The first four games are done and the Bills currently sit tied for the AFC East lead with a 2-2 record. The Bills have experienced some bad losses, but both of their wins came by through smart playmaking throughout. Unfortunately, the Bills are literally heading into their hardest part of their schedule facing the top two NFC west teams away, facing the Titans at home before journeying to the undefeated Texans.
This post will have five parts. In Part 1, I will grade the Bills in the primary aspects of the game: passing, running, blocking, pass rush, run and pass "D," special teams and coaching. Part 2 will look at our current injured players. Part 3 will state my top 5 performers over the first four games of the year and who needs to step up big for the Bills to push through October and early November. Part 4 will look at the upcoming four games and comment on things to note on the competition (players and stats). Part 5 will feature a mock draft based on the Bills needs, drafting around 16th overall. (On a side note, I plan to start my own draft prospects analysis trying to merge info from Walters, CBS Sports and Drafttek. Combined with my own observations along with considering stats and competition so far this year I hope to compile a solid list of seniors and juniors to keep an eye on.)
PART I: REPORT CARD
Passing Game: B-
Ryan Fitzpatrick can stink one moment and then be on fire for half a game or so. Even at his best this season, Fitz has often missed open receivers, part of the reason why Stevie Johnson has just 195 yards receiving over 4 games and Fitz is barely averaging 230 yards throwing a game. 12 touchdowns is the most tossed in the league right now, but has the 2nd most interceptions with 7 so far. C.J. Spiller has looked good on his 9 receptions as has both Donald Jones and Scott Chandler. Chandler in particular has 4 TDs so far. Meanwhile rookie T.J. Graham is starting to contribute more offensively and if he can connect with Fitz on a deep ball, it could be a thing of beauty.
Running Game: A-
Putting the dismal performance against the Patriots aside, the Bills running-backs have been fairly solid in the first three games of the year. Spiller is averaging 8.3 yards a carry with 3 scores so far this year (41 carries for 341 yards) while Tashard Choice has also performed well averaging 4.3 yards a carry (34 rushes for 145 yards). Both Jackson and Spiller were shut down in Game 4 and each fumbled, but were both not playing 100%. Obviously having a healthy duo could be quite deadly. Fingers crossed for a lot of 2 RB Pro-Form formations in the weeks to come.
The starting offensive linemen have been brilliant. Cordy Glenn has been a superstar left tackle, Levitre, Wood and Urbik are a solid interior and Pears has been fair on the right side. Part of Spiller’s and Choice’s success in the run game has largely come from these five guys. Altogether these guys gave up 1 sack over the first three weeks (which it really wasn’t). The 3 sacks by the Pats though came after Urbik left the game injured and then Glenn left injured as well. Obviously there is some concern how LT Chris Hairston and RG Chad Rinehart will do, but they have shown good ability in the past, so let’s keep our fingers crossed.
Pass Rush: B-
The best part of a 4-3 defense is having Kyle Williams lined up with Marcell Dareus. Williams leads the team with 3.5 sacks while Dareus has 2 so far. The pressure from the middle has been great so far. On the other hand our high priced free agent DE acquisitions, Mario Williams and Mark Anderson have been relatively quiet managing just 1.5 and 1 sack respectively. These two need to become more active for the defense to be more successful. Both Alex Carrington and Kelvin Sheppard have recorded a sack each as well.
Run Defense: C+
If just considering the first three games the Bills run grade would have been an A- easily. Against the Jets they gave up 118 yards rushing, but limited Greene to 3.5 yards a carry and Tebow to just 2.2 yards a carry. Against Kansas City, the Bills surrendered 150 yards, most of it late to backup Peyton Hillis, but shut down starter Jamaal Charles to just 6 yards total (0.5 yards a carry). To put in prospective Charles ran for 233 yards against New Orleans the week after. The Bills gave up just 33 rushing TOTAL against the Browns and kept rookie all-star Trent Richardson to 2.3 yards a carry. Against the Pats, playing in the 4-1-6 defense predominantly the Bills failed utterly giving up 247 yards on just 40 run plays. Obviously the key to fix this is DON’T USE A 4-1-6 “D” as a standard defense unless absolutely necessary.
Pass Defense: B
The young corners have struggled here and there but as a whole, have looked a lot better. Gilmore has improved each week and leads the team with 7 passes defended while Aaron Williams has had 4 passes defended. Bryan Scott has two interceptions while Byrd and McKelvin each have one as well. Tom Brady found success late in the game last Sunday, but particularly against Cassel and Weeden, did a very good job of pass protection for most of the games.
