Rex Ryan, the magnetically blunt coach Miami fans love to hate, is bringing his Buffalo Bills to Hard Rock Stadium, where the Dolphins will attempt to halt his recent record of success against them.
The surging Bills have won four in a row after losing their first two games, and the Dolphins are suddenly reanimated with an upset of Pittsburgh after a woebegone start.
Ryan, who had a knack for getting under the Dolphins’ skin when he was coach of the New York Jets, is 7-7 all time against Miami, with two decisive wins last season, his first in Buffalo.
“Speed, attitude, swagger,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said when asked what trademarks of a Ryan-coached team come to mind. “And creative. Every time I’ve been on the other sideline against him, I’ve always come out of the game going, ‘I never thought that was coming.’”
The Bills’ reversal of fortune, including a 16-0 win at New England three weeks ago, came after losses to Baltimore and the Jets. Ryan fired his offensive coordinator, encouraged the team not to forsake his run-first philosophy, and, with his right-hand man, brother Rob, orchestrated harmony on defense, which has 12 takeaways during the win streak, is ranked first in the NFL in red zone touchdowns allowed and second in sacks.
“We kept grinding,” Ryan said. “We believe in what we’re doing, and we were obviously very disappointed and, quite honestly, we were embarrassed about the way we played the first two weeks. We expected to have much better results than we did. Our guys don’t want to let each other down and we’re working extremely hard.”
Ryan has relied heavily on running back LeSean McCoy as the Bills lead the NFL in rushing yards per game (166.3) and rushing yards per play (5.6). McCoy’s game-time status is murky due to a hamstring injury. Even quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who throws sparingly, has the highest rushing total in the league among quarterbacks.
“I think you do what fits your personnel,” said Ryan, whose top receiver, Sammy Watkins, is out for six weeks. “We try to win regardless of what it looks like, how bad it looks or how great it looks. The last four weeks, things have looked pretty good.”
Miami offensive lineman Kraig Urbik played under Ryan last year and said he lived up to his reputation as a ‘player’s coach.’
“He’d take the blame for a player’s mistake and he’ll stick his neck out for guys,” Urbik said. “He’s got hard-nosed, physical teams, and with his style of defense he wants the offense to ground and pound a lot and let the quarterback make a play when he has to. That’s his MO and it’s working.”
Miami tight end MarQueis Gray also played in Buffalo and said Ryan’s sense of fun rubs off on his players.
“Some people think he’s cocky but he’s just confident and that’s what he preaches, because deep down he believes in himself and in you,” Gray said.
Ryan believed in Richie Incognito, who was blackballed after he was accused of harassing Miami teammate Jonathan Martin in the Bullygate scandal that contributed to the Dolphins’ 2013 implosion. Incognito has revived his career in Buffalo, where Ryan said he’s respected by teammates and well-liked in the community.
“I let him know that everybody makes mistakes in life; I’m certainly one who has made several in my life,” Ryan said. “There are no do-overs but he owned it and he’s been unbelievable here.”
Incognito will be crucial to the success of Buffalo’s running game Sunday, and the Dolphins (2-4) will have to make up for the loss of safety Reshad Jones, out for the season with a shoulder injury.
“It has to be team tackling, gang tackling,” Gase said. “[Reshad] saved us a lot of times. He was the last man there and making plays to prevent the explosive runs or touchdowns.”
▪ Dion Jordan, the 2013 first-round draft pick whose career has been stalled by substance abuse infractions, had a rare interaction with the media on Friday.
“I’m taking it one day at a time,” he said while sitting at his locker. “I’m letting my body tell me what to do. Once I’m healthy, I’m going to play – of course I’m dying to.”
Asked about his knee injury and recent surgery to clean up a previous meniscus repair, Jordan said: “With that setback, it’s back to square one.”
“But I’m grateful I’m able to be in the locker room,” he said, adding that he was thankful Gase took him on the road to the Seattle game. “Once you’re not in the locker room and not in the meetings, that’s the toughest part.”