The Buffalo Bills have two games to go in the 2016 regular season, and a remote chance at making it to the playoffs if they were to win out. The odds are clearly stacked against them, but all the Bills can control is the next couple of games.
It starts, on a shortened week, against the 9-5 Miami Dolphins at New Era Field on Saturday afternoon. With the Bills through their first practice of the week of a crucial contest, five takeaways of the notable things head coach Rex Ryan had to say:
1) No reassurances from ownership
- As Rex Ryan continues to twist in the wind as a potential fall guy for all that ails the Bills in 2016, he’s also had to deal with continuous questions about his job status with the organization almost every time he’s stepped up to a microphone in a press conference setting. Rex Ryan has handled it with a minor amount of fieriness, but mostly has kept it all in check and maintained that the focus is on the team. He deserves some credit for how he’s handled it, honestly. However, the front office and ownership have left him in this spot. If they intend to bring back the head coach for the 2017 season, they could very easily issue a team statement that he’ll be back and all the rumors swirling around him would cease to exist. On the flip side, if the Bills wanted to fire him, it should have been done after the Pittsburgh game in which Buffalo was dominated on the field in all phases of the game. By letting him hang around now, if they have indeed decided on firing him — which I’m not totally convinced of just yet, mind you — they are creating more of a chance for the head coach to save his job with three straight wins to end the season. And then if they do still fire him after a potential 9-7 finish, they’re left with some egg on their face from taking so long to make that call. Rex Ryan said that the owners have not given him any assurances on the 2017 season, which either means that he’s already done, or, it means that Terry and Kim Pegula are still trying to make up their mind on Rex Ryan. In the meantime, Rex, who’s done this song and dance before, will continue to field these questions until the end of the season.
2) Read between the lines?
- If you don’t go back and listen to it while thinking about the situation in full, you might have missed this moment. However, I found it quite interesting to hear Rex Ryan’s initial response to one question in particular. Really, it was more of a statement, and an insinuation that perhaps the reason the Bills have been unable to beat a good team in 2016 is due to a lack of talent on the roster. Rex’s response, in full:
“Well… hey, I just coach the team,” Rex said, before pausing. “I like the talent that we have, and we have a shot this week to see how our talent stacks up against their talent.”
That leads to a grander point, and really, one of the most head-scratching parts of this breakdown over at One Bills Drive. If the reports are to come true, and Rex Ryan gets fired with general manager Doug Whaley staying on… how exactly does Whaley escape any culpability for how this season has happened? Really, there are some major strikes against him… and Tim Graham of The Buffalo News did a masterful job of explaining why Whaley deserves some blame. And reading in between those lines, it would also be fair to expect that the roster Whaley has put together might be due for a fall. There’s no question that Whaley has compiled some top-end talent, but he has whiffed on three things in particular: First, neglecting the quarterback position in the draft since he became the team’s full-on GM and not even taking chances on players at the most important position in the game. All he’s done is take low risk swings that haven’t worked out. Second, depth at multiple positions have been a major weakness. One injury to a spot — let’s say for these purposes, safety — and the defense has a bona fide weakness for the rest of the season. That can be contributed to the third downfall, which is somehow finding a way to rely way too heavily on free agency and cap space, putting the team in a difficult position to add additional players with higher value, and doing so without having the quarterback position answered. I’m also not immune to seeing the good things that Whaley has done for the Bills, but the same has to go for Rex Ryan, too. So if the Bills are thinking about ridding themselves of the head coach, the general manager’s lack of accomplishment deserves a lot of consideration, too.
3) Bills have a "plan" for Ajayi
- You remember Jay Ajayi, right? Well, you should anyway. He’s one of the two running backs that the Bills have allowed to rush for 200 yards in a single game this season. Ajayi wrecked the Bills’ game plan in the Dolphins’ Week Seven victory that helped spring them to their now 9-5 record, and that simultaneously broke the Bills’ spirits for a few weeks in a row. One of the plays that will stick out like a sore thumb from the 2016 season was when Ajayi burst through the line of scrimmage while Miami was working from inside their own five-yard line, and torched the Bills defense to get to midfield. This time around, the Bills feel like they’re ready for Ajayi:
#Bills HC Rex Ryan says "we think we'll be much more effective this game. I'll just put it that way," against RB Jay Ajayi and Miami
— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) December 20, 2016
Here’s what we do know: over the last three weeks, the run defense for the Bills has not been good. Even against the Browns, when the game was in its early stages and Cleveland didn’t have to rely on passing the ball as much, they were having success against the Bills defense. The Bills will have to hope that the presence of Marcell Dareus, who wasn’t in the lineup against Miami in Week Seven, will be all the difference to help the Bills stop Ajayi from taking over once again.
4) Watkins not 100-percent
- The Bills have had Sammy Watkins back in the lineup for several weeks now, but he hasn’t made a huge impact for the team just yet. Since he returned four games ago, Watkins has a total of only 11 receptions for 182 yards and one touchdown, clearly nowhere near the type of output he had in the second half of the 2015 season. Watkins has been dealing with his either sore, or still broken, foot injury all year long, and once more the Bills indicated that everything was not alright for Watkins. Rex Ryan said on Tuesday that Watkins is not 100-percent, and that it’s “a given” at this point in time. The Bills and Watkins will face some big questions in the offseason on how to correct the problem from taking hold of a season the way that it has in 2016. It certainly doesn’t feel like there’s an easy answer here, and a second surgery hasn’t been rule out just yet.
5) Preston Brown dealing with an injury?
- The last few games have not been ideal for Bills starting inside linebacker Preston Brown, having struggled mightily in his now third season as a starting player in the NFL. To make matters worse, Brown is now dealing with a foot injury that technically kept him out of practice on Tuesday. Brown was on the practice field during the portion that the media was allowed to see, even though he was listed as a non-participant. The long-term question with Brown must also be pondered in the coming offseason: is he a starting caliber player in the NFL? After a solid rookie season, Brown has struggled in each of the last two seasons which might bring his starting future into deliberation with the Bills. He’ll need a couple of strong performances over the final two weeks of the season to put some more positive evidence out there for the front office to chew on.
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