It is not often one is able to bear witness to transformative change. Today, during the first half of the Buffalo Bills' home opener against the Kansas City Chiefs, we witnessed a potentially transformative philosophical moment in Chan Gailey from pass happy to run first offense. But has Gailey really embraced the change, or is this just a brief pause on the road to continued pass happiness?
It is a beautiful thing to witness transformative change. Often transformative change is a product of organizational crisis. In the case of the Buffalo Bills, it turns out that all the talk during the offseason of developing a more consistent offense had less of an impact than a disastrous performance during their first regular season game against the Jets in the Meadowlands.
I wrote during the offseason that there was sound strategic reasons to believe the Buffalo Bills would revitalize the concept of a running back and running first offensive attack, despite the NFL having experienced a recent wave of pass happy offfenses, led by a small handful of elite QB talent. I believed there was too much talent in the Bills backfield, and not enough talent at wide receiver or QB for Chan Gailey, a brilliant offensive mind, to continue with his pass happy version of the spread offensive system he developed during his first two seasons as head coach of the Bills.
Interestingly, it was the performance of CJ Spiller during the last several games of the 2011 season, when the Bills only won one game, that convinced me that between CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson, the Bills were developing a two headed monster of a backfield. In this light, it made no strategic sense to depend on the average arm of Fitz and the pass catching abilities of an at best mediocre receiving core when you had two superstar runners who could score from anywhere on the field.
With the offseason moves loaded towards strengthening the defense, it seemed the time was ripe to move back towards a more ball control oriented offense, where the run would set up the pass, as opposed to the 2011 version where more often than not, the pass was the default option and the run was used reluctantly.
During the Jets game, Bills fans saw an even more confident and explosive CJ Spiller. With Jackson's injury during the first quarter of the Jets game, there was no question the running game was dependent on the work of CJ Spiller, who delivered.
During the first half of the Bills game against the Chiefs, it became clear that CJ Spiller was the most dangerous player on the field, and was essentially unstoppable.
GM Buddy Nix hinted during his Friday interview with WGR radio that it was time to eliminate interceptions and run the ball, making Fitz more like Alex Smith and less like an ugly version of Payton Manning.
My concern with Gailey is whether he has the wisdom to trust what he is seeing on the field, as opposed to trusting in his philosophy or theory of a pass happy spread offense. Despite the success of running the ball first, Gailey has not yet put together a series of games where he has fully embraced this approach since he became the Bills head coach.
As the season unfolds, we will see whether what happened in the first half of the Chiefs game was a born again moment for the Bills offense, or just a brief pause in the development of a pass happy strategy that serves to confirm both Gailey's capacity to change as well as his continued stubborness in refusing to do so, despite the overwhelming on the field evidence.