. And that’s why he couldn’t succeed in it. The hardest thing to understand in sports is that everybody has their own individual goals. But everybody’s going to eat if we’re successful. You could have a million sacks and be the worst defense—you’re not going anywhere. You’re not going to the Pro Bowl. Nobody respects that. But you could have less stats, go to the Pro Bowl and people say ‘how did you go to the pro bowl?’ Because he’s balling and because his team’s balling.”
On his chat with Reggie Ragland: “Went good. A lot of mutual respect. I offer my services to any young guy who wants to learn the game, learn the business of football. That’s what we do. That’s what we’re supposed to do. I’ve spent 11 years with Rex. He’s the only coach I’ve been around for an extended period of time at any level whether he was the defensive line coach coming in designing the blitz packages for the day or the defensive coordinator or the head coach. So if he wants to lean on that knowledge, what use is it for me to have the knowledge and keep it? For what? Why let it die? If somebody wants to know, I’m more than willing.”
“Just talked to him about being part of the fraternity and what it takes. I talked to him about being able to simplify and put it in his terms so he’d be able to play fast. That’s the hardest thing. He’s got to learn a new language.”
On how Alabama prepared him for this defense: “He had our playbook. It’s the same defense. It’s a version of it. A lot of his concepts. He came up and got tutored. He was there a whole summer. They came up there with the coaching staff and got educated.”
On players not buying in here: “So when the conversation started and some of the leaders like Mario speak out and they say ‘This isn’t working’ or ‘this works and this doesn’t work,’ who’s there to tell them ‘No, no. You’re wrong. Sit down?’ So when we were in Baltimore, we started 3-3 and then lost like three straight but you had me there, you had Marques Douglas there, you had guys saying ‘No, no, no. We do it this way. We’re all in this together. We’re not deviating from the plan because it works.’ He didn’t have that. But now he’s got some guys like Sammy Watkins who spoke up on his behalf. He had other players on the defense who spoke up on his behalf.
“ Now if that happens this year, you’ll have that ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa.’ He has his own guys now. These are my guys now. And also he has the greatest safety to ever play the game sitting there coaching going ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, nah, nah, nah. Not only did this system get me to the Hall of Fame’ but this system, I think the worst I ever finished — and this is with Ray Lewis hurt, Ed Reed hurt, Chris McAlister hurt — was seventh in my career. I think I finished first four times, second a bunch of times and third a bunch of times. This was in Baltimore and New York. So you can’t just say ‘Of course. You had Ray Lewis.’ No, no, no. A lot of this stuff happened with our Hall of Fame players getting pulled hamstrings out for the season.
“For Mario and other guys, I didn’t understand it because they were super successful when Mike Pettine was there. What system did they think they were running? It was the exact same everything. Where do you think that was coming from?”
On the overall need for nasty, “psychopaths” as he noted: “They didn’t have those tempo guys. Mario is a great player, but he’s reserved. Kyle Williams was hurt. Where was that dog coming from? Where was that emotional leader? Where’s that tempo coming from? My tempo wasn’t just like this in a game. My tempo was this every time I stepped on the field. So it was in practice. We never had practice that wasn’t hyped. All I do is talk! So we never had a tight room. There was always dialogue coming out. And it was either ‘Shut up Bart’ or ‘You’re crazy Bart.’ But it’s something coming out.”