The season is now halfway done and the Bills are still without a win. Having one of the toughest schedules of the year, the Bills are 0-4 in the last 4 games, outscored 89-108, an improvement from 61-125 in the first quarter, including two losses in overtime. Holding their own against tough teams such as the Ravens, Jaguars, Chiefs and the Bears, the Bills are starting to gain some respect around the league, but still ranked at the bottom by most analysts. True, this is a rebuilding year, and already improvements are beginning to show. Primarily with the resurgence of the offense and passing game under Ryan Fitzpatrick and the defense putting forth two games whereby they did not give up over 30 points. We have said good byes to RB Marshawn Lynch and hello to OLB Shawne Merriman. Don't get me wrong, there is still a lot of work to be done, but this season is already bound to be more interesting than it was a month ago.
Here's the breakdown...
Ryan Fitzpatrick has emerged as one of the top passers in the NFL in 6 weeks he has been starting for the Bills. Throwing 136 - 227 (~60%) for 1,499 yards, 13 TDs and 7 INTs, Fitz has established himself as the captain of the Bills offense. Bearing in mind that a lot of his accomplishments have come against top defenses and without solid protection, Fitzpatrick is really putting on impressive show, begging the question why Bills fans were wanting to draft a franchise QB as soon as possible. It is not to say that Fitz has been flawless, but as far as the past four games have gone (including a 300+ yard passing game with 4TDs), the quarterback situation has been, at the very least for the season, solved.
Running Back: C
With Lynch playing in the rains of Seattle, Fred Jackson has been given back his starting job with minor improvement overall. In the last four games Jackson has been averaging over 50 yards a game, which while is not great, is better. C.J. Spiller has been the primary 3rd down back with similar minute success. However, neither back has yet to break 100 yards in a single game, although this is due in part to Gailey's promoting the passing game. FB Corey McIntyre scored his first TD of his career.
Interior Offensive Line: B+
Continued positive remarks here with regard to the interior linemen. The combination of Eric Wood, Geoff Hangartner, and Andy Levitre have formed a solid wall for pass protection and blocking for the run.
Exterior Offensive Line: C-
Demetrius Bell while not brilliant is at least competent at left tackle. Meanwhile, right tackle Cornell Green has been placed on the injured reserve (not a terrible loss, sorry), and has been replaced in large by Cordaro Howard with little improvement. It is only a matter of time before Howard will be subbed out by backup Mansfield Wrotto, while fifth rounder Ed Wang has yet to see any playing time since coming off of a knee injury.
Tight End: D-
The arrival of Shawn Nelson has completely failed to make an impact with regard to the passing game. With backup, David Martin making a bigger impact than both Nelson and Stupar, this position clearly needs retooling, or a new face via the draft next year.
Wide Receiver: A
First off, hats off to second wide-out Stevie Johnson. The third year player has gone from an unknown seventh rounder to the biggest receiving threat on the team this year with 29 catches for 386 yards and 4 touchdowns over the past four games. As a result, the other starter Lee Evans has been able to emerge more so with 19 catches for 279 yards and 4 TDs. Roscoe Parrish has continued to shine at the slot while fourth receiver David Nelson continues to make a few brilliant catches a game.
Defensive End: C-
Both starters Stoud and Edwards, as well as backup Johnson, continue to play consistently fair. Their only problem is that they are not quick enough to plug gaps and cause serious pressure that may result in the Bills drafting yet another DE to solve the 3-4 DE pressure problem. Still have yet to see anything from Carrington and McCargo (the latter I'd be surprised to see at the end of the year)
Defensive Tackle: A
To say that Kyle Williams does not deserve a trip to the Pro Bowl is an understatement. Despite having only three sacks, he has been the most consistent player in causing pressure, plugging holes and tackling. Troupe continues to play well and has seen more time on the field with George Edward's heavy 4-3 scheme being implemented more often against the run in the past few games.
Inside Linebacker: C
Andra Davis and Paul Posluszny continue to play well, despite injuries that have seen both players missing time. Poz continues to serve (with Whitner) as the team's leading tackler and are starting to create more pressure on opposing QBs. Still struggling with pass protection though.
Outside Linebacker: F
Still the "Achilles Heel" of the defense. Kelsay and Torbor still are struggling in containing the run while doubling back for pass protection and blitzing. Chris Ellis is no longer with the team, while Aaron Maybin has been demoted to inactive status in games. The addition of pro-bowler Shawne Merriman (who is overcoming a major knee injury and on/off field problems) can only help this unit improve. Merriman's mere presence will help opposing team's be more conservative and greater pressure and hopefully turnovers should ensue.
Drayton Florence and Leodis McKelvin have been playing well, but give up the occasion big pass. Florence's problems also include continual pass interference calls, but a healthy Terrence McGee will help ease the burden on the corners. Reggie Corner meanwhile has been playing well at the nickel slot and may see more time in the future. No interceptions is hurting the Bills a bit.
Safety Donte Whitner has been the key player in stopping the run and breaking up passes. Jarius Byrd has been dealing with injuries and has not had the same impact on the field as he did last year.
Special Teamer: C+
Rian Lindell despite being fairly consistent, has been having a disappointing second quarter with his first missed (blocked technically) extra point and a missed field goal in OT (off the post) against the Ravens. Enduring similar bad luck, Brian Moorman has seen less success in his punts as of late. However, I am not terribly worried for either guys as both seem to get better as it gets colder, wetter and windier. Coverage units have been consistent, but C.J. Spiller has been a no show in the return game.
Chan Gailey has had mixed successes in transforming the Bills from a decade of disappointment to a playoff caliber team. The mere fact that the Bills have been able to keep up with potential playoff teams (two into overtime) is indicative of this statement. Gailey made smart decisions in giving Fitz control of the offense, which has gone from anemic to able. Mixed results defensively that can only be helped by the roster changes made during the season will only further the Bills capabilities in the near future. Playing against the Lions, Bengals and Vikings in the next quarter makes it more and more plausible that the Bills can come away with their first win of the season.
2011 Draft Predictions:
1. DE Adrian Clayborn – Iowa (under assumption Andrew Luck (Stanford) forgoes the draft this year)
2. OT DeMarcus Love – Arkansas
3. LB Dontay Moch – Nevada
4. DE Wayne Daniels – TCU
4. CB Mario Butler – Georgia Tech
5. TE Charlie Gantt – Michigan
6. LB Elijah Joseph – Temple
7. SS Eric Hagg – Nebraska
Just another great fan opinion shared on the pages of BuffaloRumblings.com.