ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) Inconsistencies and now injuries.
Even the ever-upbeat coach Rex Ryan is beginning to acknowledge his prized Buffalo Bills defense isn't going to finish anywhere near his - or anyone else's - high expectations this season.
''Nope,'' Ryan said Wednesday.
''I've never been in this situation. I think the worst I've ever been in this league is 11th,'' Ryan said, noting he has never had a defense finish worse than 11th in yards allowed in 10 NFL seasons as a coach or coordinator. ''I'm not going to press the panic button. But we'll see. Obviously, we've got to improve.''
Time's running short and healthy bodies are running thin as Buffalo (5-6) prepares to host the Houston Texans (6-5) on Sunday in a game between two teams competing to stay the AFC playoff picture.
The Bills defense will be missing at least three starters - defensive tackle Kyle Williams (injured reserve), linebacker Nigel Bradham (right ankle) and safety Aaron Williams (neck). Alex Carrington, who was filling in for Kyle Williams, is out for the year after hurting his left quadriceps in a 30-22 loss at Kansas City on Sunday.
And the playing status of defensive end Mario Williams is uncertain because of a foot injury, though the Bills' top pass-rushing threat returned to practice for the first time in a week on Wednesday.
The injuries are unsettling for a defense that has underachieved after entering the season regarded as the Bills strength.
In its first season under Ryan, Buffalo ranks 20th in yards allowed and tied for 30th with 16 sacks.
Those are significant drops for a defense that returned mostly intact a year after finishing fourth in yards allowed and had an NFL-leading 54 sacks.
Ryan refuses to use injuries as an excuse. He's also growing sensitive to questions regarding his defensive philosophy, including why linemen are being asked to drop back into coverage rather than attack the quarterback.
''Whatever. I mean, I don't know,'' Ryan said, responding to a question of why the Bills failed to pressure Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith. ''Right now, you guys (reporters) are looking for anything. We're just trying to find a way to stop people.''
Reporters aren't the only ones questioning Ryan's approach.
The players have been as well.
On Tuesday, cornerback Stephon Gilmore noted how much time Smith had in the pocket in completing 19 of 30 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns, and rallying the Chiefs from a 16-7 deficit. The Bills were credited with one sack, which came when the quarterback scampered out of bounds for no gain.
On Wednesday, defensive end Jerry Hughes expressed familiar concerns about how difficult it has been to learn the playbook since Ryan was hired in January.
Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus referred to the defense as still being a work in progress.
Dareus also rolled his eyes and laughed when asked why he was dropping back into coverage both times Smith threw touchdown passes.
''Hey man, whatever it takes to help the team,'' Dareus said, before breaking into a laugh. ''He's the head coach. And we're going to do what he thinks is best.''
Dareus has just two sacks this season after registering a career-best 10 last year. The production led the Bills to sign Dareus to a six-year, $108 million contract extension in August.
The Bills' 16 sacks are the fewest they've had through 11 games since 2007, when they had just 10.
''There's just a lot going on,'' Dareus said, referring to the reasons behind the defense's inconsistencies. ''We're still getting used to each other.''
NOTES: Backup RB Karlos Williams (left shoulder) did not practice and his status is uncertain for Sunday. ... Starting LT Cordy Glenn (knee) was limited in practice and starting RT Seantrel Henderson (illness) missed practice. Ryan expects both will play. ... Buffalo is coming off three straight road games. After hosting Houston, the Bills play their next two on the road.
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