Firing Greg Roman Does Little to Solve the Bills' Problems
After a disappointing first two weeks of the season, the Buffalo Bills made a coaching change -- it just wasn’t the change many were expecting. The day after a 37-31 loss to the New York Jets on Thursday Night Football, the Bills announced the firing of offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
It was a surprising decision. And it might have even been the worst coaching change the Bills could have made to salvage the 2016 season.
A 2015 Turnaround
Rex Ryan teams have been known as defensive powerhouses that skate by with an ok offense -- this is the guy who led a defense that took Mark Sanchez to two straight AFC Championship Games. But that hasn’t been the case with Ryan’s short tenure with the Bills. Last season, the offense was the clear strength of the team under Roman, with quarterback Tyrod Taylor and the league’s most efficient rushing offense.
By our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, the 2015 Bills were the exact opposite of the 2014 version of the team, which was the one prior to Ryan’s arrival. That team, under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, had the second-best defense in the league by schedule-adjusted Defensive NEP per play, while the offense was 26th by Adjusted NEP per play.
But as we see so often, when NFL teams make a coaching change, it comes in the complete opposite form of the last hire. Since former head coach Doug Marrone was an offensive coach, the Bills decided to go the defensive side of the ball for their next coach and hired Ryan. Ryan then hired Roman, who was coming off a down year as the offensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers after three successful seasons which included turning around the career of Alex Smith.
Ryan and Roman came into Buffalo last season, and both turned around the direction of the unit he was in charge of. But only one of those turns were positive. Below are the ranks for the Bills by Adjusted NEP per play overall, both for the pass and run on both sides of the ball.
|Year||Overall Offense (Rank)||Passing||Rushing||Overall Defense||Pass Defense||Rush Defense|
|2014||0.00 (27th)||0.09 (15)||-0.08 (29)||-0.05 (2)||-0.06 (2)||-0.05 (9)|
|2015||0.10 (8)||0.14 (12)||0.10 (1)||0.06 (16)||0.08 (12)||0.08 (32)|
In 2015, the offense improved in every category, reaching the top of the league in rushing efficiency with Tyrod Taylor at quarterback and the duo of Lesean McCoy and Karlos Williams in the backfield. Roman also brought along a passing attack that was a top-12 unit by Adjusted Passing NEP per play with a quarterback who had been a backup for four years with the Baltimore Ravens and had a whole 35 career attempts heading into the 2015 season.
Roman helped develop Taylor by building on his strengths as a player: his mobility and his ability to throw the ball deep. As evidenced Thursday night, Taylor can sling the ball downfield, and that strategy worked well in 2015. Taylor had the third-highest air yards per attempt last season, and 62.5 percent of his passing yards actually came through the air -- not after the catch -- which was the second-highest among starting quarterbacks.
A 2016 Disappointment
But that was 2015, and 2016 is a new season. That new season started with the Bills laying an offensive egg in Week 1 against the Ravens. Taylor threw for only 111 yards and was the 27th-ranked passer by Passing NEP per play in Week 1.
However, there was Week 2, and while stretches were certainly iffy, Taylor finished with a Passing NEP per play of 0.50, which would have been the fourth-highest of Week 1. This came against a Jets defense that was ranked sixth in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play last season. This was also done with the top receiving target, Sammy Watkins, hobbled with a foot injury for most of the game and off the field completely late.
Meanwhile, with Ryan's defense, after holding firm against the Ravens in Week 1, the Bills let the Jets throw and run all over them in Week 2. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 374 yards and nearly 3 different Jets had 100 yards receiving (Quincy Enunwa was just shy at 92 yards). Fitzpatrick's performance was right behind Taylor's by Passing NEP per play, as the fifth-best quarterback performance through the 18 games we've seen. Matt Forte also ran all over, with three touchdowns inside the red zone.
Ryan’s defense isn’t the only problem. It’s also the lack of discipline his teams constantly shows -- the Bills were tied as the most penalized team in football last season. And it's his lack of game management. During the fourth quarter of the Week 2 game, the Bills faced 3rd-and-1 from the Jets’ 45-yard line with just over eight minutes remaining, down by six. The third-down call wasted time with E.J. Manuel coming in, running all over the formation before settling under center and attempting a quarterback sneak that got stuffed.
On fourth down, the Bills kept the offense on the field and looked to try to same play but, instead, Manuel stayed under center, yelled “hut” a bunch of times and tried to draw the Jets offside to no avail. With the play clock winding down, the Bills called their first timeout with 7:11 left in the game. The Buffalo offense went back on the field and a LeSean McCoy run up the middle was also stuffed.
The Jets and Bills traded scores and the Bills were able to stop the Jets on their last drive that started with 1:15 remaining, but they only had two timeouts to stop the clock. Instead of having closer to a minute for a final chance at a touchdown and the win, the Jets were able to run the clock until there were only 18 seconds remaining. The Bills took over with just 10 seconds left and ran a failed hook and ladder play to end the game losing by six.
These types of decisions aren’t going to be fixed with the firing of Roman -- unless he was responsible for the Manuel sneaks and, in that case, send him away. Ryan should be on thin ice in Buffalo, and the release of Roman is a desperation attempt to make it look like some action was taken. This was less of a move to cut off the nose to spite the face and more of treating a sprained ankle with an amputation while still trying to run a race.
Getting rid of Roman does little to improve the Bills in 2016 or even fix the problems this team has faced early in the season. He becomes the fall guy for Ryan, who is more than likely set up to take the fall for himself sooner rather than later.