Bills' Rex Ryan: 'We will play our defense' despite players' concerns

HERTFORDSHIRE, England -- Despite Rex Ryan saying after last Sunday's 34-21 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals that, "We gotta take a long, hard look at what we're asking our guys to do," it doesn't appear that changes are on the horizon for the Buffalo Bills' defense, which has been held to just nine sacks this season -- tied for 25th in the NFL.

Griping from the Bills' talented, expensive defensive line about the lack of pass-rushing production in Ryan's scheme has been written off by both Ryan and general manager Doug Whaley this week as natural frustration from players.

Asked Friday if he has listened to his players' concerns and tweaked his scheme for the Bills' game Sunday in London against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Ryan sarcastically responded, "We changed [it up] entirely, our game plan, because of what our guys think."

But seriously, Rex?

"I looked at it," he retorted. "When you're not successful, you always go back and think, 'Maybe I should have done whatever.' But we will play our defense."

The Bills' star-studded defensive line of Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams and Jerry Hughes counts for $40.35 million against this season's salary cap -- yet they've combined for just five sacks under Ryan and defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman, losing games to quarterbacks who only hold the ball for a couple of seconds before passing.

Through the first six games last season, when Jim Schwartz coordinated the defense for then-coach Doug Marrone, Buffalo's four primary linemen had racked up a combined 14.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. Buffalo went on to finish 9-7 and lead the NFL with 54 sacks in 2014.

After last Sunday's loss, Mario Williams and Hughes deferred questions to Ryan about the Bills' failure to register a sack of Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. Dareus followed up Tuesday with further questions about defensive linemen's roles in Ryan's scheme.

Whaley understands their concerns, but played down the issue when speaking to reporters Friday in his first news conference since the start of the regular season.

"These are competitive, emotional guys," he said. "We didn't as a whole team play well enough. They're frustrated, and they voiced their opinion. That's fine. ... We know this much: they've come here and worked their tails off and we're all in this together working to get this thing right and get us where we need to be."

Asked if Ryan's scheme fits the Bills' talent on their defensive front, Whaley responded, "I believe so."

As bigger issues -- quarterback Tyrod Taylor's knee injury and the absence of wide receiver Percy Harvin for personal reasons -- have emerged this week, the question of "Where's the pass rush?" has faded from the discussion about the team. Williams has backed off his comments that he might have set a record for dropping into coverage, something that he was rarely tasked with doing last season.

"It was a lot [of dropping]," Williams said Wednesday. "But at the same time, I have to cover my butt off. Guys that are going [after the quarterback], they have to get there. You're put out there on the spot and you have to do it. Because that's the numbers. That's what we got: X's and O's. You have to go out there and do it regardless."

Ryan sent the message earlier this week that the Bills' aim should be winning, not setting a franchise record for sacks -- something they did in 2013, when the team had 57 sacks, and nearly matched last season.

Williams, a perennial Pro Bowl player whose 14.5 sacks last season were a career high, heard Ryan loud and clear.

"Certain situations, we have to do what we have to do as a team, for the betterment of the team," Williams said Wednesday. "Not just saying the front four, but it's one of the things that where, if we go out there, if we're in that situation, a lot of that is dictated due to score or whatever during the game.

"Score is the biggest thing. If it's lopsided or one way, we have to make adjustments. That was really seen this past week, and we have to be able to capitalize and know that we're gonna be in this situation and we're gonna be in a front like this or that, that we have to be able to exploit the little things from the offense to capitalize when we're in that scheme."

Dareus, the Bills' 331-pound defensive tackle who signed a behemoth $100 million contract last month, might have made the biggest waves this week when he told Yahoo! Sports, "They pay us a lot of money. And we want to use our talents the best way we know how. If we're going to be dropping, we don't want to get questions about not getting sacks. That's just how it is."

Dareus softened his message Wednesday, saying, "We're all on the same page. We just really need to talk and just know what's going on with it. With all of this, I feel like we're closer now than we've ever been. We're on a whole other page. I feel like we're ready to make it happen."

Opposing quarterbacks have averaged 2.19 seconds before their passes against the Bills this season, the second-fastest rate behind that which the St. Louis Rams have faced (2.12 seconds) this season.

"Every team we play, they're doing it the same way," Dareus said. "They're getting rid of the ball. It's pretty hard. The teams that we lost to were veteran quarterbacks and they know what they're doing. They're finding the mismatches, no matter what kind of scheme we got.

"We're trying to confuse them. Rex is doing all he can to put mismatches in his face, give him different coverages. But veteran quarterbacks, that doesn't faze them. Tom Brady, Eli [Manning] -- I mean, those guys are not going to fall for that. They're just gonna throw [toward] the mismatch, get the ball out of their hands.

"They'd rather lose than give us a sack."