The Buffalo Bills have fallen to 4-8, their hopes of making the playoffs are now slimmer than shady, and we're left with four football games that don't carry much meaning in the standings, but should not only at One Bills Drive, but to Bills fans looking for reasons to believe that their team is on the upswing heading into the off-season.
Here's this week mailbag, which is once again necessarily forward-thinking as the minutiae of each game becomes less interesting with the stakes lowered. Thanks to all for submitting questions; please continue to do so via email, Twitter and Facebook.
If you could pick one position to "fix" for the Bills on both offense and defense, what would it be and why?
I've fielded positional need questions in each of our last two mailbag posts here, so I'm going to take the liberty of broadening the scope a bit here. Thanks for the question, Nick!
On offense, Buffalo needs to become tougher - both physically and mentally. As it exists right now, it's very much a finesse offense. That starts up front; the Bills really need to become tougher on their offensive line, and that will probably start by upgrading at left guard and right tackle. Their running game is a finesse game; with all due respect to the tough Fred Jackson, when he's your most physical runner, you have an issue that Frank Summers can't solve if he's playing less than 20 percent of the plays. Buffalo's is a speed-based offense - C.J. Spiller, T.J. Graham and Marquise Goodwin are key figures, after all - and their possession-type players are Jackson, Stevie Johnson (who's all about his route-running) and Scott Chandler, who isn't much of a blocker. To take the next step, the Bills need to be able to balance power and finesse on offense, and that will start by acquiring said power.
Defensively, they need to continue to focus on shoring up a run defense that isn't much better than it's been in years past. The Bills have allowed opponents to rush for 120 or more yards in eight of their 12 games this season; that's equal to the eight times Dave Wannstedt's outfit allowed the same figure or more in 2012. The Bills have made clear gains on defense this season - they're running a modern scheme, and they're rushing the passer better than they have in years - but until they can perform significantly better against the run, they're going to struggle to consistently play winning football. We'll be taking a closer look at this particular area of the team in an All-22 post scheduled to run tomorrow morning, by the way.
Pick five players that the Bills should bench in favor of five young guys that need to play in these last four games.
This is more of a demand than a question, I think, but this is an interesting discussion-starter, so thanks for the submission, Shawn! More interesting than the discussion, however, is whether or not Doug Marrone and the Bills' coaching staff will be willing to perform these types of evaluations during live game action.
- Evan Rodriguez for Chandler: Nothing against Chandler, and this wouldn't be punishment for his overtime fumble against Atlanta either, but: if the Bills have a single known commodity in their passing game right now, it's their starting tight end. It's worth noting that in that Toronto game, Rodriguez was on the active roster while rookie tight end Chris Gragg was in street clothes. Rodriguez is only slightly over 6'1", so he's not really a tight end prospect (and Gragg is only an inch taller, for the record), but Rodriguez clearly has more utility than Gragg at this point. It'd be interesting if he saw some snaps in a pass-catching capacity.
- Mark Asper for Doug Legursky: The Bills don't have their 2014 starting left guard in the lineup right now. What they do have is a trio of interior reserves that could stand to see some live bullets: Asper, Antoine McClain and J.J. Unga. Neither McClain or Unga have been active for the Bills yet this season, so Asper is the clear front-runner to play if the team decides to evaluate interior linemen down the stretch.
- Stefan Charles for Alan Branch: Toss in Corbin Bryant, too. Branch signed a one-year deal with the Bills, and while the soon-to-be 29-year-old has done some nice things against the run at times, he's a one-dimensional player that can really only be used situationally in Mike Pettine's defense. Bryant has flashed some ability in limited playing time this season, and Charles has shown some nice ability in even more severely limited snaps over the last several weeks. It would behoove the Bills to take a longer look at their deep defensive line reserves before attempting to shore up their run defense this off-season.
- Nigel Bradham for Arthur Moats: Neither linebacker plays a ton, but Moats is still seeing roughly double the amount of playing time that Bradham is. Moats is a useful reserve-type player with special teams ability, but he's not a player that a defense should have to rely on to play about a third of their snaps; Bradham at least has the physical ability to get there. Bradham has been one of the bigger disappointments among the large quantity of young defensive players this season; maybe he just needs a bigger opportunity for a little redemption.
- Duke Williams for Jim Leonhard: The Bills don't use a fourth safety so frequently that they couldn't get away with using the much more physically gifted Williams in Leonhard's role. Leonhard has averaged about nine snaps per game over the past four contests, and has frankly looked pretty bad. This switch might be the most sensible one to make in terms of just simply getting better on defense.