Heading into the 2007 season, Bills fans held high hopes for an offensive resurgence, and felt confident that a young defense would become better once they gained a bit of experience. Even before those high hopes were dashed, we were also aware that the Bills' strongest unit was, in fact, their special teams. Led by an elite kicking group and special teams mastermind Bobby April, the Bills' kicking games have only been marginally disappointing to date - and the unit is certainly the strong point of the team. Here's how the Bills' strong suit grades out through the first four games:
Working solely from memory, this has been Rian Lindell's best season in the kickoff department. He has routinely pinned opposing kick returners in the end zone - something he struggled with early on in his Bills career. My problem with Lindell at this point is that, of his three field goal attempts this season, the one he missed came in an unbelievably crucial situation in the opener against the Broncos; those points could have won the game for the Bills. I've never been completely confident in Lindell, but he's performed about on par with my expectations thus far.
It has been par for the course for the league's best punter, Brian Moorman. He currently ranks #12 in the league with a 44.8 yard average (tied for #10 with a 39.8 net average), has pinned 7 punts inside the 20 yard line and currently has the NFL's longest punt of 75 yards - from his own one-yard line, no less. He's one of the few punters in the league that can consider himself a weapon for his team. Yet he's docked half a letter grade because for all his success, he's still been a bit inconsistent, throwing in some wobbly kicks this season. Feel free to be overly confident that these inconsistencies will fix themselves as the season wears on.
Kick/Punt Returns: B
It is my opinion that outside of Chicago's Devin Hester, our very own Roscoe Parrish is the deadliest punt returner in the league. Opponents are noticing as well: in four games, Parrish has returned just three kicks. (Of course, you can chalk some of that up to the defense as well.) On those three returns, Roscoe has picked up 100 yards and scored a touchdown. If the Bills' defense ever forces a few more punts, Roscoe will be a huge difference-maker for this team.
Meanwhile, KR Terrence McGee is trying too hard to be a difference-maker. While he ranks #7 in the league with 342 return yards and has a long return of 63 (in the Steelers game), his average is a rather pedestrian 26.3 yards (#22 in the league). McGee needs to go back to doing what he does best - following his blocking. He's been trying to do a bit too much on his own, which has compromised his blockers - not to mention led to several holding penalties over the three games he's played. Calm down, Terrence - you're good at what you do. The long returns will come.
Kick/Punt Coverage: B
The Bills' punt coverage units are excellent. Opponents are averaging just 9 yards per punt return, and they've been solid knocking down kicks deep in opposing territory. But we've seen better days from the kick return units - the coverage is springing the occasional leak, and returners are setting their teams up with good field position a bit too often. For now, we can attribute it to a high degree of player turnover as the Bills have dealt with a rash of injuries. But it would certainly be a bit more comforting to see the kick return units stiffen up a bit as we move forward.
Agree? Disagree? Something to add/subtract from the report card? You all are teachers in this school too, so let's hear it - how would you grade out the Bills' specialists thus far?