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Bills’ change of coordinators eliminates one more excuse

Jerry Sullivan

Earlier this week, I ran into a friend at the gas station and the conversation quickly turned to the Bills. He said that as a season ticket-holder, he had no problem with the team firing Greg Roman two games into the season.

“Fans always think they know more than the offensive coordinator,” I said. “He’s always the most unpopular guy in town. Who was the last one you liked?”

He hesitated, stuck for an answer.

“Ted Marchibroda?” I said. He smiled and nodded.

I’ll spare you the list of coordinators who have been reviled in this town since Marchibroda moved on after the 1991 season to take the Colts’ head job. Remember the grief Tom Bresnahan took when opponents began to catch up with the no-huddle after Marchibroda left?

Anyone who played football in the schoolyard as a kid and can work a TV remote thinks he could call plays better than the coordinator. People had the usual stock criticisms of Roman, conveniently forgetting that he had the NFL’s top rushing offense last season and got a 99.4 quarterback rating out of Tyrod Taylor, a first-time starter:

Not creative enough, too predictable, doesn’t take enough shots down the field, doesn’t use enough screens, needs to get the ball to his playmakers.

Roman was a convenient target when the Bills started 0-2. The owner, Terry Pegula, is an unabashed fan. We know from seeing him cry at press conferences that the guy is an emotional sort, and I imagine he was furious when the offense didn’t perform up to expectations in the two opening losses.

Pegula has lavished millions on his offense over the last 18 months − LeSean McCoy, Charles Clay, Cordy Glenn, Richie Incognito, the conditional $90 million extension for Taylor. The Chief Fan expected a lot more from his investment.

So Pegula went to One Bills Drive the day after the Jets embarrassment to seek the opinions of his offensive players, including Taylor and McCoy. Pro athletes aren’t famous for pointing to themselves as the problem. Hey, how about the offensive coordinator?

This has the feel of a palace coup, with the players lining up behind the owner and head coach to deflect blame from themselves. Ryan insists it was his call. I’m well past the point of taking anything he says at face value.

Ryan is the last coach who should fire his offensive coordinator. He’s clueless about offense and has never been shy to say so. As head coach, he’s supposed to be involved with every aspect of the operation. If Ryan thinks the offense isn’t right, he should know how to fix it. But while he’s been sitting in on offensive meetings, it hardly sounds as if he’s bringing any vision to the crisis.

“No, I’m more of an observer,” he said. “If asked questions, I’ll give a defensive perspective, but that’s pretty much it.”

Imagine Bill Belichick saying that. It’s a high standard. But Belichick, who made his name as a defensive coordinator, presides over every aspect of the Patriots and has been a trend-setting offensive mind for over a decade.

Now Anthony Lynn gets his turn as coordinator, while saddled with Roman’s offensive system. Lynn will streamline the offense in an attempt to get more out of this wondrous collection of offensive talent. He said his head is spinning. It ought to be. Lynn has never been a coordinator in the NFL or called plays in a regular-season game.

“I want to play smart, physical football,” Lynn said. “I want to be explosive down the field, and right now, I just want to stay on the damn field. That’s what I want to do. So, we’re going to play a little bit faster and see if we can put a little pressure on the defense and just execute.”

Lynn said he intends to “reduce the verbals” and will simplify the offense by running fewer plans at a swifter pace. He sounds like every new basketball coach, who promises to play more “up-tempo” to mollify the fans who think the answer is to simply do everything faster.

He said he’s “personnel-driven.” Translation: Roman made it more about scheme than players.

Doesn’t that sound familiar? It’s exactly what Ryan did last year when he took over a top offense and tried to bend the players to his system. I don’t recall Pegula going to the defensive players for an explanation, or firing the guy running the defense − Rex.

Of course, the defensive stars had the guts to criticize Ryan’s defense in public. Every one of them − Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Jerry Hughes, Marcell Dareus − spoke out. But not a dissenting peep from the offense this year.

It was convenient for the players. But there are no more excuses. They all need to produce and show how Roman was holding his playmakers back. McCoy suddenly wants to run more between the tackles? I’m sure Chip Kelly is laughing at that one.

Taylor, of course, is the elephant in the room. The Roman firing provides short-term cover for the fact that he hasn’t progressed as expected in his second year as a starter. He’s not making the tough throws over the middle or leading the Bills back in the fourth quarter.

Roman would still be here if Taylor had his back in those conversations with the owner. There’s no way the Bills fire the OC if the presumptive franchise QB insists that he stay. Taylor was upbeat during the week, as if he’d been liberated to be the dynamic quarterback Bills fans have awaited all these years.

Roman’s offense might have been too complex, as his critics suggest. Lynn said he’ll cut back on Taylor’s ability to change plays at the line. There will be fewer plays, and presumably they’ll get them in faster. The offense will be simpler and more up-tempo.

Maybe all Taylor needed was a simpler offense to unleash his vast potential. But wasn’t he supposed to be wise beyond his years after four years backing up Joe Flacco in Baltimore? What happened to all the optimism of summer, when people gushed about how far Taylor had come, now that he was the unquestioned starter?

They seem to be coddling Taylor, as if he were a rookie. That’s how he played in the opener. I suppose it was Roman’s fault that he missed open receivers, checked down too readily to the flats, threw passes that were too high, and rarely threw over the middle.

It’s time for Taylor to stand on his own two feet and play like a quarterback worthy of a $90 million extension. There’s a lot of money at stake. I imagine his agent has been in his ear lately. If they think changing coordinators will make him a better player, good luck to them.

Ryan, as usual, is whistling past the graveyard. He said the Cardinals are the ideal opponent at this difficult time. Never mind that Arizona was fifth in the NFL in defense last year and throttled Tampa Bay last week, 40-7, intercepting Jameis Winston − a legitimate franchise QB − four times. Oh, and they were first in offense, second in passing and second in scoring differential last season.

Ryan said he has a “great deal of respect” for Roman. Come on, you don’t scapegoat a coach two games into a season if you respect the man, or your own profession. He’ll be an even larger target of opposing coaches, who seem to take great relish in kicking his rear end on the field.

Lynn could be a hidden gem, a natural coordinator who leads Taylor and the offense to great things. He’s been thrown into a tough spot, however. Funny how black coaches tend to get their first big crack in impossible circumstances. Whatever happens, this is one offensive coordinator who won’t be the least popular man in town.

That would be the head coach.


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