The Buffalo Bills, desperate for a victory to keep their playoff dreams alive, started the week of practice ahead of their upcoming tilt with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ahead of the practice, Bills head coach Rex Ryan met with the media to update the state of his team.
On one side, the Bills received some great news on the injury front to start the week. On the other side, the questions are beginning to mount about the man that plays the most important position in the game.
Five takeaways from Rex Ryan on Wednesday:
1) The Tyrod defense continues
- Following his overall disappearing act in Oakland on Sunday throughout crucial phases of the game, quarterback Tyrod Taylor has received a hearty amount of criticism from fans and the media alike. With the decision just months away on his upcoming lucrative extension, that has become the focus around those that think about and discuss the Bills. A large portion of Rex Ryan’s press conference was in regards to Taylor. What has remained interesting up to today’s meeting with the media, was that the head coach had not been as strong in support of the quarterback as he had been in the past, saying their aren’t thinking about anything in the future — and instead focusing on Pittsburgh this coming weekend. On Wednesday, we heard a little mix of both. The head coach reiterated that they aren’t thinking about evaluation and are instead solely thinking about Pittsburgh, but then added that he believes Taylor to be an “outstanding quarterback.” When asked about Tyrod’s season thus far, he responded that he thought the quarterback had a lot of really good games, and like the rest of the team, some games that were not so great. Even though he softened a bit on Wednesday and offered more support for Taylor than he had on either Sunday after the game, or Monday afternoon, Wednesday still offered less support than what we have grown accustomed to about the future of Tyrod Taylor. Rex likely realizes that he needs Tyrod Taylor to get them to a spot to potentially win the next four games, with no other great options on the roster. The fact remains that over 26 games, Taylor has shown to be quite a similar player all throughout — and one that has regressed in almost every major passing category from 2015 to 2016. Although the support is there, I still believe the Bills are trying to decide what to do with Tyrod Taylor at the end of the season — and the final four games, with Pittsburgh perhaps being the most important, are going to be vital to that.
2) Watkins feeling good, but doesn’t practice
- The Bills went through a second straight game with Sammy Watkins in the lineup, and this time his snap percentages on offense went from 45 to 68-percent — certainly a step in the right direction after sitting out for eight games. Rex Ryan even admitted that Watkins feels a lot better coming out of this game than he did from the Jacksonville game. Interestingly enough, though, the head coach was noncommittal to the star wide receiver playing against the Steelers on Sunday. Instead, all Ryan said was that he was hoping Watkins would be ready to play. The Bills are playing the wait-and-see game, and correctly, because of how volatile an injury his foot has proved to be this season. Watkins also rested on Wednesday of last week, so conceivably if he’s feeling better at this point this week, you’d have to think that Watkins is on track to practice on Thursday — like he did last week — and play on Sunday.
3) Woods returns to practice
- If Watkins can play as logic would indicate, then the Bills have a chance to have both of their opening day starting wide receivers available to them for the first time since Week Two. Robert Woods returned to practice Wednesday for the first time since injuring his knee in Cincinnati. Wood was sporting a big brace on his knee, but was able to get through the practice on a limited basis. He’s trending in the right direction, but there isn’t any clarity on his potential availability for Sunday just yet. The Bills could certainly use him, considering their upcoming opponents can put up points in a hurry with the impressive array of offensive skill players that they have. The Bills might be forced to keep up on Sunday, and having Woods would be huge for that. If he’s able to do more on Thursday, they might just get their wish.
4) Shaq Lawson passes Lorenzo Alexander
- The time has come for rookie first round pick and edge rusher Shaq Lawson to make his first NFL start — at least that’s how head coach Rex Ryan feels about it, anyway. The head coach said as much on Wednesday, just a few days after Lawson had the best performance of the season on Sunday in Oakland. Lawson flashed his power to stop the run, his speed to contain the edge against a speedy receiver, and his ability to get after the passer during the win. Lawson taking the place of Alexander in the lineup was news to the latter when he was asked about it on Wednesday, but I wouldn’t expect the veteran to be phased out of the defense completely by any means. If anything, I think this is just a nice little reward for Lawson after playing as well as he did, and an effort to get him even more time on the field. Alexander, Lawson, and Jerry Hughes will all still get their time on the field on defense, but the Bills have stated in the past that they’d like to get Alexander some rest so he can go full force on special teams as well. It appears they’ve got their wish, and their top rookie in the starting lineup in the process.
5) Ronald Darby on the mend
- Just in time for what could be the Bills last stand to make the playoffs in 2016, starting cornerback Ronald Darby seems to be trending in the right direction to play on Sunday. He sat out of the Raiders game due to a concussion, but cleared concussion protocol on Monday. Darby was able to participate in practice Wednesday, and barring any setbacks, is likely on his way back to play against Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and the Pittsburgh Steelers. He’ll work right back into the starting lineup, where Kevon Seymour filled in last week. Seymour, although getting beaten for two touchdowns, actually managed to do some nice things throughout the game — an encouraging building block should they want to trust him with a bigger role in 2017. For now, Darby is back and the secondary will be improved by that much as they try to overcompensate for the safety position.
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