One year ago, it seemed as if things would be different for the Buffalo Bills. The team had new owners, Terry and Kim Pegula who semmed to have passion for the team and its future in Buffalo. The Pegulas hired Rex Ryan, the former head coach of the New York Jets, known for his bombastic nature and defense-minded coaching style. It seemed all the pieces were coming together to finally produce a playoff team but it was not to be, again, in 2015.
With Ryan as the coach most predicted the defense, which was already a powerhouse, would be even stronger, nearly unstoppable. Coming off a season of 54 sacks thanks to the play of Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams to name a few, the Bills seemed to be primed for even more greatness.
That didn't happen. Instead, the Bills had just 21 sacks in the 2015 season. Most times, it seemed some of the players were confused, and at other times it seemed some players just didn't care and gave up. This wasn't the defense of a year ago. Gone was the structure and discipline. Instead, this defense was riddled with miscommunication and penalities.
On a positive note, the Bills did prove it made a good choice in Ronald Darby. The cornerback proved to be an asset in the secondary. During the preseason, teams picked on him. They did it at the beginning of the season. However, as the season went on, he proved that he could do more than rise up to the challenge.
In defense of the defense, it was the first year with a new coach, and Ryan utilizes a complex defense. Rex admitted some adjustments need to be made and those remain to be seen. What also isn't known is who will be a part of the defense next year. It is clear some don't want to be.
When the Bills signed Tyrod Taylor, he didn't have the starting job. Many speculated that he was Rex Ryan's first choice to be the starting quarterback when he was signed, but the Bills coaches let the players compete for the job. Veteran quarterback Matt Cassel seemed to be the front runner on paper, but Taylor won the job and E.J. Manuel was the back-up as Cassel was traded. Taylor proved his worth despite the team missing the playoffs. He ended the season with a completion rate of 63.7%, 3,035 passing yards, 568 yards rushing (behind only LeSean McCoy) and a quarterback rating of 99.4. His future with the Bills is up in the air at this point, but it would be surprising if he wasn't rewarded for his statistically impressive season and his rise to the leadership role.
LeSean McCoy proved to be a great addition to the Bills' roster. Despite missing several games due to injury, he still managed to rush for 895 yards with some big carries. His injuries were a concern at first for the team after they let go of fan favorite Fred Jackson before the regular season. This also worked out in the Bills' favor with the addition of Karlos Williams and Michael Gillislee. Both had strong performances and solidified their places on the roster.
Everyone had high expectations for Sammy Watkins going into the season. However, injury and lack of targets meant a slow start for Watkins. He took it upon himself to change that and called out his team and coaches for not throwing to him more, saying that if they threw it to him, he would catch it. He did. Watkins finished the season with 60 receptions for 1,047 yards. Imagine what he could have done if he had gotten the ball sooner and was healthy all season.
The offensive line improved for the Bills with the signing of, among others, Richie Incognito. Although far from perfect, the line and Taylor's rushing ability lead to fewer sacks and more holes for the rush.
Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman, also in his first year with the Bills, threw out some odd plays at times and took some risks. Some paid off, some didn't. More needs to be done to utilize the talents the Bills do have, and like the defense, the players who don't fit the scheme or don't want to should be gone.
Overall, despite the Bills' losing one game less than in 2014, there is hope. It was a long shot to expect a first year coaching staff could turn things around for a team that has struggled for 15 years. However, it isn't too much to expect that first year jitters should produce something much better next year. The Bills organization, especially the coaches and the players, have no more excuses. The time to get started is now for the Bills in order to turn things around and finally make the playoffs in 2016.