Nepotism Brings Potential Doom to Buffalo’s Defense

brothers ryan

Family runs deep, it’s something that has been proven true in many aspects of life. I love my siblings, always will. Everyone that has a sibling knows that those ties usually are valuable.

But I would never give my brother a job that he is not capable of or has proven to be ineffective at.

Yet here we stand today, Buffalo Bills fans, looking at the worst case of nepotism since Will Smith and his son made the atrocious movie “After Earth.” Bills head coach Rex Ryan has decided to give his brother, Rob, a job on the Bills defensive coaching staff. Rob Ryan will be aiding his brother, Rex, in coordinating the defense. With Rex needing to oversee the entire team, Rob’s duties will grow. Last year’s defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman is now in charge of the defensive backs, after defensive backs coach Donnie Henderson left the team. Henderson, a Bills secondary coach for the last 3 years, has been responsible for the growth of Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the move of Aaron Williams to safety and his improvements, and the emergence of rookie cornerback Ronald Darby.

For those who don’t know of Rob Ryan’s resume in the NFL, allow me to gladly fill you in. Bills fans are about to be the proverbial “deer-in-the-headlights” for the disaster that is looming for the Buffalo Bills defense. Hold on to your butts, Bills fans, because once we get started, it’s hard to stop. Ask NFL offenses how hard it is to be stopped by Rob Ryan-led defenses…

Rob’s Peak Years and the Downfall

To Rob Ryan’s credit, his defenses have always started well. In the first year of several of his defensive coordinator jobs in the NFL, Rob Ryan’s defenses get off to a hot start. In Dallas in 2011, Rob Ryan’s defense followed up the fired head coach Wade Phillips and his 3-4 defensive scheme. Phillips’ normally top-10 defense fell to 23rd in points allowed and 31st in points against, while 8th in takeaways and led to his release from Dallas. Rob Ryan entered the picture and improved the defense in his first year in Dallas: 14th in yards allowed, 16th in points against and 16th in takeaways. The next season, however, the Cowboys defense fell to 19th in yards allowed, 24th in points against and 28th in takeaways. He was let go by the Cowboys after that 2012 season.

Rob Ryan made Dallas look foolish for a year, in 2013. Dallas had brought in Monte Kiffin and changed the defensive scheme to a 4-3, while Dallas still had a 3-4 roster (Bills fans can feel that pain from this past season).

Meanwhile, in 2013, Rob Ryan took over for Gregg Williams following the “Bountygate” scandal. The Saints had the 4th best defense in yards allowed and points against. They were 29th in takeaways, but were still very respected. However, Rob Ryan’s defense took more than a step back in the following seasons. In 2014, the Saints were 31st in yards allowed, 28th in points against and 28th in takeaways. In 2015, even worse. Rob Ryan was fired halfway through the season, after his defense ranked 32nd -dead last- in points allowed and 31st again in yards allowed.

Also, back in 2006, Rob Ryan’s Oakland Raiders defense was 3rd in the league in yards allowed, but 18th in points against and 27th in takeaways. In the 2007-2008 seasons, his defenses never eclipsed 20th in any category defensively.

Rob Ryan’s Scheme

Rob, like his brother Rex, prefers to run a pure 3-4 defense. However, there are some major systematic differences between the two twins and their defenses.

Rex Ryan, on most days, lives and dies by the blitz and aggression in his play calls. There have been games in 2015 where Rex was reluctant to blitz, but that backfired on him more often than not. Ryan will often try to cause a quarterback to diagnose where a blitz is coming from and generate pressure (not sacks, but pressure, there is a difference…) on an opposing backfield.

Rob Ryan, on the other hand, tries to confuse an offense with various pre-snap looks without the added heat. Rob likes to mix up where his defenders cover, like Rex, but very rarely sends any added pressure. His teams are also known for the “Mike Pettine flaw” in most years: Being highly susceptible to the run and ranking near the bottom in rushing defense.

Takeaways? Nah…

One of the biggest consistencies in Rob Ryan’s defenses is the lack of creating turnovers. Only four times in the 12 seasons he has been a coordinator has any of his defenses ranked higher than 20th in taking the ball away from an opposing offense: 2008 (last season in OAK), 2010 (in Cleveland, his last of two seasons there), 2011 (the first season in Dallas) and 2015, where his defense was the worst in stopping teams from scoring.

Sometimes, a team needs some big plays from the defense to flip the field and aid the offense. It is an integral part of Rex Ryan’s schemes: aggressiveness and big plays from the defense. Rob Ryan has had none of those things from his defenses, ever. The best a Rob Ryan team has done with taking the football away was 13th, in 2010 with Cleveland.


Rob Ryan has been known as a big name, but it seems that Rob Ryan’s reputation is carried by his brother, Rex, and his father, Buddy. Buddy Ryan led the legendary 1985 Chicago Bears defense that won a Super Bowl with an 18-1 record and one of the best defenses of all time in the NFL. Buddy’s twin sons, Rex and Rob, have lived in football locker rooms since their young days.

Rex Ryan used an aggressive defense in Baltimore to become a hot head coaching candidate. His defensive success continued until his final two years with the New York Jets.

However, compared to his twin brother, Rex, Rob Ryan has paled in comparison when it comes to success. Rex Ryan has never had a total defense ranking lower than 19th: in 2015 in Buffalo, with a 4-3 roster running a 3-4 defense.


Rex Ryan truly believes in his brother, despite a track record that depicts otherwise. The biggest thing is how much control that each brother has on the defensive scheme. Just as important is the ability of Buffalo’s general manager, Doug Whaley, in helping to acquire more players to fit a 3-4 defense.

However, I believe that that bigger role that Rob Ryan has in the defense, the worse the defense will actually perform. The Bills may have made two integral mistakes with their coaching staff: hiring Rob Ryan and letting Donnie Henderson leave. Buckle up, Tyrod Taylor. The Bills may need you to step up more than expected to in 2016, because the Bills defense may cost the team even more games in 2016.

Keep it locked here to Better Live Than Dead for more on your Buffalo Bills and the rest of the NFL!

*All defensive rankings courtesy of Pro Football Reference

Written by Derek Kramer

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