Is it panic time? The answer is yes and no. No, because while the Bills have suffered back to back blowout losses (to some good teams), they still command a 5-4 record. On the other hand, a 5-4 record will not get an AFC team into the playoffs right now (unless you're in the West). More concerning is the fact that several key players, NT Kyle Williams, C Eric Wood, OLB Shawne Merriman and WR Roscoe Parrish are all out for the rest of the season. Worse still is that opposing teams have been able to capitalize on our weak areas and have stopped our passing game. Thus it is time to implement changes and revise the game plan.
Play-calling is a huge factor that has hurt the Bills in the past few games. Chan Gailey loves to pass the ball and it shows in his operating with a spread formation with three receivers. Two problems have arisen from this; the lack of a deep threat, even with Donald Jones back, and the spread formation is an easier offensive scheme for defenses to read. The Ryan brothers clearly displayed their prowess in the latter category. The lack of a deep threat allow safeties and linebackers to stay closer to the line, somewhat impacting the run game, but more so takes out the screen/short pass options that the Bills offense has relied on in the first half of the season to move the ball.
In addressing the lack of deep pass threat (due to both Parrish and Easley on the IR), Gailey has attempted to use Donald Jones, Brad Smith and RB C.J. Spiller. Sadly, the few times the Bills have tried to throw to these guys, a problem with the throw or the catch results in a loss of a down. Jones has had moderate success, when healthy, but lacks the speed Smith or Spiller can bring.
Despite its shortcomings the solution is to just keep at the deep ball regardless of the results. It is imperative that the Bills spread the field and will attempt to do so throughout the game. Having Hairston back will hopefully allow for longer pass protection as well to make this possible. I can definitely see C.J. Spiller acting like Devon Hester on the field, except Spiller is faster. By having Spiller and Jackson operating out of a Pro-formation, the Bills can utilize a triple option threat for a running play and/or have either player motion out for passes.
If one were to look at teams with successful passing games, the first, second or third highest receiver in receptions and yards on the team is the tight end. Part of why teams like the Patriots do well is that they rely on Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez constantly forcing opposing defenses to cover them (or pay), freeing up wide receivers and halfbacks. Looking at a quarterback whose stats mirrors more closely that of Fitz, look no further than Tony Romo (believe me I hate the analogy as well). Romo has done well because Jason Witten is a major offensive weapon for the Cowboys utilized consistently, so even if he is not in the red zone, defenses are forced to look at him.
The best way of alleviating pressure off of Ryan Fitzpatrick so he can have more time to make decisions is to run the ball! The Bills have an amazing weapon and talent in Fred Jackson. Jackson currently is the number one rusher in the league with 917 yards and all-purpose yards with 1309 yards. Jackson is also averaging an impressive 5.6 yards a carry. The Bills however seem to struggle to get first downs and convert third downs, even on short yardage situations.
If Gailey is scared of defenses of learning how to stop Jackson, then the Bills also need to get C.J. Spiller more involved in the run game. Aside from week 2, Spiller is a non-factor in the backfield, and if you want your former first round pick to develop, he needs more play time. If you are also looking for an offensive jolt, it is time to let your fastest player take the field. When it is third or fourth and inches, the QB sneak is the best option, while third and fourth and short does not warrant a long pass attempt to a receiver that lacks elite height and speed. Rather, hand the ball off and make sure you have a blocker or two to help.
Roster realignments are a major priority the Bills have, but are predominantly defensive. With Eric Woods out and Chris Hairston likely to return full time to LT (with Bell a week or two after), Andy Levitre will take over at center. Levitre has limited experience at this position, but likely has practiced a bit since last year given CHIX's decision not to retain backup center Geoff Hangartner. With Wood headed to the IR (along with backup ILB Chris White), I am a bit surprised that the Bills opted not to sign a center off of a practice squad or add one to their own practice squad. Time for Jasper to learn to snap the ball… Lastly the Bills brought back speedster Tim Toone to the practice squad to join Kamar Aiken at the wide receiver position.