Special Teamers: C-
Obviously no report can first be made than to lament the fact that Brian Moorman is no longer with the Bills organization (yes, I cried a lot too). Moorman was struggling compared to his elite form in the past though and was 30th in net punting yards in the NFL when he was cut. His replacement, rookie Shawn Powell did botch a punt, but otherwise did very well for his first game. Lindell has been 1-1 on field goals, but the kickoff specialist Josh Potter has not been consistently driving kicks back into the end-zone, something to keep an eye on. The best has been kick/punt returner Leodis McKelvin who ranks 11th in kick return average (26.2 yards) and 1st in punt return average (29.7). Not only is that 10 yards more than the #2 punt returner in the league, McKelvin also scored a 88 yard TD.
Turnovers have been costly for the Bills in both their losses. Chan Gailey has done a decent job of getting the Bills prepared offensively, but Wannstedt’s defense needs to become more active. Time to motivate the troops for a hard road out west!
PART II: INJURY WOES
The Bills currently have 3 players on the injured reserve with CB Ron Brooks, WR David Nelson (who was lost in in the first week against the Jets), OT Zebrie Sanders and DT Torell Troup. Rookie Ron Brooks is slated to come off the list halfway through the season which should be good for the Bills in trying to stop Wes Welker in week 10.
Of more concern right now however are the injured players from the past few weeks. Both running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson returned to the field earlier than expected. WR Ruvell Martin however missed the last game with a bad ankle, but is mostly a special teams player so will have a minimal impact offensively at least.
Most disconcerting is the fact that the Bills will be without two starting linemen when they travel out west for two weeks. Both RG Kraig Urbik and LT Cordy Glenn suffered high ankle sprains and will be out for two weeks. SEE REPORT Glenn’s injury hurts the most given that the Bills are going up against the talented pass rusher Aldon Smith of the 49ers. On a brighter note, FS Jairus Byrd, WR Donald Jones (who left after that massive hit from Wilfork) and TE Scott Chandler should be ready for this upcoming week. Fingers crossed for speedy recovery for our starting offensive linemen and a healthy four games ahead.
PART III: TOP TALENTS
RB C.J. Spiller
With exception to the last game, no player has had a bigger impact for the Bills than C.J. Spiller. With Fred Jackson injured in the first game, Spiller showed his first round talent and speed, rushing 41 times for 341 yards and 3 TDs with a still league leading 8.3 yards a carry (among starting RBs). Spiller also has been great in the pass game with 9 catches for 119 yards and a TD. Also Spiller has had back-to-back 100 yard games before getting injured in Cleveland.
LT Cordy Glenn
There were concerns that Glenn, a second round rookie will hold up against the more prolific pass rushers in the NFL, but through four games has yet to give up a sack. More impressively has been the fact that he has been absolutely dominant in the run game particularly against Cleveland and Kansas City.
CB Stephon Gilmore
Gilmore was under more pressure to step up big for the Bills. Over the first four games as the #1 corner, Gilmore has made 20 tackles, but more importantly has 7 passes defended, including quite a few against Tom Brady. NFL QBs may wish to stop picking on him soon if he continues to perform strongly.
DT Kyle Williams
Undoubtedly Kyle Williams has been the best defensive lineman on the team. Already Kyle leads the team with 3.5 sacks (tied 2nd with cut DT Dwan Edwards (oh the irony there) in the league among DTs), had 14 tackles and has continually been getting in the backfield to disrupt plays. To put it in other words if Kyle continues at this current pace, he’ll finish with 14 sacks on the year which is almost as much as the 2011 Bills had.
TE Scott Chandler
With David Nelson out for the year, Chandler is one of the few red-zone threats left and so far he has done a great job with this role. Although ranked 16th among tight ends for yards received, Chandler is tied for the most touchdowns (4) so far and is the second best pass catcher on the roster with 12 receptions for 175 yards. Blocking has been average, but Chandler can catch the ball even in tight coverage.
Absent on the list are QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, WR Stevie Johnson and most notably DE Mario Williams. Fitzpatrick is too inconsistent having already thrown 6 interceptions this year. Stevie is averaging less than 50 yards a game. Meanwhile Mario Williams has managed just 1.5 sacks so far this year. I feel that each of these guys can do more so don’t be surprised to see either of their names popping up in the next Quarterly Report.
