Rex Ryan had harsh words for his secondary Wednesday.
"Teams aren't fearing throwing the ball vertically against us," the Buffalo Bills' coach said. "When you look at where we're better, maybe not as good, whatever, I think that's the biggest issue. You've got to be able to make plays down the field. People are throwing jump balls up there and the difference is, they're making plays and we're not.
"So that's the biggest challenge we have."
Ryan is apparently backing up his tough talk with action. Jobs are supposedly on the line.
Ronald Darby, who was benched in favor of Corey White during the Nov. 7 loss at Seattle, might stay benched for Sunday's game at Cincinnati. Nickell Robey-Coleman might see his No. 1 spot as a nickel back given to rookie Kevon Seymour.
Stephon Gilmore isn't in danger of losing his starting position, although Ryan acknowledged he hasn't consistently played up to the level the team was expecting from him.
And that challenge the coach referred to only gets larger when the Bills face the Bengals. As Ryan pointed out, the Bengals are a "vertical passing team ... probably as good as anybody at doing that." They have a towering and talented receiver in A.J. Green and a dynamic tight end in Tyler Eifert.
The Bills have allowed seven pass completions of 50 yards or more this season, the most during their 16-year playoff drought.
"Until we start making people pay down the field," Ryan said, "we're going to keep getting those."
After Wednesday's practice, which followed Ryan's press briefing, there was a noticeably large crowd of media gathered in the section of the Bills' dressing room where the defensive backs have their cubicles. The members of the group recognized they are under a greater microscope as one of the major factors in the Bills finding themselves at 4-5 and in danger of missing the playoffs for a 17th consecutive season.
"Rex is in a situation where we know we have to win," safety Corey Graham said. "Guys got to make plays and if guys aren't making plays, you've got to put somebody out there who is. It's our job. When it's all said and done, you've got to get it done. If you're not getting it done, you've got to find somebody who is.
"I want to win. I don't care about nothing else. So I really don't care about who's out there doing it. If you're doing your job and getting it done, that's all I want."
However, Gilmore wasn't as willing to buy into the notion that the Bills' secondary should be under siege.
He was quick to point out that, in Ryan's pressure-oriented scheme, he and his fellow defensive backs are required to play man-to-man coverage, making it clear that it creates more likelihood of deep passes being completed.
"We probably play the most man in the league," Gilmore said. "You can't name a team that plays more man than we play, so you've got to stop everything. You can't just play vertical passing game. You've got to stop every route. ... You pick a couple of balls off, and they'll stop throwing it."
That's the problem. The Bills haven't had an interception since Robey-Coleman had two in their 30-19 victory at Los Angeles on Oct. 9. They are tied for 18th in the NFL with six pickoffs, with Gilmore and Robey-Coleman sharing the team lead with a pair each.
Now, Ryan wants to shake things up.
He made it sound as if the lineup could become fluid, including at safety, where the Bills made a move Tuesday by releasing Duke Williams and replacing him with veteran free agent James Ihedigbo. Depth at the position has been exposed as extremely weak since Aaron Williams suffered a head/neck injury on Oct. 23 against Miami and landed on the injured-reserve list.
"We'll play the hot hand," Ryan said. "There's probably a good possibility that guys will play. There won't just be one guy out there all the time. So let's see.
"Prove it on the practice field and in the game."