Editor's Note: Excellent work, boomsauce. Thanks! - BG
Disclaimers: (1) These are all mental notes. I watched every snap from last season and didn’t write anything down, so don't expect many specifics. These are just the random points that stuck with me as the viewing progressed. (2) Everything the defense did against Washington was essentially ignored. The Redskins offense was so pitiful that game that I’m taking it out of consideration. (3) There are plenty of things to be said about the defense from a coaching perspective, but things pertaining specifically to George Edwards’ scheme and play calling are thankfully no longer our concern. (4) Sorry if it's too long; I tried to keep it as short as I could.
- Chan Gailey is an offensive guru. I have little doubt of that, but sometimes his play calling made me want to throw up (sidenote: Do not watch week 10 at Dallas or week 11 at Miami on a full stomach). There was an annoying devotion to screen passes. His faith in Tashard Choice was unwarranted. The run game would seem to be clicking, and then the Bills would line up with 4-5 wide and throw a string of incomplete passes. I don’t know how much to blame on Fitzpatrick (more on that later), but why the Bills tossed up so many passes of 15 or more yards when they needed less than 5 is beyond me; that happened entirely too often.
- It was refreshing to have a relevant tight end again, but a number of negative plays were directly the result of the terrible misuse of Scott Chandler. Chandler is a decent receiving threat because of his imposing size and apparently super-glued hands, but he is a below average blocker who can only be counted on to erase a defensive lineman if he gets a full head of steam. It felt like at least one drive a game was killed because Scott Chandler drew a blocking assignment that he simply was not capable of executing. That’s on Chan Gailey.
- I think Chan Gailey should have leaned more heavily on a power running attack at times. I hope we see more of it in 2012, and it’s for that reason that I hope Corey McIntyre makes the 2012 Bills. Special teams aside, McIntyre is a highly underrated lead blocker that I think should see the field more on offense. There’s a power running package on this roster that can keep defenses honest and wear them down over the course of a game. Corey McIntyre is part of that and I think it’s a valuable commodity despite Gailey’s obvious preference for a spread attack.
- Why did it take them so long to make Justin Rodgers the kick returner? Seriously, can someone tell me?
- Ryan Fitzpatrick’s gunslinger mentality crippled the 2011 Bills as badly as any injury could have. Cracked ribs might have affected his throwing some, and the inconsistent pass blocking didn’t help much either; however, so many of his bad plays (including a number of the-Bills-are-now-out-of-this-game INTs) boil down to poor decision making. A quarterback should not be neglecting an easy 5 yard completion to throw a 20 yard pass into triple coverage on 3rd and 4. On 3rd and 4 (or 2nd and 10, for that matter), get 5 yards if they’re available. Also, if the receivers have absolutely no separation, then throwing the ball out of bounds can be a good thing. Fitzpatrick routinely took them out of ball games by refusing to move down the field methodically and opting to throw into good coverage instead. At one point in the season, the Bills managed to go 18 straight third downs without a conversion; eventually that becomes an indictment on the quarterback play and I worry that his rib injury wasn’t the primary cause.
- Cross your fingers that Cordy Glenn can play, because to my eyes Chris Hairston cannot be a good LT in the NFL. The foot speed just isn’t there in his pass blocking. He lunges and he holds and he often gets burned entirely. Was he a rookie? Yes. Could he improve from 2011? Definitely. Can you make him into a better athlete with quicker feet? I seriously doubt it.
- Barring something unforeseen, I have a tough time imagining Colin Brown losing his spot to Mark Asper. To me that’s really a two man race, and Brown looked like a very good run blocker to me with some room to improve as a pass blocker. For two games (Denver, New England) I keyed in on Brown on almost every snap, and I’m confident in saying that Asper would have to be way ahead of the curve for a 6th round rookie to outplay Colin Brown in camp.
- Losing Donald Jones was huge. I won’t say I saw a developing star receiver with Jones (far from it in fact), but once he was out of the picture defenses figured out how to stop the Bills’ passing attack real quick. Jones was the only receiver on the roster who could beat 1-on-1 coverage by just outrunning the CB down the field. When the Bills lost that capability, Gailey had a much more difficult time generating space in the short/intermediate passing game. I noticed a number of times when teams would line up with 10 defenders closer than 5 yards of the LOS, despite the Bills being in a 3 or 4 wide set. I think Spillers incredible burst got them to back off a bit later in the season, but make no mistake: being able to keep a deep threat on the field for a full season (as the 2012 Bills should be able to) might make a world of difference.
- Quick Points: (1) Fred Jackson was somehow even better than I expected. (2) Kevin Brock managed to look like he belongs in very limited playing time; I won’t be shocked if he makes the team. (3) CJ Spiller has rare talent. He made some plays last season that barely any running back in the league could.
- The Bills’ inability to generate pressure is well documented, but please don’t let the secondary off the hook. The Bills’ secondary got torched last season time and time again at all levels of the field. They got younger. Did they get better? For their (and our) sakes I really hope there’s a substantial improvement in the coverage.
- I think we can call the ‘3rd DT’ battle early, because that job should go to Dwan Edwards. He clearly was the best interior defensive lineman the Bills had outside of Dareus, and my personal re-watch of the 2011 season got me to completely reverse my opinion of his chances this year. Dwan Edwards is a good football player. He’s stout against the run, chases plays down all over the field, and was in my opinion the most consistent defensive lineman they employed last season. I believe that one of the younger guys would have to really step their game up to overtake Edwards’ role and/or roster spot. The potential cost savings are clearly outweighed in my mind by how much better Edwards really is compared to the other backup DTs.
- If he can get healthy, Torell Troup is a player I’ll be very intrigued by. His 2011 season was hardly better than his rookie year, but there was a short glimpse of a very good football player. Against the Bengals, I noticed Troup for maybe 5 or 6 snaps early on where he looked completely unblockable. He was just too strong and too low for the offensive linemen to handle before losing leverage to him. Either he ate his Wheaties that morning, or his back initially tightened up after or during that ball game. After week 4 if Troup got on the field, I didn’t notice the same pop I saw against Cincinnati. If that’s the player the Bills have in a healthy Torell Troup, then there could very well be cause for some excitement with him.
- Quick Points: (1) We as a fan base need to get more excited about Justin Rogers as both a defender and returner. (2) Da’Norris Searcy could become an excellent all around safety, but might be held back because of his poor awareness in coverage. (3) I was highly disappointed in the seasons put together by Alex Carrington and Arthur Moats. Carrington too easily gets erased from the action and has serious problems finishing a play on his own. Moats got ample opportunity to get after the QB (something he’s supposedly good at) and never really accomplished much. (4) Leodis Mckelvin might make the roster on his special teams play alone.
- I am really not a big fan of predictions, but what the hell: I think the 2012 Bills are an 8-8 football team. They still match up horribly with the Jets and Dolphins, and the Patriots will be tough to beat so long as Tom Brady is running the show. If you can't win in the division, you can't expect to be serious contenders. I do not think the Bills can do better than .500 in the division. Beyond that, there's too much developing talent being counted on in starting roles, and I worry that Ryan Fitzpatrick just can't keep it together for 16 games. The team is improving; I truly believe that staying the course with Nix and Gailey is the right move, but the barrage of 10+ win predictions I've been seeing around here is a bit too lofty for me.
There’s obviously a lot more to be said about the 2011 Bills, but I can’t get to nor remember everything. If there’s something I didn’t bring up that you think is important or interesting, then please feel free.