PART IV: THE NEXT FOUR GAMES
All in all the Bills are heading into the hardest part of their schedule. Their last eight games are arguably easier than their first eight have been (excluding the second game against the Patriots). If the Bills expect to make a playoff berth this year, they will need to go at least 2-2 in this span (and be 4-4 so far in the year). Obviously this will be hard going up against two undefeated teams while the 49ers and especially the Texans, are early favorites to make a Super-Bowl appearance. I feel that the Bills do stand a favorable chance of beating the Cardinals and the Titans, but even these teams may be hard to defeat.
Currently the Bills are ranked 4th in the run game and 22nd in the pass game, 11th overall yardage and 6th overall in points (28.8). Defensively however the Bills ranked 28th against the run and 23rd against the pass, 27th overall yardage and 30th overall in points (32.7). The one advantage for the Bills is that their Bye Week comes before the Week 9 matchup against the Texans. (All NFL stats and rankings taken from Yahoo Sports)
San Francisco 49ers (3-1)
3rd run game, 30th pass game: Offense overall yardage (18th); 26.0 points per game (12)
5th run game, 5th pass game: Defense overall yardage (4th); 16.3 points per game (4)
Offensively the 49ers have been decent. Alex Smith has never been a prolific passer even under Head Coach Jim Harbaugh, but San Francisco has a great running back duo in Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter who have the third best run game with 167 yards per game on with an average run of 5.4 yards a carry. More essential to the 49ers success is their defense. One of the top 4 defenses last year, the 49ers 3-4 “D” has continued to dominant their opponents. Key players to watch out for include OLB Aldon Smith who recorded 14 sacks last year as a rookie and has 4.5 sacks already in 2012. Additionally the Bills need to watch out for pro-bowl RB Frank Gore who is averaging nearly 5 yards a carry and is on track for a sixth season of rushing over 1,000 yards. Also to keep an eye on is pro-bowl TE Vernon Jackson who has already amassed nearly 200 yards receiving and 4 TDs on the year. Jim Harbaugh always has tricks up his sleeve so the key to success is to stay steady both offensively and defensively.
Key matchup: LT Chris Hairston v LB Aldon Smith
Arizona Cardinals (4-0)
29th run game, 23rd pass game: Offense overall yardage (31st); 22.8 points per game (15)
14th run game, 21st pass game: Defense overall yardage (17th); 15.3 points per game (3)
Despite having an average defense and one of the worst offenses as a whole, the Cardinals are undefeated four games into the season. Kevin Kolb has been better than his preseason form, but is averaging less than 200 yards passing a game. Still pro-bowl WR Larry Fitzgerald is no joke to take lightly and will be Stephon Gilmore’s biggest test this season. On the flip side, our Fitz will need to make his throws with cares against the opportunist CB Patrick Peterson. Additionally the Cardinals have the second highest amount of sacks in the NFL currently, averaging four a game, so the O-Line needs to be extra sharp in giving Fitz time to make his passes.
Key Matchup: CB Stephon Gilmore v WR Larry Fitzgerald
Tennessee Titans (1-3)
30th run game, 19th pass game: Offense overall yardage (23rd); 20.3 points per game (22)
27th run game, 27th pass game: Defense overall yardage (31st); 37.8 points per game (32)
The Titans have struggled to make a major impact this year. Pro-bowl RB Chris Johnson has been sluggish early on this season, but remember last year, Johnson was in a slump and still ran over Buffalo. Meanwhile starting QB Jake Locker is currently injured. Locker may be set to return from a dislocated shoulder to face the Bills in Week 7, so the Bills should definitely try to give the young QB pressure to think about. On the flip side, if there is ever a time for the Bills offense to shine it is this week given how poorly Tennessee’s defense has been. Their best defender has been LB Akeem Ayers with 44 tackles and 3 passes defended, but no one has truly been outstanding to date so the Bills offense should hopefully capitalize on that.
Key Matchup: LB Kelvin Sheppard v RB Chris Johnson
Houston Texans (4-0)
9th run game, 21st pass game: Offense overall yardage (14th); 31.5 points per game (2)
11th run game, 2nd pass game: Defense overall yardage (2nd); 14.0 points per game (1)
Of interest to the Bills is that Mario Williams will be facing his former team for the first time. The Texans have not missed him (per se) as they have the second best “D” currently in the NFL, particularly in the pass game. 3-4 DE J.J. Watt has largely picked up the slack with an NFL leading 7.5 sacks (I always was high on Watt heading into the 2011 draft) and will give Buffalo’s interior line a lot to think about. Offensively, the Bills have quite a few players to watch out for. First, is pro-bowl QB Matt Schaub who for the past 5 seasons has not had a QB rating below 90. Part of that reason is his relation with pro-bowl receiver Andre Johnson who is on pace to have his sixth 1,000+ receiving season in his career. The other thing to watch out for is the RB duo of Arian Foster and Ben Tate. Despite the fact that both are averaging under 4 yards a carry, last year they combined for over 2,100 yards rushing.
