When the Bills finished 9-7 and 2nd in the AFC East under Doug Marrone in 2014, it looked like the team might be on to something. But Marrone left the organization and was replaced by Rex Ryan, who led an 8-8 squad in 2015 and was in the midst of a 7-9 season when he was dismissed before it ended.
Ryan has been replaced by Sean McDermott, who becomes the eighth coach to try and restore this team’s powerhouse status. He’ll do so with a QB who hardly received a vote of confidence and a defense that got worse each of the last two seasons, despite being coached by a defensive-minded leader.
Zoneblitz: At 7-9 last season and 8-8 the year before, the Bills have seemed on the brink of competing for the playoffs. Was firing Rex Ryan the right move?
Moody: This is a tough one for me to answer. Let me preface this by saying I would never have hired Rex in the first place. I live in Long Island, New York and saw first-hand the circus that Ryan brings to town. That being said, I believe every head coach deserves at least three years to prove themselves with a new team especially when they are switching the defense from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4 multiple scheme. It takes time to get the right personnel on the roster. The only way I think a coach should be fired in under three years is if they prove completely inept or if they lose the locker room. Neither of those things happened so I would have given Rex one more year if I was Terry Pegula. All that being said, the Buffalo Bills fan in me is glad he is gone and I’m excited for the team to get back down to business now that the circus has left town.
Zoneblitz: What do you think of the hiring of Sean McDermott? And what do you make of reports that his relationship with GM Doug Whaley is already rocky?
Moody: I like the hiring of McDermott. As a former wrestler myself, I know the type of dedication and preparation it takes to compete at a high level which are good traits to have in a coach. He may be boring in press conferences (I’m already sick of the word “methodical”) but Rex Ryan won nearly every press conference he ever had and that didn’t do much for the standings. Now it’s time to win games not press conferences. I don’t buy into his relationship with Whaley souring at all. I actually wrote an article on this for BuffaLowDown.com. Part of my conclusion was that Whaley hired McDermott so it would look very bad for him to sour on a coach he was responsible for hiring just a few months ago. I think these reports are based on the fact that McDermott seems to have won over owner Terry Pegula and so he has a lot more sway in the organization than Rex Ryan did. From that people are inferring that it irks Whaley and it probably does to some extent but Whaley isn’t dumb and he realizes his best chance at keeping his job involves Sean McDermott having a successful year coaching the Bills.
Zoneblitz: What do you think of Tyrod Taylor’s development? Does his re-signing indicate that he is the QB-of-the-future?
Moody: His development I am not happy with at all. He was stagnant year over year as a starter which is not a good sign. Sure, last year they were beat up at the receiver position but still, Taylor needed to be better. However, Tyrod is better than practically every Bills quarterback since Drew Bledsoe so I am happy the team retained him. The way they restructured his contract they don’t seem convinced that he is the quarterback of the future but they still believe he has a chance to be. I think he is basically on a two-year trial and if he doesn’t improve they will either give the reins to Cardale Jones or potentially someone from this year’s draft.
Zoneblitz: What’s Sammy Watkins’ outlook health wise? And what’s his upside if he can stay healthy – is there a poor-man’s Julio Jones waiting to come out?
Moody: All reports indicate he is doing well with his recovery and rehab. However, I don’t trust a wide receiver coming off a second straight offseason with foot surgery. In fantasy leagues, I would avoid him like the plague. If healthy, his upside is limitless. I wouldn’t even call him a poor-man’s Julio Jones, I truly believe he could reach Jones’ level if he had a comparable quarterback to Matt Ryan and if he was truly healthy. Tyrod and Watkins had a great connection two years ago on deep balls and if they can find that chemistry again with a healthy Watkins, I wouldn’t be shocked if he put up 1,300+ yards with 10+ touchdowns but those are two big “ifs”.
Zoneblitz: LeSean McCoy looked rejuvenated last year. How much is left in the tank? How will the coaching changes affect him?
