So much of the Bills’ 37-31 loss to the Jets last night had that familiar Rex Ryan stench to it: the untimely penalties, the wasted timeouts, the skittish offense spit-shined by a couple of big plays. But what really made this one stick to your clothes was the skunk spray that’s become of Ryan’s defense, the supposed source of his supposed coaching genius. Just two games into the season, the Bills have already fired offensive coordinator Greg Roman and it’s fair to wonder if Rex himself will survive the year.
The Jets pretty much did whatever they wanted to Rex’s D, which this year also bears the wing-sauced fingerprints of Rex’s twin brother, Rob, who, OH DEAR GOD
The Jets piled up 28 first downs. They had 493 total yards. They converted 62 percent of their third downs. Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall both had more than 100 yards receiving, while Quincy Enunwa (92 yards) came close. And Matt Forte had an even 100 yards on the ground. That shit was easy.
Rex’s defenses have sucked plenty of times before—the Patriots hung a tidy 40 points on the Bills in a visit last year—but this wasn’t Tom Brady whipping the ball all over Western New York. This was Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick has weapons, and he’s generally been a good fit for Chan Gailey’s spread offense, but what made this such a big kick in the balls was the way Fitzpatrick embarrassed Rex: by chucking the ball downfield. Fitzpatrick notoriously lacks the arm strength to deliver on deep throws; last year, per Pro Football Focus, Fitzpatrick completed just 21 passes in which he threw the ball more than 20 yards in the air. Last night, Fitzpatrick torched the Bills by going 6-for-9 on passes of 20-plus yards.
Rex had no answers. The Bills brought extra pass rushers on just nine of Fitzpatrick’s 39 dropbacks, according to PFF. Things were so bad Rex even acknowledged he was afraid to blitz:
“Their offense against our defense looked like a mismatch today,” Ryan said. “I was afraid to pressure because we weren’t holding up in man coverage. To their credit, it never mattered what we played.”
Were it not for a couple of badly blown coverages by the Jets and the maybe-washed Darrelle Revis, the game would have been a blowout.
The Bills’ problems run deep. They tied for the league lead in penalties last season, and last night their infractions gave the Jets three first downs. There was also a slapstick sequence in the fourth quarter that no doubt looked familiar to Jets fans: With a little more than seven minutes remaining, the Bills trailed by six, and they were just across midfield facing a fourth-and-1. Rex just had backup quarterback E.J. Manuel, whose length can be beneficial in short-yardage situations, fail on third-and-1. This time, he kept Manuel in there to try to get the Jets to bite on a hard count, but it didn’t work. Rather than run a play, Rex then proceeded to burn a timeout before going for it with a LeSean McCoy dive that was stopped short. That timeout, naturally, would have come in handy after the Bills closed to within six points with less than two minutes to go. Whee!
Rex’s tenure is tracking much the way it did when he was the head coach of the Jets, albeit with a faster descent and no actual success to descend from. Just like in Buffalo, Rex’s shit-talking act seduced the locals at first, and his headline-making style took some of the spotlight off his players. But with the Jets, he bought himself time and goodwill right out of the chute with a couple of deep playoff runs, and he worked for a pair of GMs whose own screw-ups made it easy for management and the fans to keep taking him back. But this time, Rex whispered his sweet nothings to a fan base hardened by 16 years without a playoff appearance. The trust is gone: When Rex leaves the room, Bills fans already can’t wait to peek at his phone.
Rex inherited a defense ranked No. 2 in DVOA. Last year, that D was 24th. Before the season was even over, multiple players were questioning his scheme, and the Pegula family felt compelled to take the unusual step of issuing a statement to say Rex and GM Doug Whaley would be back in 2016. Rex has since hired his brother, a move steeped in both fraternal loyalty and hubris. McCoy this week said Rex is now holding players more accountable, another kiss-of-death refrain from Rex’s time with the Jets, when players were quick to point back at his lack of accountability after he got fired. And now Roman is gone, with assistant head coach Anthony Lynn—one of several holdovers from Rex’s Jets staff—slated to replace him. Lynn is the fifth offensive coordinator to work for Rex in the last six seasons. See the pattern here?
There are some factors at work that might save Rex, or at least buy him some time. His top two draft picks are out with significant injuries. Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus is suspended. And dynamic wideout Sammy Watkins is running on one wheel. But Rex-coached teams have missed the playoffs for five straight seasons. And at 0-2, with the Cardinals and the Patriots up next, it’s getting harder and harder to hide exactly where the smell is coming from.