Key Matchup: DE Mario Williams v RT Derek Newton
PART V: MOCK DRAFT
1. LB Manti Teo – Notre Dame [6-2, 255, 4.60]
WR Terrance Williams - Baylor, QB Tyler Bray – Tennessee*, OL Barrett Jones – Alabama, LB C.J. Mosely – Alabama*
2. WR Cobi Hamilton – Arkansas [6-3, 209, 4.58]
QB E.J. Manuel – Florida St, FS Robert Lester – Alabama, LB Chase Thomas – Stanford, WR Marques Wilson – Washington St*
3. QB Tajh Boyd – Clemson* [6-1, 225, 4.63]
OL Khaled Holmes – USC, DE Cornelius Carradine – Florida St, WR Tavarres King – Georgia, QB Landry Jones – Oklahoma
4. OL Graham Pocic – Illinois [6-5, 305, 5.15]
DE Brad Madison – Missouri, LB Tom Wort – Oklahoma*, TE Philip Lutzenkirchen – Auburn, OL Omoregie Uzzi – Georgia Tech
5. DE Devin Taylor – South Carolina [6-7, 248, 4.69]
FS C.J. Barnett – Ohio St, WR Conner Vernon – Duke, QB Mike Glennon – North Carolina State, DE Datone Jones – UCLA
6. FS D.J. Swearinger – South Carolina [6-0. 210, 4.70]
TE Michael Williams – Alabama, LB Bruce Taylor – Virginia Tech, OL Chris Jacobson – Pittsburgh, FS John Boyett – Oregon
With the first round, one would think that the Bills would finally get their franchise QB, but I feel that within the Top 12 picks, Geno Smith, Matt Barkley and Tyler Wilson could all be gone. Tyler Bray seems very promising, but has some behavior issues that may need a second look. Additionally the Bills could add a true #2 receiver since Donald Jones operates better from the slot (he and David Nelson are free agents too). Robert Woods and Keenan Allen may be off the boards at this point, but that still leaves the 6’4” Baylor product, Terrance Williams around who is having quite a good year despite not having RG3 as his QB. Also keep in mind that with Levitre, Urbik and Rinehart all free agents, the Bills may have to spend a first round pick on the interior line with Alabama’s Barrett Jones or Chance Warmack.
However taking a look at why the defense struggles this year, we must go to the linebacker corps. Barnett is good but is getting old. Moats is still transitioning from a 3-4 OLB while second year MLB Kelvin Sheppard has been inconsistent. If the Bills really want to beat the Pats twice a year, they need another linebacker with speed, who can stop the run and cover tight ends. Manti Te’o fits that bill perfectly and in addition, is a class act player that puts his team first. Te’o in his first three years made 320 tackles (27.5 for loss), 7 sacks, 8 hurries and 6 passes broken up. So far in 2012, Te’o (which is quite an awesome name) has made 38 tackles (2 for loss), 2 hurries, 2 passes broken up and 3 interceptions in just 4 games.
With the second round, I felt the Bills needed a true #2 WR to add as a red zone threat and added Cobi Hamilton. Hamilton has made 116 receptions for 2,110 yards and 17 TDs in his first three years (remember this was with splitting time with Joe Adams, Jairus Wright and Greg Childs). In 2012 so far, Hamilton has caught 31 passes for 591 yards and 4 TDs. Also worth considering at WR are juniors Marquess Wilson or DeAndre Hopkins. At QB the best potential QB would likely be E.J. Manual of Florida State.
With the third round I have the Bills finally taking their QB of the future. While Landry Jones is definitely a gunslinger, he has struggled a bit since losing Ryan Broyles to injury and then the draft. The Bills in turn should bring in the talented sophomore QB Tajh Boyd. This year Boyd has completed 68% of his passes for 1,277 yards, 12 TDs and just 3 INTs. Additionally Boyd has rushed 58 times for 213 yards and a TD. In his first two years Boyd has completed 59% of his passes for 4,157 yards, 37 TDs and a 15 INTs while rushing for 6 TDs.