Surprise, surprise. Throughout much of the summer, the Buffalo Bills were the focus of many high-profile journalists as a "sleeper" team of sorts; J.P. Losman was poised for a breakout, Marshawn Lynch was the next big rookie and the Bills were "headed in the right direction".
Now, with three less-than-stellar pre-season performances under their belt, the Bills are starting to hear the negativity again - from even the hardiest of Bills fans (I speak of this community, of course). Losman has struggled, the offense has been incredibly streaky, and the defense is giving away yards as if they were handing out mini sausages at a grocery store kiosk. Not surprisingly, Jerry Sullivan of The Buffalo News is at the forefront of this movement. In his latest bash column, Sullivan plays Negative Nancy once more and bashes the life out of the defense:
Well, the starting defense has given up 23 points in five quarters. That's 18.4 points per game. Really, that isn't half bad - especially when you consider the youth that resides on the defensive side of the ball. Yes, it's just the pre-season, but if there's one thing the defense has done, Jerry, it's keep points off the board.
But here's the thing - Sullivan is right. Normally his moaning drives me nuts (and I realize that moaning is his journalistic niche), but he's spot on about the defense. Curt Menefee of FOX Sports agrees:
They can't tackle, they can't cover, they can't put pressure on the quarterback.
I guess the good news is that the Bills know it.
As one Buffalo coach told me, "we have to do everything we can to keep our defense off the field." Well, knowing you have a problem is the first step to recovery.
I'd love to know which coach provided Menefee that quote - the coach is also right, but doesn't he realize that even if you keep these quotes anonymous, they're not exactly inspiring to your young defense? Keep your mouth shut and let the fans state the obvious, Anonymous Coach.
Even head coach Dick Jauron has been down on this team:
But here is where the negativity no longer holds water. If anybody - "expert", journalist or Bills fan alike - thinks that these pre-season struggles are reason to throw away hopes on the season, you're gravely mistaken. Anybody who thought that the team was a serious playoff contender this year was also gravely mistaken - but this team can be very good this year.
The Bills open their schedule with one of the most ridiculously difficult schedules in recent memory. They must play these high-caliber teams knowing that they have one of the greenest teams not just in their conference, but in the entire NFL. Youth plus difficult competition does not a winning Bills team make. But there's a catch.
Contrary to the popular belief of these writers, professional football teams can actually improve during the season. The Bills can't stop the run now but who's to say that John McCargo and Paul Posluszny won't suddenly "get it" after half a season of play and shore up those running lanes? Who's to say that Ashton Youboty won't crack the upper tiers of the depth chart and become a playmaker in our secondary? This could go the other way (I'll stop short of saying "regress" outside of these parentheses), but the point is that what we're seeing now isn't close to what we'll see in the final weeks of the regular season.
The Bills have been playing golf in January for a long time. It's understandable that if there's any NFL fan who will jump ship after three poor pre-season games, it's a Bills fan. But common sense dictates that this team is still, in fact, headed in the right direction. Patience is still a prerequisite for success in this league. Grant it to this team - they're talented enough to make that patience pay off in the end.