Moody: McCoy has plenty left in the tank. In his first season with Buffalo, he hurt his hamstring in the preseason and I don’t think he ever recovered from it. Last year, despite another hamstring injury he was much sharper. His “cut on a dime” rushing style prevents him from taking huge hits because he is so shifty. Due to this, he doesn’t have the wear and tear that other backs who run downhill might have. The new coaching regime still wants to ground and pound but I expect their offensive play calling to be more creative and slightly less run heavy. I’d still expect McCoy to be one of the top 3 or 5 backs in the league this year in yards but he has set his sights even higher by tweeting “I’m coming for my belt” referring to the rushing title.
Zoneblitz: How does the loss of Robert Woods affect the Bills and how does the team replace him?
Moody: I’m not concerned about the loss at all. He got way too much money in free agency. Woods is a fantastic blocking receiver who is an ok possession receiver but in the Bills run heavy offense there was no need to pay a number two receiver the type of money he got. Expect the Bills to draft a receiver in the first three rounds this year and that player will compete with Andre Holmes for their number two spot. Not ideal, but the Bills run the ball well enough that they should be able to hide their lack of depth at the position.
Zoneblitz: The Bills also lost Stephon Gilmore and Zach Brown in free agency. What’s the impact there?
Moody: Gilmore had a tough start to the season but recovered down the stretch. He had issues tackling and wasn’t physical enough off the line. With him going to the Patriots my gut tells me Belichick knows exactly how to fix his problem and he will probably be an elite cornerback for years to come. Zach Brown was a tough loss for the Bills and they need to replace the linebacker badly. McDermott’s defense relies on having athletic linebackers that can cover the field to make tackles from sideline to sideline and Brown’s speed allowed him to do exactly that. Out of the two, I think he will be the tougher player to replace.
Zoneblitz: Speaking of the defense, the team’s points allowed went up from 289 in Doug Marrone’s last season to 359 in 2015 and 378 in 2016 – What went wrong under Ryan and what’s the outlook on defense this year?
Moody: What went wrong with Ryan’s defense can be summed up with one lyric from an Avril Lavigne song…”Why do you have to go and make things so complicated?” That was the issue with the defensive unit. The Bills have enough talent on defense that they didn’t need to over complicate their calls in order to confuse the offense. Jerry Hughes is a prime example of that. Just let him go after the quarterback because that’s what he is good at. The other thing that hurt was losing Aaron Williams in each season. Having a guy who can “quarterback” the defense at the safety position is important in Rex’s system. This year I expect the defense to simplify things and let the players do what they do best. If they can restock their secondary in the draft, I think they can be a top 10 defense for sure.
Zoneblitz: How far is this team from contending in the AFC?
Moody: If you mean contending like Super Bowl contender, probably a few years at best. If you mean playoff contention I would think not this year but next. This year I think their tough schedule and lack of depth at a few key positions will prevent them from sniffing the playoffs.
Zoneblitz: What would you like to see the Bills do in the draft and through the rest of free agency?
Moody: The Bills obvious needs are wide receiver, cornerback, and safety. They need to address all three but one of the two areas I think people are overlooking is linebacker where they need one that can get sideline to sideline in McDermott’s defense. Their current starting linebackers in Preston Brown and Reggie Ragland are more north-south guys than east-west players. The other position they need help at is right tackle. Seantrel Henderson, Jordan Mills, and Cyrus Kouandjio just aren’t going to cut it. They need someone better to fill that role but unfortunately, this draft isn’t that great at the tackle position.
Zoneblitz: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Moody: I’d like to elaborate on a point I made earlier about giving a coach at least three years. Part of the reason why the Bills haven’t made the playoffs in the past 17 years is their consistent turnover of the front office and coaching staff. You can’t build a winning franchise changing things up every few years. The real way to build a franchise that you can be proud of is by making a few smart hires and sticking with your guys even through the good and bad times.
Think about when the Giants were ready to fire Tom Coughlin. They stuck with him and what did they get out of it? Just a Super Bowl Championship. The lack of patience owners have shown with their teams’ head coaches has set back their franchises whether they realize it or not. If you look at the teams that have the fewest coaching changes they are pretty much the most well-run organizations in the league. If you look at the teams with the most head coaching changes recently they are generally the most dysfunctional organizations.
Now obviously head coaches with winning franchises are less likely to be fired and those that haven’t had immediate success are more likely to be fired, but I still believe there is something to be said for consistency in the organization. No matter how Sean McDermott fares with the Bills, I hope they give him at least three years to prove himself as a coach with this organization.