Getting Buffalo Bills Coach Rex Ryan a Passing Grade

Rex Ryan still awaits a real chance to disprove he’s bad at offense.  Give him decent personnel so we can see if he’s really screwing up or just victimized by roster thinness.  The Buffalo Bills’ coach specifically wonders when he will get a proficient quarterback; until then, we can’t be certain critics are right about him emphasizing defense because touchdowns are so elusive.  Developing EJ Manuel would force his enemies to grovel.  Getting it done is harder than the idea.

At the least, he arrived at work with a plan instead of bluffing through the interview.  The boss’s impulse to rely on the ground game shows he’s understood this team from the moment he joined it.  Executing a high percentage of handoffs could help Manuel adjust.  Controlling possession may be the best way to buy time.

Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez went to two AFC Championship games, but relied on a strong running game.
Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez went to two AFC Championship games, but relied on a strong running game.

Ryan’s reputation is of a coach who calls for rushes like he’s trying to represent the Big 10 in the Rose Bowl during the Nixon administration.  He’s had no practical alternative.  With the quarterbacks at his disposal, can you blame him for treating them as little more than an intermediary between the center and tailback?  Jets management helpfully gave Ryan Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith to work with, with a little help from Michael Vick, if you’d call it that.

His options dictated his approach.  As Ryan noted during his stirring introductory press conference, he tries to emphasize his players’ strengths.  In the swamp, that meant using the Jets to taxi.  He might similarly shy away from throws in his new job: smashing the ball would correspond with Buffalo’s present roster and his attitude, especially if he uses the offensive line in a straightforward manner instead of employing Doug Marrone-style pulls.  Ryan would rather have blockers who resemble bulldozers than ballerinas.

Of course, Ryan could be coaching a different quarterback when today’s snow is a frigid memory.  A free agent surprise could stand behind center this September.  Or, Doug Whaley could find some magical solution with the 51st pick, although that’s as unlikely as Jaguars underling Saint Doug Marrone buying Bills season tickets.  Until then, Ryan could help Manuel improve by not having him do much.  A fresh start for both means a chance to ease the young quarterback into action by leaning on those aligned behind him.

Manuel can contribute by calling his own number when it’s judicious.  Rushing it himself is one thing simpler than the typical transaction between him and the running back.  He still must learn the difference between judiciousness and skittishness.  The urge to scramble when he should be going through his progression could hamper his development.  But knowing the option is available is the first step to using it properly.

Things could be worse at the position for Ryan, as the mercurial Smith was still on the board when Manuel was selected off it.  Free from Geno, Ryan faces the relatively joyous task of helping his new guy transition into professional success.  Using phrases like “the forward pass” would express the right attitude.

Meanwhile, granting Manuel the freedom to take off on foot could help.  New offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s ability to use passers as rushers could make the present depth chart seem less depressing.  The staff should remember there’s a difference between Manuel winning games and being quarterback on a winning team.

The ability to move the ball will define whether Ryan is treated as a saint in Buffalo or as a more assertive Gregg Williams.  With no games until this semester and ensuing summer break are over, we can appreciate the new principal’s forceful personality.  Be glad he’s on your side.

Ryan’s win percentage hasn’t always matched his tone.  For example, he only has a 3-9 record against the Patriots.  In his defense, he was coaching the Jets.  And the Bills have won only twice against the division’s Harlem Globetrotters in that time, including last season’s finale where nothing was at stake greater than pride.  On the other hand, Ryan went 7-5 against his new team.  It’s nice not having to face him anymore even after the Bills memorably trounced his sinking squads twice this past season.

Rex Ryan is likely tied to EJ Manuel for the 2015 NFL season.
Rex Ryan is likely tied to EJ Manuel for the 2015 NFL season.

The new hire must now learn what he didn’t do correctly.  The experience Ryan brings in his seventh year with this job title will ideally help him avoid fielding a sputtering offense.  The best time to start figuring out what went wrong with the Jets is right now.  Manuel’s ability to cope with the pro game’s speed must be developed by the coach most connected to 2013’s drafted quarterbacks.Like his teammates, Manuel is hopefully already learning to be as avid as his coach.  Every Bills employee should embrace Ryan’s example of gratitude at the chance to make a football-related living.

Caring about this game is a sadly foreign concept to some involved with it.  Take those who cashed in after not meeting goals.  Like Kyle Orton, Marrone dashed off as soon as he got his check.  It’s different for the Ryan family, who work in the careers they want. Ryan is being compensated quite nicely.  But he has a passion for more than a payday.

His irrepressible enthusiasm was clearly evident to the man employing him.  Terry Pegula is himself far more accessible than his more formal predecessor.  In the time of one coaching tenure, this franchise has gone from an owner universally addressed as “Mister Wilson” to one where the new guy calls his boss “Terry.”  A comparatively familiar proprietor has placed his faith in a coach who’s fiery in his dedication. Astute play-calling and abandoning zone blocking will help.  But Ryan’s success will be most directly predicated on players giving as much of a damn as he does.

About Anthony Bialy

Anthony Bialy recently moved back to Buffalo from New York City and acts like he never left. He thinks "Buffalo 66" is biographical and considers it a crime against mankind that Steve Tasker is not in the Hall of Fame. He likes getting Tim Hortons on the way to get Labatt Blue. Follow him on Twitter at @AnthonyBialy.