As it often is for many teams, the NFL season has been a roller coaster for the Buffalo Bills. After two disastrous losses and the firing of offensive coordinator Greg Roman as a sacrificial lamb, it seemed like only a matter of time until head coach Rex Ryan was finished with the Bills too.
However, the team rebounded and reeled off four straight victories, only to then drop the next two AFC East games and fall to 1-3 inside the division.
Following Sunday’s blowout home loss to New England, Ryan is an even 12-12 during his Bills’ tenure. That’s a less than impressive mark, but considering everything about the Buffalo organization and the team’s 2016 season, it would be unfair not to give Ryan a third year as head coach.
The first reason it would be wrong to blame Ryan if the team misses the playoffs once again is because of the injuries.
Buffalo’s defense took a big step back in its transition year from the 4-3 to the 3-4, but the team didn’t have the proper personnel for Ryan’s system. The Bills’ front office should have known this before hiring Ryan.
The team at least tried to remedy this issue with their first two picks of the draft, selecting linebackers Shaq Lawson and Reggie Ragland. However, both have barely played.
Lawson just returned from his shoulder injury a week ago, and Ragland is out for the year with his partially torn ACL. Not to mention defensive tackle Marcell Dareus began the year suspended due to violating the substance abuse policy.
And that’s just on defense.
There was the whole Karlos Williams fiasco and then Sammy Watkins injured his foot during the preseason. Watkins hasn’t played since Week 2, which is a major problem for quarterback Tyrod Taylor’s development. Watkins is also the Bills’ second-most important offensive player behind LeSean McCoy, who, by the way, has been less than 100 percent the last two weeks.
It’s not a coincidence that since McCoy has been hurt, the Bills are 0-2. With McCoy, Watkins and Taylor in the lineup together last year, Buffalo went 5-3 against all teams not named the Patriots.
Ryan appears to be on to something with the players he has; they just need to get on the field all at the same time. And his defense needs another year to introduce the rookies and further transition into the 3-4 scheme.
Unless the Bills front office fires Ryan to hire another 3-4 guy, moving back to the 4-3 with a new head coach next year would be a major mistake and set the franchise back several more years.
It’s time for Buffalo to stick to a plan and see it through.
Besides, from a Bills perspective, a 12-12 record after a season and a half of Ryan isn’t all that bad. The last Buffalo coach who posted a mark above .500 during his tenure was Wade Phillips, who went 29-21 including the playoffs from 1998-2000. Since 2000, the Bills have only posted two seasons above .500 and just two others at .500. One of those .500 seasons belongs to Ryan, who went 8-8 last year.
Some may view that as a step backwards because Doug Marrone managed to lead Buffalo to a 9-7 record in 2014, but Marrone wasn’t focused on developing a program. He started 32-year-old quarterback Kyle Orton so he could win as many games as possible and then take the next best available job while still getting paid by Buffalo because of a ridiculous contract opt-out clause.
Ryan is building a program, and it can’t be compared to Marrone’s. For one, Ryan is invested in developing a young quarterback and two, his defensive style is different so the players aren’t the same.
Another mark around .500 sounds uninspiring, but considering all the factors, including every injury the Bills are dealing with at this point, barring just a God awful second half, Buffalo should let Ryan stick around for a third season.