Ever since the departures of Rex Ryan and former GM Doug Whaley, a major change of culture has taken place in Buffalo, which is reflective in both the roster and management. Of the 37 draft picks the Bills had from 2012-2016, only a mere six of them remain on the roster today. A major factor in this has been new GM Brandon Beane’s literal purge of many players who were drafted under Whaley’s regime, most of whom were simply believed to not fit well with new coach Sean McDermott’s scheme.
Turnover does not equal tanking
Nevertheless, the trading of household names, such as Sammy Watkins and Ronald Darby, were quite surprising to many, even among the players. Luckily for McDermott, however, this would not be a rebuilding team that he’d inherit. Buffalo picked up quite a bit of help with the acquisitions of WR Jordan Matthews, CB EJ Gaines, rookie WR Zay Jones, rookie CB Tre’Davious White, and free agents pickups like RB Mike Tolbert, FB Patrick DiMarco, and kicker Steven Hauschka. These new additions were Beane’s way of telling everyone that they were not going to lie down and tank, but rather continue competing this season. The only problem with having quite a few new faces is the uncertainty of how their chemistry will play out having never played on the same side of the ball as their new counterparts.
Cue coach McDermott
Sean McDermott was not brought in to be a stop-gap for a season of tanking, No, he was brought in with intention of leading a team to win games sooner rather than later. Of course, a first-year coach won’t have a short leash right off the bat, but if anyone knows pressure, it’s the new coach of a team with the longest playoff drought in the league, and whose fans are breathing down his neck with the restless angst of 17 years. So just how well has the new guy been handling his being thrust into such a precarious position?
First things first; coach McDermott is not Rex Ryan. You’ll see no pompous playoff predictions, and you certainly won’t see a barrage of media coverage. Instead, what McDermott brings to the table is a “trust the process” type of mentality where he is understanding and honest with himself and the team about where they stand as a group.
With any form of roster resetting, there always needs to be a period of developing chemistry, something the Bills will continue to work on into the next few weeks and throughout the rest of the season. However, what is apparently most important to McDermott is furthermore developing a new identity amidst the obvious culture change brought on by the roster and management turnover. After Buffalo’s 21-12 win over the Jets in Week 1, McDermott shed some light on his perceived progress of developing this identity:
Well, it is only one game. We want to win, and we got that done today. We were fortunate to get that done. Like I said, the important part was we came out and we played good, solid football. . . Good, fundamentally sound, aggressive, tough football. That’s what we were looking to do, is to create that type of identity and I thought we put ourselves in position to do that. . . (per Buffalo Bills via NYUpstate).
That “aggressive, tough” kind of play eluded especially to McDermott’s defense, who has allowed the second-fewest yards per game to opposing offenses through 2 weeks. The run defense has been especially stout, only allowing an average of 57 yards per game on the ground. Safety Jordan Poyer has been a major offseason steal thus far for the Bills, accounting for 14 tackles, two sacks, five passes defended, and an interception that sealed their win in Week 1. Not many doubted McDermott’s ability to lead a fierce defense coming into this season, though, considering his success as defensive coordinator in Carolina with the likes of Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, and Josh Norman. However, the Bills’ glaring problem thus far has been on the other side of the ball.
In McDermott’s Week 2 return to Carolina, no defense could’ve been able to help the abysmal performance by the Bills’ offense in their 9-3 snooze-fest of a defeat. The Tyrod Taylor-led offense managed to gain a mere 176 total yards, and LeSean McCoy appeared to be stuck in the mud, rushing for only nine yards on 12 carries. Taylor threw for 17 completions on 25 attempts, and while that statistic only doesn’t appear bad on its own, the fact that those completions gained only 125 yards says that there must be a problem here. So… what is it then? Is Taylor not taking enough chances with his receivers or is the coaching staff just not allowing him to do as much as he wants to? There may be truth to both arguments, but let’s take a look at what McDermott’s role is in all of this.
LeSean McCoy has been given an extensive workload in the early going, and it’s only paid off on the scoreboard half of the way through Week 2. Many Bills fans are worried he’s being used too much, yet there is a method to this madness. McDermott has taken into account the fact that Tyrod Taylor’s weapons are mostly brand new, and as much as one would like to play with new toys, the first-year coach knows that chemistry is a process that, in this case, is still being established and built.
So, in the meantime, McDermott and OC Rick Dennison have wisely decided to have Taylor use what is most familiar to him (McCoy & Charles Clay) for a majority of the plays in the early going. That being said, the new pieces are getting broken in little by little at the same time, and perhaps no one is quite as aware of this as WR Jordan Matthews, who responded to critics after the Week 2 loss in Carolina regarding the underutilization of receivers to this point:
I think you’re going to [need to] get a little bit of a bigger sample size, if that makes sense. You guys study football. I don’t think there’s been any big, like, receiving games through the first two weeks of the season. And I watch, so I know that, for a fact. So I think you need to give it a little more time before you start saying, you know, what’s what and who’s who, if that makes sense. (via ESPN’s Mike Rodak)
Matthews comments are virtually reflective of the attitude surrounding the Bills’ locker room as a whole, which looks vastly different than it did when Rex Ryan was in charge. This goes back to the “trust the process” mentality that McDermott seems to be instilling in the new culture of determining how this team will grow.
Buffalo’s roster still has far too much talent to be tanking in any way, shape, or form, and the entire locker room knows it. With the Bills facing a tough couple weeks ahead (vs. DEN, @ ATL), only time will tell if McDermott’s unraveling plans will turn out for the better, but at least he has his players’ minds in the right place so that they sense no need for panic, even if some fans can’t help but complain early on out of pure instinct.
This coach possesses a legitimate plan for the future and has his players looking nowhere but up. The Bills may not have the Super Bowl on their minds as a real goal this season, but at least they have found someone that will help players enjoy the ride rather than be constantly anxious about reaching the final destination, wherever that may be.
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