I currently live in East Tennessee (Knoxville actually) and I am unfortunate in that I am not able to watch Bills' games without having to go the extra mile, i.e. going to a sports bar or switching to satellite. My reasoning for the latter is that I do not want to pay for DirecTV while the Bills muddle in mediocrity. That would be a waste of money I believe. I follow them via the internet through NFL.com and ESPN.com or their respective apps. I am very jealous of my fellow Bills' fans who get to follow around people of the same passion and interest in the team. (I have tried incredibly hard and have failed in producing other passionate fans in my household, namely my wife and daughter). So technically I am completely alone in my obsession with our beleaguered team. However, there is a silver lining to being away from the most passionate and disenfranchised fan base in the whole nation. I feel that this allows me to make an unbiased opinion of where they currently are and where they may possibly go in the future. There is no reason to debate the teams of the past because with time, cognitive retrospection is rewarded and we can all agree what was considered a success and what wasn't.
So, on that note, I will begin with a topic more in line with my title of this FanPost.
I will attempt to give my opinion on the current state of the organization and where they could go. I will not say that anything I believe is a guarantee but will only speculate based what I have read, watched or analyzed so far in the organizational-changing year. This posting will follow an order closely resembling a typical outline format. I hope that it does appear to have some prose and order for a good read. Enjoy.
1. Coaching: First and foremost, I really like the hiring of Doug Marrone and the subsequent employments of Pettine (DC) and Hackett (OC). With the exception being Crossman, but maybe with better talent they could improve steadily. Marrone, I believe has this team on the right track. The Bills have been boring and uninspiring for so long (14 years to be exact) that to right the ship will take a lot more effort and momentum than other organizations mired in mediocrity have experienced. The 2013 record was the same as the previous two years but I have seen tangible changes in the way that team responds to adversity and which leaders have arisen compared to squads in the past. This is the first year of new defensive, offensive and overall coaching tendencies/identities and they still ended with a record commensurate with the previous coaching results. This is accomplished with pretty much the same personnel, some roster trades and waiver wire/draft acquisitions. Not to shabby to cook up the same record but with a different feeling. I don't know how to describe it, but never once this season did I feel that the Bills were ever truly out of the game. Yes, I am aware that they were blown out of a couple games this year but it just felt that they were only one play away from getting back into it. Even the Pats' game: when it appeared that they were dead in the water, Lewis makes a beautiful pass to Graham and they score within the next couple plays. This put them within a score and it continued no matter how New England responded. Brady and Co. couldn't just sit back and relax like they were able to do in the past when they were seemingly in charge of the game this late in the season (in Gillette Stadium of all places!!!). I liked the way this team has been competitive almost every game (with obviously a couple exceptions). Plus, to get this team motivated week in and week out; with sometimes back-ups and rookies is encouraging. A little FYI for ya: I was reading a Bills' historical compendium yesterday and in it, it displayed all the coaches and their records throughout the whole history of the organization. Did you know that Marv Levy's first year as coach, the team was only 2-5 and still Polian felt the team was going in the right direction. The record did not reflect his sentiments but there was a feeling that brighter days were ahead. I get the same feeling now with Marrone.
2. Offense: 2nd in running is pretty darn good considering that they were trying to compensate for a lackluster performance out of their LG and RT. 28th in passing is not good at all, but considering that they went through 4 different QB's with two of them were rookies (one undrafted), and one of them as a practice squad regular, I would say Hackett has done alright so far in my eyes. Sure, he made some questionable calls throughout the season but he a rookie as well. I think he did a fine job adjusting the offensive scheme when he realized they would not be effective enough being a high tempo unit. That to me says that he is not too stubborn to alter schematics when things go awry. Too many coaches in the past would not change and the results were extremely deflating. Another offseason for the offensive unit and for EJ will go a long way. There a couple needs but I trust Marrone's ability to develop talent much more so than his predecessors.
3. EJ: I would like to give him another year. What do you have to lose? If he develops and improves like we all hope, then we can feasibly picture him as our franchise QB. However, if he doesn't then we sink farther down and gain the opportunity to grab Jameis Winston. Win-win scenario if you ask me. But, let us stay on EJ for the sake of discussion. He showed what I believe is the true representation of a rookie quarterback. He showed flashes of high efficiency and there were those games where he was weak. That is what usually happens to most successful rookie QB's. Last year with three quarterbacks playing at such a high level, in my opinion, is a once in a generation occurrence. One thing that I really liked about EJ is that has a good command of the offense and the players seemed to really trust and like him. Also, he has shown that that he can be clutch. I don't care how many stats a player puts up as long as he can produce when it matters. Fitzy would have all kinds of fantasy points but when we needed him the most (the end of a tight game) he usually choked. I like EJ and he deserves our support for another season. It is hard to be patient, but with the right direction, he will produce for years to come. The only concern I have is his durability. Hopefully, he will stay afloat more often next season.
4. Defense: To go from one of the worst overall defenses to a top 10 slot by the end of the year is incredibly impressive. Just imagine how good they will look with another offseason to prepare?! I am excited. Also, there were a handful of players that got better with different instruction (Aaron Williams, McKelvin, Dareus, Hughes, Mario Williams, and Kyle Williams). Not to mention, key pieces that were only rookies this year: Robey and Alonso. The future looks bright as long as Pettine sticks around. Which will probably only be another couple years I would say.
5. Upper Management: I like Russ Brandon, with the Toronto series not withstanding. He has a fastidious and perfection-driven personality I think, and those (with the right mix of personnel, attitudes, and talent) usually create winning organizations. He may not be the owner but he is the acting de facto owner and I like his spirit which I believe is contagious that has already infected the team. I could use those descriptions for Doug Whaley as well. Whaley is also very intelligent who has a knack for recognizing talent. Some of his investments that have paid off right away are Hughes, Robey, Alonso, Lewis, and to a certain degree Manuel. He saw things no other general manager saw and I have read opinions from sports media talent evaluators, who despite EJ's poor performances and injuries, still outperformed their expectations of him. I am looking forward to Whaley building this team in the same manner as he helped build the Steelers' squads.
Conclusion: There were many positive moments to over-analyze (which I am sure that I have) but there also bad situations that many other fans have focused too much on. Patience is warranted but may be difficult, which I understand. I don't know how to explain it, but this coaching staff and upper management personnel just feel different. Marrone's team leader choices were savvy and well deserved. Fred Jackson will be a Wall of Fame candidate someday, Kyle Williams is currently playing at a Hall of Fame pace right now, and Eric Wood was a great person to anchor the line. Plus, it appears that the clutch players this year were actually the rookies and not the veterans. I know that on a team of subpar collective talent, rookies usually step out from the pack; but for them to be clutch when the game is on the line is another thing entirely. The future is bright but there will be bumps along the way. Hell! Maybe this will be this generations' turning point of transforming the fan base from a culture of self-pity to one of self-pride. GO BILLS!!!!!!!!