The air of desperation is unmistakable as the Rex Ryan era in Buffalo continues to careen toward what could be a premature end.
Not even seven days into the regular season in his second season on the job, Ryan fired offensive coordinator Greg Roman, a panic move that belies the outward confidence and swagger of the former Jets coach.
After an embarrassing 37-31 loss to the Jets in a nationally televised game, during which Ryan’s defense was the far bigger culprit than Roman’s offense, Ryan decided he’d seen enough and showed Roman the door.
At 0-2 and with upcoming games against the Cardinals and Patriots, Ryan is staring down the barrel of a 0-4 start and an ever-increasing possibility that he might not make it to 2017. While team owners Terry and Kim Pegula have offered no public hints about being ready to end Ryan’s tenure so early, last year’s 8-8 season and the early stumbles so far don’t bode well for the outspoken Ryan, whose bluster rings hollow against the backdrop of his 8-10 record in Buffalo.
“To me, I thought this was the move that I felt we needed to make to help our team moving forward,” Ryan said in announcing that Roman would be replaced by longtime assistant Anthony Lynn, who had been the team’s running backs coach. “I thought it was the right time to make the move. We have 14 weeks left in the regular season and obviously we have to make big strides and not just on the offense, but on defense as well. We all understand that. But I believe we will make improvements. I do. I wouldn’t have made this move if I didn’t think we would be better offensively and ultimately be better as a team.”
Ryan wouldn’t go into specifics about Roman’s approach, but he did acknowledge that he wants to see more out of quarterback Tyrod Taylor.
“I think Tyrod is an outstanding player,” Ryan said. “I believe his ability as a drop-back quarterback, as a quarterback that’s athletic, that we can do things with. I think he’s a rare talent and we have to do things that I think will showcase those abilities a little bit. He has some unique abilities and I think we kind of need to focus on those strengths and also try to develop what we perceive as a weakness, I think. Instead of talking about it, we need to develop some of those, give him an opportunity to be better, and I believe he will.”
Roman’s ouster is the continuation of a troubling trend, one that ultimately could seal Ryan’s fate in Buffalo, as it did with the Jets. Ryan now is working with his fifth different offensive coordinator in the last six seasons, which is simply no way to run an operation. He goes through offensive coordinators more than any other coach in today’s game, a trend that began in 2011 with the ouster of Brian Schottenheimer.
Back then, Ryan preferred a run-centric offense — the “Ground & Pound,” as he called it — and not Schottenheimer’s more sophisticated passing offense. Which, incidentally, was good enough to help the Jets get to the AFC Championship Game in Ryan’s first two seasons.
Ryan turned to Tony Sparano in 2012, the same year he had the ridiculous notion that Tim Tebow would add a new dimension and not create a season-long distraction. It was a one-and-done for Sparano.
Then it was Marty Mornhinweg, who did a nice job in squeezing the most out of Geno Smith in his rookie season but ran afoul of Ryan the following year. The two frequently butted heads, with Mornhinweg preferring the short passing game of the West Coast system and Ryan still wanting a more run-oriented scheme.
It came to a head in an early December game against the Dolphins, when Mornhinweg called 49 running plays and 13 passing plays — eight before the final drive — in a 16-13 loss. It was the kind of rub-it-in-your-face moment that cemented the souring of the coaches’ relationship, and both were fired after the season.
Upon his hiring in Buffalo, Ryan trumpeted the virtues of Roman, calling the former 49ers offensive coordinator one of the brightest minds in the game. Roman did solid work with Taylor, a first-time starter who was rewarded with a six-year, $92-million contract extension in August. But after the offense gained only 160 yards in a 13-7 loss to Baltimore in Week 1, a performance that Ryan called “ugly” and “terrible” and said was “about as bad as it gets,” Taylor had what seemed like a much-improved effort with two long touchdown throws against the Jets.
Meanwhile, Ryan’s defense was at the heart of the loss. Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick shredded the Bills for 374 yards and a touchdown pass and set the stage for three touchdown runs by tailback Matt Forte. Yet it was Roman who paid the price, a strange move that underscores Ryan’s inability to get it right on offense.
No longer wedded to the “Ground & Pound,” Ryan now says he wants his offense to be “multiple. I want to be able to throw the football. It’s not just a ground and pound. Ground and pound was something that followed me forever based on my first year when I made that ‘oh, we’re going to ground and pound.’ We had a rookie quarterback [Mark Sanchez], some good backs, a good offensive line. We weren’t exactly the greatest receiving corps, so I just thought it made sense, but that tag has followed me forever. I do want to be able to run the football on a consistent basis. I want to be multiple in the running game, but I also want to be able to use the entire — you know, the quick game, the intermediate game and the deep passing game.”
Ryan now turns to Lynn, a promising young coach who built a solid reputation with the Jets as a running backs coach. But he has never called plays.
Ryan’s defense seems just as big a mess as his offense, which doesn’t bode well for the coach’s future in Buffalo. A panic move to shake up the offense might only make things worse.