This story marks a milestone for the "Three Good and Three Bad" series. For the first time, I cannot justify listing anything in the "good" category. I toyed with the idea of working the math on the Dallas ground game prior to Buffalo's failed 4th-and-1 conversion to see if Buffalo's run defense was effective. I also thought about listing George Wilson in the "good" category for his run support efforts early in the game. Both are stretches in the end. Rather than insult everyone's intelligence, we present "Three Bad."
The Bad. I list the three most striking. There are plenty more.
Offensive Concept and Scheme. Almost a year ago, I wondered if Bill Belichick was getting ready to ride the bow wave of another league trend by drafting two tight ends. Recent events have deepened my belief that the next offensive trend will be a movement to more traditional offenses. A quick check of the playoffs standings shows the success of offenses that can incorporate a traditional, power element to its offense. The 49ers, Giants, Texans, Steelers, Raiders, Ravens, Bengals, Falcons and the Jets can all pull in the reigns and run with power. Buffalo has run effectively, but Chan Gailey has stereotyped the offense along the way.
The Bills are consistently in the spread, almost always putting three or four receivers on the field. Very rarely has Buffalo used a traditional offense. Thanks to the Ryan brothers, teams now have a blueprint on how to stop Buffalo's spread-heavy offense. Many of the best teams in the league are mixing spread and traditional sets. Gailey ran a traditional offense as the offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh. Jerome Bettis ran for over 3,000 yards in two seasons with Gailey calling plays.
On Sunday, Dallas seemed dialed in on all of Buffalo's best plays: screens went nowhere, the outside receiver slant didn't work, Buffalo couldn't run, and Dallas had all of the medium range curls and crosses covered most of the game.
Gailey would be wise to diversify personnel and sets. Corey McIntyre should see the field more in traditional sets, Buffalo should run more two tight end sets, and Gailey should call power runs and some horizontal timing plays from these sets. I'm not advocating ditching the current offense. Think of this in terms of diversifying a portfolio.
The Edges of the Defense. Tony Romo was hit exactly one time on Sunday. Other than some hurries, Romo sat in the pocket and dissected the Buffalo defense. Disregard any calls to select a receiver or cornerback in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Outside linebacker is the biggest need for the team.
A good edge rusher, like a good quarterback, can hide some glaring weaknesses. Buffalo simply can't hurry or sack quarterbacks on good teams, and the quarterbacks on those teams have the opportunity to tear apart Buffalo's defense, like Romo did on Sunday.
That leads to the second part of the section. I don't believe that Buffalo has a good starting corner on the team. Terrence McGee is solid, but isn't forcing quarterbacks to look away. Drayton Florence has been mostly terrible for the past few games. Leodis McKelvin is consistently in proper position, but can't make plays on the ball. The decision to pick Aaron Williams looks much better now than in April, and George Edwards needs him back on the field playing to the level of his selection.
The combination of these two edge deficiencies is crushing Buffalo, regardless of scheme or defensive call. Edwards can only dial up a certain number of blitzes a game. Scheming won't help hide these weaknesses. Buddy Nix must legitimately address these two areas in the next off-season.
Play Calling and Execution. There were few times when Buffalo's play call was good and the execution was also up to par. Ryan Fitzpatrick missed a wide open Donald Jones down the center of the field early in the second half. A stumbling C.J. Spiller dropped the ball on another deep throw. Gailey called screens that Dallas seemed to know were coming. Buffalo has lost the ability to run for short yardage on a consistent basis.
The 4th-and-1 fade to Jones was adding salt to the wound. I understand the arguments for throwing the ball to the receiver with the best matchup. Since the 2010 home New England game, Buffalo has tried this play numerous times and hasn't executed one time properly. It's time to abandon the philosophy, and just pick up first downs. Gailey needs a play-calling whisperer. The offense needs to execute.
Outlook. The Bills have dug themselves a hole with seven games remaining. Two weeks ago, Buffalo was 5-2 with two close losses on the road. The Ryan's wrecked Buffalo's record and set a blueprint on how to win again Gailey's team, now 5-4.
Buffalo has two games against the Dolphins and one against the Broncos, and Buffalo should be favored in all three games. That leaves Buffalo with winnable matchups against the Titans at home and the Chargers in San Diego, and tough road games with the Jets and Patriots. With 12 teams still in the AFC playoff race, the Bills are going to have to re-prove their gritty, comeback reputation to get into the playoffs. The run starts Sunday versus Miami in Sun Life Stadium.