NFL Wire News

Bills getting healthy in time for make-or-break stretch

on

The Sports Xchange

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Rex Ryan has never given a team an entire bye week off as a head coach, meaning no practice, no walkthroughs, no meetings, until this past week because, quite simply, the Buffalo Bills desperately needed it.

“With the new CBA you have four mandatory days you give off, but my record off a bye week is horrendous,” Ryan said Monday following the team’s first practice since it was in London nine days ago. “Looking at the schedule, the fact that we had to fly back from London, the fact that we play two games in five days, the health of our team, all that stuff factoring in.

“The guy that has the best record consistently after a bye week is (Kansas City Chiefs coach) Andy Reid and this is what he does. I was like it was pretty obvious, and I made that decision probably three weeks prior to going through it.”

The Bills have won just three of their first seven games in Ryan’s inaugural season in Buffalo, but given the state of their depth chart for a good portion of that time, it’s not all that terrible, and they remain in the thick of the jumbled and mediocre AFC. Against Jacksonville, the Bills were without six starters and a key backup on offense, and two starters on defense, and they still nearly won before falling late, 34-31, to the Jaguars.

However, Ryan thinks the week off is going to be enough time to get just about everyone back and ready for the divisional showdown Sunday against the Miami Dolphins, which starts a period of three games in 15 days, all against the AFC East, with the final two at night and on the road.

Ryan is only looking at Sunday’s game, but there’s no denying the course this season takes could ultimately be decided over this critical three-game stretch that includes a Thursday night game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium, and a Monday nighter in New England.

“It’s good to get guys back and start focusing on what’s in front of us,” Ryan said. “Like I said before, I’ve never had a team that needed a bye week more than this team. I feel great about the guys coming back, we’re going to get a lot of players back healthy so that’s a real positive for us.

“We’re disappointed with where we’re at right now, but we’re putting it in our rear view mirror and we’re focused on the present and what’s in front of us. It’s all about moving forward right now. We’re going to get this team healthy and we’ll see how we measure up moving forward. We know it’s a big challenge in front of us, but let’s see what happens.”

Ryan is confident that quarterback Tyrod Taylor will be able to play against Miami. He was wearing a brace on his left knee Monday, but was moving around well and Ryan said, “You guys saw Tyrod’s back and we expect him 100 percent for this game, so that’s huge.”

Offensive linemen John Miller (death in family) and Seantrel Henderson (concussion) were both practicing Monday and seem set to return, and backup running back Karlos Williams (concussion) practiced for the first time in nearly a month. He said afterward that he’s feeling great and is ready to play, though he hasn’t officially been cleared for contact.

The news is a bit sketchier on wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Percy Harvin. Harvin did not practice Monday and was in with the trainers as he continues to deal with his ongoing hip injury that has caused him to miss two games. And Watkins was on the field for portions of practice, but spent most of the time in the trainers’ room getting treatment on his calf and ankle.

“I would say I’m ready to get back on the field,” said Watkins. “Very close. That’s the good thing about the break, I came back and worked out with the staff and they did a good job getting me in shape. It’s up to the medical staff (on whether he can play), but as far as working out and running, I’m just starting to do that.”

REPORT CARD THROUGH SEVEN GAMES:

–PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus. It has been woefully inconsistent, but that’s what happens when you have two quarterbacks who are still trying to find their way, and are a long, long way from getting there. Tyrod Taylor has been efficient from the standpoint of making the easy throws and he completed 70.1 percent of his passes before injuring his knee. His passer rating of 103.6 looks pretty good, but he really hasn’t been much of a threat on downfield throws. EJ Manuel was mostly awful in the two games he started. Injuries to WRs Sammy Watkins and Percy Harvin have really derailed the passing attack. TE Charles Clay leads the team in receptions (34) and yards (350).

–RUSHING OFFENSE: C-plus. Once again, injuries have played a huge role as LeSean McCoy hasn’t been healthy all season due to a hamstring pull, and Karlos Williams has missed the last three games with a concussion. The bye came at a perfect time and both should be good to go for the Miami game Sunday. McCoy has just 304 yards as he missed two full games and parts of two others. The line has struggled to provide push, particularly the right side where RT Seantrel Henderson and rookie RG John Miller have struggled, and their injury replacements, Cyrus Kouandjio and Kraig Urbik, haven’t been much better.

–PASS DEFENSE: B-minus. Despite an alarming lack of a pass rush, the Bills have held up pretty well, even without FS Aaron Williams, who has missed most of the year with a neck injury. They rank 20th in pass defense, but much of that can be attributed to the Week 2 embarrassment inflicted by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who threw for 466 yards. The Bills aren’t alone in getting shredded by the Patriots this season. That game aside, it has been pretty solid as CB Stephon Gilmore is having a terrific year, and rookie CB Ronald Darby leads the NFL with 14 pass breakups and has been a pleasant surprise. At safety, Corey Graham has been solid in coverage and leads the team in tackles. The big disappointment is the pass rush with just 11 sacks after leading the NFL with 57 a year ago. Rex Ryan has not been as aggressive in his blitz calls as many expected.

–RUSH DEFENSE: B-plus. The Bills have done a nice job as only three opponents have surpassed 100 yards in a game. The interior of DTs Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams (now injured), plus backup Corbin Bryant, has clogged the running lanes and allowed LBs Preston Brown and Nigel Bradham and S Corey Graham access to make tackles. The longest run against the Bills this season is a 28-yard touchdown by Jacksonville’s T.J. Yeldon last week. The next longest run by a running back is a 16-yarder by Yeldon, so the Bills have limited the chunk plays.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: D. There was improvement last week, but on the whole the kicking teams have been well below average. Penalties have been a major issue and several have proved costly in the field position battle. The return of kickoff specialist Jordan Gay should help because he kicks the ball out of the end zone with tremendous regularity. Why he was released remains a mystery. Punter Colton Schmidt has been great with a 43.0-yard net average, but the Bills have gotten nothing from their return game. After a rough patch at the start, kicker Dan Carpenter has returned to his normally reliable self.

–COACHING: C. Ryan has not delivered on his promise that the Bills would be a hard team to play against. They have not run the ball in the ground-and-pound mode that he preached, and on defense the Bills have not been stout, nor overly aggressive the way Ryan teams of the past have been. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman has had some good moments, but he’s working with two quarterbacks who present real challenges in game-planning. With so many injuries at the skill positions, the Bills have been unable to achieve any consistency. Special teams coach Danny Crossman needs a reboot.


About The Sports Xchange

Since 1987, the Sports Xchange has been the best source of information and analysis for the top professionals in the sports publishing & information business