The Bills decided that they no longer wanted to be the underdogs of the NFL. Don’t get me wrong, the Bills still have a bit of fine tuning to do, but not only are they making plays… and they are winning games. Three out of the first four to be exact. The Bills have had some big wins including snapping a 15 game losing streaks to the Patriots, but the Bills are in for a tougher second quarter when they take on much of the NFC East and the Jets. Infused in this time is the bye-week which will be used to great extent given some of the injuries the Bills have right now. But one thing is sure. The Bills are reenergized and ready to play football again.
Heading into the season, the Bills had several question marks ranging from a suspect offensive line, a running-back controversy, relatively no tight ends, a little known QB and no true second wide receiver. Despite this, the group has come alive and has performed amazingly. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick has the ninth highest rated rating while his offensive line has surrendered a NFL low 2 sacks. Fred Jackson is established as a multi-threat weapon and a top five runner in the league. Stevie Johnson (14th most yards) and the WR corps have come alive with Scott Chandler emerging as a promising starter.
All in all the Bills have the fourth highest scoring offense in the league thanks to their well-rounded offense. One thing that the Bills will need to improve upon is first half scoring. They do well in the second half, setting a new NFL record of back-to-back come behind wins from 18+ points.
Despite being hit with the loss of WRs Roscoe Parrish and Marcus Easley for the year, the corps remain strong with a strong 1, 2, 3 punch. Well 1, 3, 3, punch until Donald Jones can show his talent as a #2 WR. The big test in the next few weeks though is how the line will do without LT Demetrius Bell (shoulder injury). Fourth round pick Chris Hairston emerged as a surprise switch tackle in camp, and will need to continue that success (which he did against a strong Cincy line).
After finishing last in the league, the Bills utilized the majority of their draft picks to remedy and strengthen the defense. The Bills defense has shown greater resilience against the starting running backs and stopping plays deep in the red zone. However, while they are in the middle of the pack for points given up per game, the Bills defense still is towards the bottom in yardage yielded. Yet this problem has been remedied in part due to owning the league’s best turnover ratio.
Injuries to corners Terrence McGee and Aaron Williams have hurt the secondary performance during this time. But McGee should reappear soon as a starter in the lineup. Atop that, the Bills safeties, George Wilson and Bryan Scott have been impressive in the last few games with Jairus Byrd appearing all over the field to stop plays.
The Most pressing though is the need to establish consistent pass rush. OLB Shawne Merriman has not lived up to expectations as a former pro bowler so far with only one sack and will need to be more involved to slow down opposing offenses. The front three, Edwards, Williams and Dareus have been getting good penetration while the inside linebackers are much improved from last year. The big surprise is Chris Kelsay, who has been a consistent pass rusher despite not showing it statistically.
Special Teams Review
Rian Lindell and Brian Moorman are two of the strongest staples on the team, both seeming to have put last year’s laxing performance behind them. Coverage units on kicks and punts have been adequate, but at least with the punts, its due to Moorman getting good distance on the ball to begin with. Return-men C.J. Spiller and Brad Smith haven’t been as dynamite as hoped in the return game, and should hopefully do better offensively in the next month.
To have won almost as many games in a month than all last season shows how much this young team has pulled together despite the lockout. Chan Gailey does not always have the perfect play-calling, but he has been able to rally the team at halftime for come behind victories. George Edwards meanwhile has put together a stronger 3-4 defense (hybrid) and their improvement has shown. Gailey would do well to get more touches to Fred Jackson in the run or pass game (Nix really needs to lock up the Big 3 offensive threats this season). Edwards meanwhile needs to generate a greater pass rush without sacrificing the run defense.
2012 Draft Predictions
It’s always interesting to see how much the mock can change as a season progresses. Between several offensive starters pegged to become free agents and suspect preseason play, I originally figured the Bills to invest mostly on the offense. Given how well the unit has performed though so far, I am glad to redact the last bit although the Bills still may lose a few players to free agency.
Given that 3 out of the 6 current inside linebackers are slated to become free agents, the position will need to be looked at. Also given the lack of pass rush, it is not too early to rule out a high investment at outside linebacker. While the offensive line is gelling, the Bills have two right guards to become FAs as well as both of their tackles. The Bills could also use another backup QB since they only have two true QBs right now. Another threat TE could be beneficial while the secondary may need another boost given its history of injuries. Here’s a rough mock with the Bills making the playoffs:
1: ILB: Luke Kuechly alt Vontaze Burfict, Dont’a Highower, Manti Te’o
2: OLB: Chase Thomas alt Shayne Skov, Vinny Curry, Brandon Lindsey
3: OG: Lucas Nix alt Ryan Miller, Kevin Zeitler, Cordy Glenn
4: OT: Matt McCants alt Bradley Sowell, Zerbie Sanders, Trevor Olson
4: QB: Kellen Moore alt Russell Wilson, Case Keenum, Ryan Lindley
5: TE: Brian Linthicum alt Rhett Ellison, Ladarius Green, Jake Stoneburner
6: CB: Tashaun Gipson alt Jamell Fleming, Emanuel Davis, Cameron Chism
7: S: George Iloka alt Jerrell Young, Harrison Smith, Sean Baker
7: WR: Derek Moye alt Marvin Jones, Bert Reed, Risard Matthews
In conclusion, the Bills have emerged as a potential threat in the AFC ascending as high as the third best team in some polls. Offensively, the Bills bring a wide range of attacks to the board, but just need greater consistency. Defensively, the team has played well, but needs to stop letting the big plays happen.