Rob Ryan: Playing With Fire



The Bills defense could benefit from the hiring of Rob ryan. But it also just put more pressure on rex to win in 2016 or else..

The Bills season ended just over a week ago but the Bills aren’t wasting time getting started on the 2016 season. On Sunday January 10th, General Manager Doug Whaley signed a three year contract extension. The Pegulas issued the following statement:

”Doug has demonstrated an excellent eye for talent and has been an asset to the organization on many levels. I look forward to working closely with Doug and Coach Ryan for many years to come.”

What was Whaley’s first order of business after inking his new deal?? Apparently signing Rex’ brother Rob Ryan as an assistant head coach/defense position. The news broke per Alex Marvez:

As a fan I am blown away by this hire. What are the Bills thinking by bringing on board a family member of the head coach? It just looks foolish. What has he done to deserve to be hired? The Bills defense was 4th overall last year, Rex comes in and they fall to 19th and your first order of business in order to improve is to hire Rob Ryan? A guy who prior head coaches have criticized for having a defense that was too complex. A guy who has bounced around the league as a defensive coordinator with very little success??!!  In twelve years as a defensive coordinator, his defenses have finished in the top 15 three times. In 2006 while in Oakland his defense was ranked 3rd overall, in 2011 his Dallas Cowboys defense was 14th overall and in 2009 his Saints defense was ranked 4th overall. That is not impressive enough to me. As far as points allowed, his defenses have only cracked the top 15 two times, 2010 (13th) in Cleveland and 2013 (4) in New Orleans. I scoured just about every statistic possible to see if there was some specialty or tendency in his defenses that could help the Bills in 2016. I couldn’t really find any, unless you want to count how well his teams limit pass attempts by opposing offenses. Per Football Outsiders (FO), Rob Ryan’s defenses landed in the top ten in that statistic 8 out of 12 years he was a coordinator. That is a good stat right? Not really once you look at how bad they were versus the run. The Rob Ryan led defenses were never rated better than 19th against the run, so that explains why the pass attempts were so low.

Rob Ryan at Bills practice a few weeks ago.

Rob Ryan at Bills practice a few weeks ago.

So why hire this man? After my frustration wore off, I began thinking a little more logically.

When you look at the defensive statistics from the 2015 Bills defense you realize that we need help. How another set of eyes could help out. Another experienced defensive mind in the room isn’t a bad thing, regardless of his resume or last name.

Now the Bills haven’t really stated what position or what role he will be playing and it really doesn’t matter because we all know that Rex runs this defense. Thurman and all of the other assistants help create the game-plan but Rex pulls the trigger come Sundays. So what role will Rob Ryan play? I think the logical answer is assisting with the linebackers.

Name our linebacker coaches right now….I couldn’t recall either so I looked it up. So I go to the Bills site to look at their staff and right below Rex is Rob, listed as an Assistant Head Coach/Defense. Thurman is still listed as the defensive coordinator so Rob apparently won’t be taking that title. So I continue to scroll down and most of the coaches I recognize as being veteran coaches in the league. Karl Dunbar a respected defensive line coach, Donnie Henderson one of the better defensive back coaches in the league and then I get to the linebackers coach; Bobby April III. The son of the well traveled special teams coordinator Bobby April, who coincidentally just got fired by the Jets. In April’s bio on the Buffalo Bills site, it states that he is in his 5th year in the NFL. He started as a quality control coach in Philadelphia with Andy Reid and held that position from 2011-2012. In 2013 April was brought to New York as a quality control coach who assisted with the linebackers. In 2014 the Jets promoted him to linebackers coach. So once Ryan was fired he brought April to Buffalo with him.

Another coach that I was unfamiliar with was outside linebackers coach Jason Rebrovich. Jason is a holdover from the Marrone regime. He coached with Marrone at Syracuse as a defensive assistant. He is in his third year with the Bills and he has a slightly stronger resume than April. But as far as time in the NFL neither of those coaches really have the experience. See where I am going with this?

Rob Ryan although not listed as a linebackers coach could indeed help the Bills linebacker coaches. That was his forte for many years. Those coaches seem inexperienced and when you sprinkle in a young linebacking unit, and a complex system you could see why they struggled this year.

Rob has coached some pretty good linebackers in his day. Teddy Bruschi, Ted Johnson, Willie McGinest, Bryan Cox, Roman Phifer, Mike Vrabel, Kirk Morrison, Keith Brooking, Demarcus Ware, Sean Lee, Victor Butler, Anthony Spencer, Curtis Lofton, and Junior Galette. He has had experience with young and veteran backers alike. So if Rob is brought in to assist with the linebackers I think it could only benefit this defense.

