The expected has occurred: Danny Crossman is out as the Buffalo Bills' special teams coordinator.
Crossman was fired Thursday by coach Sean McDermott after a disastrous 2018 season for the Bills' special teams. Buffalo finished the year last in rankings compiled by analytics website Football Outsiders.
Crossman, who joined the Bills in 2013, amazingly served under three different head coaches, starting with Doug Marrone and continuing to Rex Ryan and now McDermott. That rarely happens when a new coach is hired.
McDermott was asked what went wrong on special teams during his season-ending press conference Monday.
"I mean, that’s part of our offseason evaluation, and that’s really just beginning," he said. "We just finished up meeting with a number of players and getting their feedback on a number of things and then communicating with them what we want them to do or need to do as they have a productive offseason. That’s a part of it. There are times when we didn’t play well enough on special teams and we’ll dive deeper into that as we get into our evaluation in the next couple days here."
After that evaluation, McDermott determined a change was needed.
Things started poorly for the special teams. In a Week 1 loss to Baltimore, kicker Stephen Hauschka missed a 52-yard field goal, the punt coverage gave up a 51-yard return and rookie punter Corey Bojorquez had a snap go through his hands, leading to a turnover. Deon Lacey, who is supposed to be one of the team’s special teams leaders, jumped offside with the Ravens lined up to punt, handing Baltimore a first down.
Those types of mental errors seemed to happen again and again. In a Week 2 loss to the Chargers, Marcus Murphy fumbled after not signaling for a fair catch and taking a big hit. Tight end Logan Thomas was called for a holding penalty on a punt, setting up Los Angeles with good field position that was cashed in for a touchdown.
Bojorquez was one of three punters used during the season. He ended the year on injured reserve after hurting his shoulder Week 5 against Tennessee on a botched field goal that was one of the ugliest plays of the season. Bojorquez chalked up the result of the play to “miscommunication.” After he was hurt, the team brought back Colton Schmidt, who was released before the season began, but he lasted just three games, averaging a woeful 33.8 net yards on 14 punts. Matt Darr took over for the final five games. He averaged 36.3 net yards on 20 punts.
Similarly, the team couldn’t settle on a primary punt returner. Murphy started the year, but lasted two games before rookie Ray-Ray McCloud took over. He didn’t have much success, either, and ultimately lost the job during a Week 6 meltdown at Houston. McCloud fumbled twice against the Texans, losing one of them. In that same game, the Bills had a punt blocked.
Thomas committed two more penalties in losses to the Patriots and Bears in Weeks 8 and 9. Also in the loss to Chicago, the punt coverage gave up a 46-yard return that set up a Bears touchdown two plays later.
Things really bottomed out for the special teams in December. In a Week 13 loss to the Dolphins, Hauschka missed an extra point and a 55-yard field goal, the start to what was a miserable month.
Isaiah McKenzie, the team’s third punt returner of the season, muffed a punt after a teammate bumped into him, leading to a costly turnover. The following week against the Jets, the special teams again were a mess. Poor kick coverage handed the Jets 10 points, while Hauschka had a field goal blocked and missed a 54-yard attempt in the fourth quarter.
Hauschka had a 43-yard attempt against New England in Week 16 come up short, and another punt was partially blocked. That led to Darr having a 32.2-yard net average against the Patriots. Hauschka also came up short on a 42-yard field goal in the season finale against Miami.
Injuries and roster decisions undoubtedly played a part in the struggles. Taiwan Jones played six games before going on injured reserve because of a neck injury. The team also released Andre Holmes and Ramon Humber during the year, and cut down on Lorenzo Alexander's snap counts there so he could focus on defense.
"All of us are pretty much career special teams players and played at a high level," Alexander said as the Bills cleaned out their lockers on New Year's Eve. "You take those four guys off of any special teams roster, you're going to have issues because now you're inserting guys that don't have the experience and they don't really have the continuity of how to play off each other. ... Guys got better as the season went on, but it's hard to do that in the middle of the year."
Alexander, though, sees another issue as part of the problem.
"We have a young team, so if you have a whole bunch of young starters, naturally your backups are going to be young and they see their peers starting and they haven't grasped the mindset of, 'If I want to be in this league for a long time or be able to play in this league, I've got to play special teams,' " he said. "Because as a rookie, I see another rookie playing, 'Well, I'm trying to fight for that spot, too, still.' It's different when maybe you see a six- or seven-year vet that has a spot solidified. You're like, 'Well, I know I ain't going to move him, let me figure out where else I can play.' "
That led to an expected big drop in the rankings. The Bills finished tied for seventh overall in veteran NFL reporter Rick Gosselin's annual rankings of the league's 32 special teams in the 2017 season. Gosselin's rankings, which are compiled by assigning points based on a team’s finish in 22 kicking-game categories, are accepted as the league standard. Teams earn one point for finishing first in the league and 32 points for finishing last. They have not yet been released for the 2018 season.
The Bills finished 24th in 2016, 16th in 2015, second in 2014 and 31st in 2013 under Crossman.
Story topics: Andre Holmes/ Colton Schmidt/ Corey Bojorquez/ Danny Crossman/ Isaiah McKenzie/ Lorenzo Alexander/ Marcus Murphy/ Matt Darr/ Ramon Humber/ Ray-Ray McCloud/ Sean McDermott/ Stephen Hauschka