Doug Marrone has been criticized heavily by Buffalo Bills fans in recent weeks. His decisions (and indecision) have really been under a microscope, as the Bills finished their 1-4 preseason with a disappointing 23-0 loss to the Detroit Lions at Ralph Wilson Stadium this past Thursday. Media and fans (myself included) are starting to get a bit antsy, and are questioning whether or not Marrone is the right man for the job going forward. I do admit, this is a bit premature, but I can't deny that doubts are beginning to creep in to my head, and this is why.
Many will look at what has transpired thus far since the start of the 2014 season, as the source of their frustration. Questions have risen about how Marrone has handled EJ Manuel, how he has refused to discuss injured players, general shortness with reporters, the training camp schedule, player conflicts, the backup quarterback situation, and more recently, the Sammy Watkins injury.
Those are all small stories that have been discussed to death over the past six weeks. Today, I want to focus on the big picture. I want to start from the very beginning, because that's the source of my frustration.
When Marrone was hired, what were some of the things that we knew or expected him to bring to the Bills? We knew that he was a former NFL offensive lineman, who coached the offensive line at the NFL level for both the Jets and the Saints. He was (sort of) the offensive coordinator for the high powered Saints team before they won the Super Bowl. He leaves the Saints and goes to Syracuse, where he was a no-nonsense head coach that helped turn around a bad program, and groomed a young talented quarterback in the process in Ryan Nassib. Did I get that right?
If you paid attention, you would have noticed that there are three very unique cases that we thought we could expect the Bills to have when Marrone, with his qualifications, took the job:
- Have a good to great offense
- Have a good to great offensive line
- Have the ability to develop a young quarterback
This is where Marrone was valued. This is where his footprint should be expected to be left on this team. If there is anything that he was supposed to be good at, or get right, it was in these three categories. This is non-negotiable and non-debatable for me. This is where and how I judge Marrone's performance. Nothing else really matters to me. Not the defense (because I don't believe that the Mike Pettine and Jim Schwartz hires were his to make), and not special teams (because it's too insignificant in the grand scheme of things).
Marrone hired Nathaniel Hackett, who was his offensive coordinator at Syracuse. In year one with the Bills, Marrone and Hackett deployed an up-tempo offense with a developmental-type (Buddy Nix's words, not mine) quarterback. They tried to convince us that this was a good idea, but our intuition was telling us that this made no sense. As the season went along, this proved to be a bad idea, because the up-tempo was scrapped as the offense continued to struggle.
As a coach, you play the hand that you are dealt. Personnel decisions are left up to the GM, with some input from the head coach. Marrone gives Whaley the grocery list, and Whaley does the shopping.
I'm not sure who was responsible for the Manuel pick, so I won't put the pick on Marrone. However, Marrone and Hackett decided to put him in an offense with west-coast principles. I'm no football genius, but what is the number one characteristic that a quarterback must have in order to be an effective west-coast offense type quarterback? Accuracy! What is the one thing that Manuel has always struggled with, even going back to his Florida State days? You guessed it, accuracy. It perplexes me why they would proceed to install an offense with a player that isn't suitable to run it. Anyone want to share their theory?
Let's address the offensive line and the running game, too.
Before Marrone and Hackett took over, the Bills' offensive line and the run game was one of the strengths of the offense. The line only gave up 30 sacks in 2012, and C.J. Spiller had a career year in which he rushed for 1,244 yards, averaging six yards per carry. If there was ever a unit or a phase in the game that we could count on, it was the offensive line and the run game. Marrone and Hackett couldn't make things worse, could they? Hackett even promised to run Spiller until he threw up.
Bills quarterbacks were sacked 58 times last season (the fourth-highest figure in the league), and Spiller was hurt throughout the season, because Marrone and Hackett thought it was a good idea to use their Ferrari like a F-150, doing the dirty work and hauling waste instead of speeding on the open road. They also thought that it was a good idea to implement a zone blocking scheme with mammoth lineman.
Time to test your football knowledge again: what type of linemen should be used for a zone blocking scheme? You guessed it: smaller, agile linemen. Why do they think it's a good idea to have our rather huge and cumbersome linemen pulling and getting out on screens? It's no wonder why the Bills failed so miserably in the run and screen game last season.
Marrone and Hackett were praised for their ability to think on the fly when they completely trashed Syracuse's entire offense going into Nassib's senior season. That sort of flexibility, creativity, and courage was a selling point for me. It was encouraging to know that this duo can step in, see what's wrong, fix it, and not try to fit a square peg in to a round hole. It is discouraging and frustrating to see them not do that here in Buffalo.
These poor decisions are the cause for my questioning of Marrone, along with his long-term viability here in Buffalo. I don't know if he's in over his head, or if his hands are tied with what he can or cannot do. All I know, because we've been down this road many times: if the team gets off to a slow start, the "fire Marrone" chants will start. I hope and pray that this doesn't happen, but if it does, we can look back at all of these critical decisions that he made as the reason.