The BILLS are a small market team in a bad weather city, busy fighting a 12 year culture of losing. Yet here we are, us rabid fans, suffering thru our favorite team’s hibernation with an itchy restlessness, stoicly waiting for a spring thaw that’s always another day away. Unfortunately, there is no simple solution to our near-eternal frigid slumber. Some have proposed drafting a Franchise QB to solve our woes. Others a Dominating Defense. I fall somewhere in between, dreaming hopeful dreams of the day the BILLS have an IDENTITY recognized league wide. I dream of the day the BILLS can walk onto the artificial tundra of Ralph Wilson Stadium, and say; “This is who we are. This is what we do. Now man up and try to stop us...”
The most successful teams in football history have all had such rock solid identities. Some franchises have developed fun nicknames like “Purple People Eaters”, or Kurt Warner’s “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams (Dare I, the Denver Tebows??). Regardless, when Warner’s Rams took the field there wasn’t much question what they would do, the question was... could you slow them down enough to win the shootout? Same can be said for the nickname-less Brady led Patriots, Ray Lewis’ Baltimore Defense, or... well, the list is long.
How does a team spawn an identity? It starts with a coaching philosophy. Dick LeBeau’s zone blitzing 3-4 for example. It defines the, “This is what we do” part of the identity statement, and gives the team’s front office a framework to help them scout and recruit franchise players whose skills bring life to the coaching philosophy. In Pittsburgh’s case, the scheme requires blitzing, ballhawing DB’s AND mean, Freak LB’s, athletic enough to drop into zone coverage at times. Troy Polamalu & James Harrison (previously Rod Woodson & Carnell Lake / Kevin Greene & Greg Lloyd) are those players. The elite skills they bring to the table (and the attitude they play with) define the, “This is who we are” part of the statement. The last part then, the “Man up and try to stop us” part has to do with execution of the scheme on the field... This requires the front office to flesh out of the roster with a surrounding cast of players who’s skills are complementary to the franchise guys (theoretically masking one another’s deficiencies). And giving this mix enough time for the coaches to get these individuals to buy into the system, play as a team and... Voila!! Instant Identity...
... of course it’s easier to explain on paper, than to achieve in reality. Question is, where do the BILLS currently stand on identity development on both Offense and Defense? How far away are we???
“This is what we do...”
Like it or not, we are a pass-to-set-up-the-run, horizontal spread, possession receiving team that preys upon cheating defenders (ex. a safety cheating up to help in run support opens up the deep middle) to open up big play potential on the ground or in the air (depending on the defender and how he cheats).
“This is who we are...”
The Horizontal Possession Guys
1a) UNKNOWN.... Nix said he wants to find a “Calvin Johnson type, who’s always open even if he’s not” and since this regime has been farily transparent in telegraphing their rd1 picks, I expect they’re taking a long hard look at WR Alshon Jeffery (S.Carolina) to be their ELITE possession receiver.
1b) S.Johnson is the perfect X possession receiver. Not quite elite, but is a workhorse in the scheme who would be an excellent complement to the Elite guy. Lets hope a deal can get done to preserve some continuity.
The Big Play Guys
2a) Spiller was drafted to be the ELITE big play, face of the franchise RB. Jackson’s play and leadership probably make him that guy however.
2b)Parrish was intended to be the big play receiver complementing the possession guys (remember, Gailey had “big plans” for him). I imagine the hope is that Clowney will now be that guy since Tim Toone and Kamar Aiken seem not to have panned out.
“Now man up and try to stop us...”
We all know we had success until injuries tore our WR corps apart. Regardless, I think we are on the right track based on offensive production when healthy. And as much as people may not want to admit it, an ELITE franchise QB probably isn’t in the cards anytime soon. Remember... Niel O’Donnell ran Gailey’s offense in Pittsburgh, and was good enough to get them to the SB (and throw two HORRIBLE picks). I see Fitz and O’Donnell in the same mold, and don’t think Gailey is clamboring for a QB the same way the fans are. Food for thought.
Again-- like it or not-- the promotion of Wannstedt means we’re starting over (again) on defense. Regardless, I trust Wannstedt to implement a philosophy and give direction to OBD on the type of players he wants and needs to be successful (moreso than Edwards could). For now anyway, we’ll have to wait until Wannstedt tells us (the fans) the “this is what we do” part. Though it seems logical that we’ll be running a: stop the run first, then penetrate and disrupt the QB 4-3, with an aggressive, ball hawking man secondary. Time will tell.