Deep passes are burning Bills and coach Rex Ryan
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Corey Graham was in the midst of discussing why it’s unfair to pin all the blame on the Bills’ secondary for giving up big plays, when the safety was informed how many completions of 50 yards or longer Buffalo has given up this season.
Graham was stunned to learn it’s already happened seven times in nine games.
“Really? That’s terrible,” the 10th-year player said, sitting at his locker in wide-eyed disbelief on Wednesday. “That’s crazy.”
It’s also unacceptable, Graham said, because defending deep passes shouldn’t be difficult.
“This league is pretty simple as a defensive back: Keep the ball in front of you,” he said. “It’s just guys have to focus on their technique, and when the ball’s in the air, you’ve got to make the play.”
The Bills haven’t made nearly enough plays, which is why coach Rex Ryan is seriously considering making changes at cornerback as Buffalo (4-5) comes out of its bye week off to play at Cincinnati (3-5-1) on Sunday.
Offseason free-agent addition Corey White is competing with Ronald Darby to take over the starting spot opposite Stephon Gilmore. And rookie sixth-round draft pick Kevon Seymour is in line to replace Nickell Robey-Coleman for the No. 3 spot.
“I’m tired of mistakes,” Ryan said, foregoing what has traditionally been his player-friendly approach. “I’m not here to make friends. I’m here to win.”
The seven completions of over 50 yards matches the number the Bills gave up in their two previous seasons combined. This year’s total already surpasses any season total Buffalo’s had during its 16-season playoff drought.
“We’ve got to start making plays and making teams pay for throwing jump balls up,” Ryan said. “I’m tired of seeing it. And I’m sure our fans are as well. We’re playing pretty good defense, but that’s killing us.”
It’s a concern that began in Buffalo’s season-opening 13-7 loss at Baltimore, when Joe Flacco hit Mike Wallace for a 66-yard touchdown pass. And the trend resurfaced over the past four games during which the Bills have given up five 50-plus-yard catches while failing to manage an interception.
The final straw came in a 31-25 loss at Seattle on Nov. 7, when Ryan benched Darby shortly after the second-year starter gave up a 50-yard pass to Doug Baldwin on the Seahawks’ fifth play from scrimmage.
Ryan said he’s not particularly singling out Darby because there’s plenty of blame to go around. And yet, he placed the onus on Darby to regain the team’s confidence in him.
“It’s just not his confidence, it’s about our confidence,” Ryan said. “We need Darby to play the way he’s capable of playing. And if there’s a reason he’s not ... we’ve got to ask ourselves why it’s happening.”
Gilmore’s play has been inconsistent , too. He was burned several times in a 37-31 loss to the Jets in Week 2. And a miscommunication led to Chris Hogan beating Gilmore for a 53-yard TD catch in New England’s 41-25 win last month.
The secondary has played without a key component since hard-hitting safety Aaron Williams sustained a season-ending neck injury at Miami on Oct. 23 — a 28-25 loss, which prompted Buffalo’s three-game skid.
And yet, this is not what Ryan was expecting from a position group that was the defense’s strength a year ago, when Buffalo’s front seven had difficulty generating pass rush.
This year, the struggles have been reversed. Buffalo has an NFL-leading 30 sacks, but ranks tied for 18th with just six interceptions — four coming against Arizona.
Tackle Kyle Williams pins the blame on the entire defense.
“We’re all in this together,” Williams said. “We need to do better. Point blank.”
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