So I have decided to break up by Quarterly Report into 4 sections. With this first part of the post I shall comment on 10 areas (5 on offense, 5 on defense) that the Bills need to improve upon in order to win games. The second part will be a report card based on how aspects of the offense, defense, coaching and special teams have performed. The third part will look at team stats of the next four opponents the Bills will face, note key players to watch out for and make predictions. Finally, the fourth part will make a mock draft given the Bills current needs as seen over the course of the season.
Offensively the Bills need to find the end zone, be consistent and be able to adjust to changes on the go. Fitz has played better these last four games, but still struggles at times. The running game needs to become more prevalent in the upcoming weeks to offset the struggles of the passing game. Defensively the Bills need major improvements despite having a lot of skilled players particularly on the line. The linebackers have a lot of work to do. Meanwhile the defensive backs are good, but still give up plays at times.
THINGS TO IMPROVE ON OFFENSE
1. "Run the dang ball"
The words of Leigh Anne Tuohy constantly ring through my mind after watching the loss on Sunday. The Bills have two great running backs in C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. Jackson was the NFL’s leading rusher a year ago before his injury while Spiller currently leads the league is rushing average of 7.2 yards a carry. (The next highest is Adrian Peterson with 5.7 average). Yet both Spiller and Jackson are each averaging less than 10 carries a game. Especially with Fitz struggling throwing the ball, you need to rely on Jackson’s power runs and Spiller’s speed and elusiveness. Especially with Spiller able to gain a first down running just two plays (at least on paper), it’s foolhardy not to give him more reps to control the game clock and move the ball.
2. Diversify the play calls
Part of Chan Gailey’s problems with pulling the Bills through games is that his play calling is getting to be too predictable with his spread offense. Far too often we have seen Gailey keep the same game plan throughout which in turn enables opposing defenses to adjust and stop the Bills offense in the second half. We have also seen the Bills go on giant passing sprees on all three downs even in third and short situations. Gailey needs to switch things up once in a while mixing in QB sneaks, deep passes, runs and trick plays to make the offense successful for the entire game.
3. Wildcat = throwing too
In the last two games, the Bills ran the wildcat just 2 times for 2 yards. However before that, Smith ran 3 times for 52 yards in weeks 5 and 6. Yes Brad Smith’s lone (deep) pass was intercepted. But if teams know Brad Smith is going to run every time, they just load up the box. This goes along with diversifying the plays called. Have Smith fake a run once in a while and throw a short pass to a slot receiver.
4. Cut/bench WR Ruvell Martin
The Bills brought back Martin after David Nelson was placed on the IR. Martin is on the taller side and has some special teams value, but offensively has had a minimal impact. When Stevie Johnson went down with an injury late in the second half, Martin was on the field more, but finished the day (and season) with no catches. The Bills could elevate WR Marcus Easley from the practice squad who has good speed and size. Alternatively, the Bills could bring back the likes of Namaan Roosevelt who despite lacking great speed, has great hands and can make plays and is familiar with Gailey’s playbook.
5. Throw the deep ball smarter
Against the Texans, the few times Fitz threw deep, it was mostly to Stevie Johnson. Because he lacks elite speed, he couldn’t get separation and the play falls incomplete. The Bills need to get their speedsters, Donald Jones, T.J. Graham, Brad Smith and C.J. Spiller running streaks to spread the field more. Even if the pass if overthrown (I know that is hard for Fitz to do), it forces defenses to spread out more which can help screens and running the ball more.
The other issue with such a move as this is the Bills could bring in a veteran wide receiver. With Stevie possibly injured and Jones operating better from the slot, the Bills would do well to bring in a deep threat target. Three of the best free agents available are Lee Evans, Plaxico Burress, and Mike Williams. Obviously in recent years these veterans have seen their performance taper, but still they warrant special attention for their ability to stretch the field.
THINGS TO IMPROVE ON DEFENSE
1. LBs need to disengage from blocks
Part of the major problems with the Bills stopping the run is that the linebackers are unable to disengage from blocks to disrupt the run. Barnett is probably the best one at doing this, but Bradham and Sheppard have problems getting around blockers. These linebackers have also been responsible for giving up several passes to tight ends.
2. Blitz with the safety more
One reason why I think the Bills did a much better job defensively against the Texans was that they brought up Jairus Byrd and George Wilson in on a number of plays to blitz Schaub or stop Foster. By letting them become involved earlier on the play, the Bills defense was more disruptive. The Bills need to do this more to give QBs less time to find receivers and also force opposing linemen to draw one on ones than double teams on the talented front four of the Bills defensive line.
3. Win the turnover battle
In the last four games the Bills the Bills have lost the turnover battle 9-3. In their only win against the Cardinals, the Bills tied the Cards 2-2 for turnovers, thanks to two key interceptions by FS Jairus Byrd. The Bills defense has been struggling, but if they force turnovers, not only can they get off the field; they also make the opposing offense second guess themselves. Take a lesson from Navorro Bowman (49ers ILB) and make tackles while forcing the ball out. The DBs need to be more aware of where the ball is as well.
4. Activate LB Kirk Morrison
The Bills linebackers, particularly the youngsters Kelvin Sheppard and Nigel Bradham, are struggling to cover tight ends and defend the run. The Bills have veteran MLB Kirk Morrison on the roster so why not use his experience to try and improve a poorly ranked defense. Morrison struggled as the Sam LB, but putting him in middle, particularly on passing downs could be beneficial in stopping teams from passing to tight ends.
5. Make the adjustments Dave
A major reason why the Bills loss games to the Patriots, 49ers and Titans was that defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt is not making the necessary adjustments to counter opposing offenses. Teams have been able to run over the Bills in part because Wannstedt is not bringing up the extra defender or showing blitz in passing situations. Even when facing the same plays, the defense does not align in a way to stop the offense. Against the Texans, I remember at least three plays in which Schaub faked a handoff to the right, rolled to the left to a wide open tight end. To stop giving up 30+ points a game, the “D” must learn to adjust!