Rex Ryan stokes huge defensive expectations for Bills

Bills coach Rex Ryan is always heavily involved with his defense.

PITTSFORD, N.Y. — Rex Ryan didn’t need to hear the entire question before he interrupted and just pointed his finger.

Mario Williams and Kyle Williams, two of the Buffalo Bills’ best defenders, were strolling by after a mid-morning practice.

“We’re going to play great on defense, always,” Ryan, the Bills’ new coach, told USA TODAY Sports. “The fact that we’ve got these guys, yeah, it just makes it a lot easier.”.

Ryan, who has a reputation for confidence along with a creative defensive mind, now has to back up his talk. After being hired in January, he took over a team that went 9-7 last season, already boasted one of the league’s stingiest defenses and appeared to get better this offseason. Ryan filled his staff with people he worked with during his six-year tenure as coach of the New York Jets, where his teams were known for physical and aggressive defense.

Now, expectations are that the Bills defense should be one the league’s best.

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“The sky is the limit,” general manager Doug Whaley told USA TODAY Sports. “If you look at it, we were fourth last year in yards allowed. And if you look at Rex’s resume, he’s consistently in the top 10 and a lot of times in the top five. The blend of those two things — the talent we have and the expertise that Rex and his defensive staff bring — we expect to be at or near the top.”.

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If the defense does live up to the hype — and the Bills get at least average play from the quarterback position — Buffalo could finally break a playoff drought dating back to 1999.

The Williamses anchor the defensive front along with Marcell Dareus and Jerry Hughes. All of them can rush the passer, which allows Ryan to move his linebackers all over the field to create mismatches. It’s something Ryan called “scary” — for opposing offenses, that is.

It’s another thing Bills fans can expect when watching Ryan’s defense: players will be on the move. While with the Jets, Ryan wasn’t afraid to give opposing offenses diverse looks they had never seen. It wasn’t rare to see New York’s defense break the huddle and initially line up with no down linemen, then wait just before the ball was snapped to tip their hand as to which players were blitzing and which were dropping into coverage. Or Ryan would take a player, even a linebacker, and have him line up near the sideline over a receiver. The intent was to confuse quarterbacks into making bad decisions.

That should continue in Buffalo.

“He takes the bullseye off a guy and moves him around,” Kyle Williams told USA TODAY Sports. “He tries to find different matchups for different guys. It’s a fun defense to play in. There’s a lot of learning that goes with it, but once you learn it and understand it and the pieces fit together, I think we can be pretty good.”.

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Along with a ferocious pass rush, tight coverage in the secondary is the other central theme on which Ryan bases his philosophy. When the Jets were at their best under Ryan, they had shutdown cornerbacks in Darrelle Revis, who neutralized the offense’s top receiver, and Antonio Cromartie. It allowed Ryan to get more creative with his other nine starters. With Stephon Gilmore, Leodis McKelvin and rookie Ronald Darby, Ryan has plenty of young and athletic corners in Buffalo.

“I think we’re right on pace to be a complete team,” Bills safety Aaron Williams said. “We’ve still got to make a few adjustments here and there, still got to get some things corrected. Have all those phases complete, and we’ll be a dominant team.”.

Follow Lorenzo Reyes on Twitter @LorenzoGReyes.

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