As I have explained at length in my 2015 Bills Defensive Analysis Part I: Linebackers article, that unit struggled this year. Not because of their athletic ability, rather because of the complexity of the system. There are several checks in the defense for just one play. Things like motion, various alignment and formations that can change a player’s assignment in the slightest way. Take a look at this play from the Jets’ 2010 playbook to get an idea on how complex one play-call is.

Above is one play-call versus normal offensive alignments. So what happens if teams motion players? The defense must adapt and get the properly aligned, know their checks and audibles down so that they can defend properly. Those adjustments are the diagrams below. Same play but responsibilities change based on motion and players need to know these adjustments.

So as you can see this defense is super complicated and I am sure the 2015 playbook was way more advanced than this one. Part of Rex Ryan’s issues this year were that the defense was too complex. Ryan tried creating a super playbook, the “perfect” defense because of all the talent this team possessed. It backfired, and ultimately led to the Bills not making the playoffs for a 16th consecutive year. Having another coach to teach and bring a different perspective to the linebackers could serve as a difference maker in 2016. Think about it, Rob could be working side by side with Preston Brown, Manny Lawson, Jerry Hughes and any other guys they bring in. A former defensive coordinator now being able to pass his knowledge down in position meetings, drills etc. That kind of knowledge and individual coaching is something that the Bills haven’t had the last few years.

Rob Ryan could definitely help bring along a young linebacking corps that could get even younger come draft time. Nigel Bradham and Preston Brown were the two worst players on the Bills defense per PFF. Pro Football Focus grades players in five categories; Overall rating, Run defense, pass rush, pass coverage and penalties. Brown graded negatively in every category and Bradham all except penalties. Compared to other linebackers Brown was rated as the 94th LB overall in the league, DEAD LAST. Bradham was 79th on that list. So improvements at the second level of the defense are needed.

Rob Ryan may be the coach and teacher that this defense needs. One of my readers pointed out this theory out a few weeks ago. What if Thurman is just not that good at teaching the defense? If Dennis Thurman is anything like how he runs press conferences, having Rob could be an improvement.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports---Defensive Coordinator Dennis Thurman.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports—Defensive Coordinator Dennis Thurman.

Maybe the players aren’t receptive to the teaching style that Thurman or his assistants bring forth. Thurman doesn’t seem like the type of coach that relates well to his players. He seems very stern and cold. Thurman was a defensive coordinator under Rex in NY. So he has only “called” defenses for two years! I am not trying to discount what he has accomplished but based on the performance from his tenure in NY and the output this year how good is he as a coordinator?

I know Rex is heavily involved in the game-plans and play-calling then that would mean that Thurman probably does a lot of the teaching of the scheme. Not to the players, but to the coaches. If that coaching isn’t being handled well, the position coaches suffer, especially the new or younger coaches like April and Rebrovich who haven’t worked in the system that long. It is something to think about.

Rob may just be the bridge between the scheme and getting the players to buy in. Guys love playing for Rob, much in the same way they love playing for Rex. Kenny Vaccaro has shown that love for him:

 “You’ve never heard a story of how he’s lost his players.”

Photo Credit: Kim Clement- USA Today----LB David Hawthorne

Photo Credit: Kim Clement- USA Today—-LB David Hawthorne

Inside linebacker David Hawthorne had telling words about Rob Ryan courtesy of ESPN:

“Rob believes in us sometimes more than you believe in yourself. And you love that kind of coach.”

The Bills are making moves to get better. I am not totally sold on Rex Ryan as a head coach in Buffalo, I am not sold on Rob Ryan coaching with his brother but I am sold on Whaley. I believe in him as a scout, as a personnel director and as a General Manager. If he sat down and spoke with the staff and believes that having Rob Ryan on the staff is a positive, I am all for it. Whaley’s reputation is on the line too.

So Bills fans, before you start petitions to fire coaches, before you start saying how the Bills just became the laughing stock of the league stop and think about what is going to unfold over the next few months. The Bills are trying to drastically improve the product on the field. That begins in the off-season. What issues have been voiced by players? The scheme, the complexity and the nuances of it. So the Bills have brought in Rob Ryan one of only three guys that really knows the ins and outs of this defense. A guy that has over 28 years of coaching experience. A guy that has proven himself as a coach but most of all as a teacher. The knowledge, delivery and teaching that needs to occur happens in the off season long before camp begins. Bringing him on board may just be the voice that this Bills defense needs.

Rob Ryan can help: The Linebackers and the Secondary