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Jerry Sullivan's Mailbag: Is Rex sliding back toward the hot seat?

It was a good week for the mail. As I've said before, the traffic tends to pick up when the Bills are coming off a bad loss, especially one as discouraging and damaging as last week's meltdown in Oakland.

A week ago, Tyrod Taylor was the primary target of reader skepticism. This week, a lot of the attention shifted to head coach Rex Ryan. I get the sense that blood is in the air, and Rex could be sliding toward the hot seat again. It's no shock. His defense has been a huge disappointment.

There's still a quarter of the season to go, and they have a faint playoff pulse, but collars are getting tight down at One Bills Drive. A loss at home to the Steelers this weekend in the first of a three-game homestand could really turn up the heat on all the major players.

Sorry, but I can't possibly get to all your insightful submissions this week. The Mailbag:

@frankprotwin asks: I think Rex is gone at end of season regardless of final four games. If he loses to Cleveland for their first win, look out! You?

@RobinCArmstrong asks: In spite of everything, doesn't a 10-6 record, if achieved, represent positive progress?

Sully: I learned last year not to assume too much about the Pegulas' intentions. When the Bills fell to 6-8 last December, I felt there was a real chance Ryan could get fired if the season ended badly. They rallied to win their last two and Pegula was reflexively reaffirming his faith in Ryan and general manager Doug Whaley.

Still,  Terry and Kim can't be too pleased with Ryan at the moment. You can make the injury excuse, but defense is his calling card and it has  been a colossal failure in the biggest moments. In each of the last four losses, Ryan's defense has fallen apart at some point.

I certainly don't believe Rex will be fired if they finish 10-6. Terry Pegula looks for reasons NOT to fire people. As Robin suggests, they'll declare a 10-6 (or even 9-7) season a success, using all the injuries as a convenient excuse.

But if they finish poorly, Ryan could be in trouble. Kim Pegula said recently that they brought Rex in because they felt he was a veteran coach who could get the Bills into the playoffs. If he produces two non-winning seasons -- giving him six straight as an NFL head man -- how can that be spun as a success?

A lot can change in four weeks. If they upset the Steelers and beat the Browns, keeping their playoff hopes alive, it will restore belief in Ryan. But if the Browns come to town and get their first win, oh yes, it could get very ugly.

* * *

Joseph Genco asks: With this talent, and Pettine or Schwartz's defense, this team is in the playoffs. Is Ryan's defensive scheme obsolete?

Sully: First of all, let's stop canonizing Pettine for 2013. Yes, they set a team sack record. They also gave up 24.2 points a game, which is more than either of Ryan's teams have done in Buffalo. You're on solid ground with Jim Schwartz.

On your main point, I do believe Ryan's defense has been exposed. It worked with the Jets when he had superior talent and elite cornerbacks. But offense evolves in the NFL. Coaches have caught up to his exotic blitzes. Teams play faster to hinder defensive substitutions. Quarterbacks get rid of the ball too quickly, as Rex is quick to remind us.

Ryan had more talent at his disposal last season, but insisted on shoving his system down the players' throats. I felt the defense was likely to slip, anyway. This year, despite Ryan's assertions that the defense would get better in the second year with more of his hand-picked coaches to spread the gospel, it actually got worse.

They're allowing 22.8 points a game, up from 22.4 a year ago. It's fortunate that they got to play against such quarterbacks as Jacoby Brissett, Case Keenum and Colin Kaepernick.

None of the Bills' six wins have come against a quarterback currently rated 16th or higher. Ryan didn't beat a QB who finished in the top half of the QB ratings last year, either.

In their six losses, the Bills are allowing 31.3 points a game. A lot of those points have come in streaks, when Ryan's defense unraveled in the face of adversity. In each of their last four losses (at Miami, vs. Pats, at Seattle, at Raiders), they have given up 21 or more points in a brief, demoralizing flurry.

Here's an amazing fact: In those four games, they allowed 103 points in four opposing scoring streaks that lasted a combined 59:06 of playing time. Yes, 103 points in a shade less than the equivalent of one complete game.

You can blame some of it on injuries, personnel and a lack of depth. But it also shows a clear inability by the coaches to adjust and guide a staggering defense through a crisis.

* * *

John Grabon asks: Do you think the Bills will play Cardale Jones if they're mathematically eliminated?

Sully: Whaley said on the radio Friday that he hadn't made a decision on Taylor  and wanted to evaluate him over a full season. But once the Bills are out of playoff contention, they would be dumb not to take a look at Jones .

I suspect Whaley's mind is made up about Taylor. He said he needed to see more from him -- notably fourth-quarter comebacks -- and Tyrod has regressed. It would be foolish to commit $30 million to Taylor next season after the Bills finished 32nd in passing. Unless they get him to renegotiate, I can't see them staying.

Remember, the Bills need to sell hope. What better way to entice fans out to New Era in December than a chance to see Jones, the potential franchise QB of the future?

* * *

James Griffin asks: Who is your athlete of the year for 2016?

Sully: I'll go with 1) LeBron James; 2) Simone Biles; 3) Michael Phelps. Perhaps I'm biased because of my love for basketball and the NBA. But I'm a big Olympic fan, too, and I believe James's performance topped them all this year.

James willed the Cavaliers from 3-1 down in the NBA Finals to deliver Cleveland, his hometown team, its first championship in more than half a century. He did it against a Warriors team that was a solid favorite and had set the record for wins in the regular season.

I won't bore you with statistics, but LeBron was basically the best scorer, rebounder, defender, passer and clutch player in three straight do-or-die games.

* * *

@spyderman1954 asks: After years of losing. why is Terry Zeh still coaching Canisius women's basketball?

Sully: Administrative indifference, I imagine. The Griffs haven't had a winning season since 2008-09. They've lost between 17 and 20 games in each of the last seven years. They haven't won a game in the MAAC Tournament since 2013 or reached the conference semifinals since 2009.

Zeh did win the MAAC title in 2005, but he's on a worse run that the one that got Mike MacDonald fired from the men's team. He's a solid fundamental coach. But I saw Canisius lose to unbeaten UB at the Koessler Center two nights ago and the talent disparity was obvious.

Evidently, the college doesn't care that the women's team has failed to keep up with surging women's programs at UB and St. Bonaventure, or taken more advantage of the decline up the road at Niagara in its own league.

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