I've been asked over the past several days about what I believe is the biggest on-field issue facing the Buffalo Bills right now. I know how I've been answering the question, but grew curious as to how the fan base is addressing it. Hence this poll.
First thing's first: this question is specific to the 2011 Bills. The types of things we talk about in the off-season - Ralph Wilson, Buddy Nix, ineffective drafting, free agency acquisitions, the scouting department, et al - are not part of this discussion. We're asking about the biggest problem facing the Bills team that is still trying to make the playoffs. This is an on-field discussion.
In an effort to not list every positional group, player and coach on this poll, I've tried to boil it down to four key areas: quarterback play, the pass rush, a ridiculously lengthy injury list and coaching decisions and scheme. After the jump, we'll talk about those four areas - and some will include other areas that I'm sure many of you are thinking of - and you'll find the poll after the click, as well.
Quarterback Play. As we discussed earlier this week, Ryan Fitzpatrick has really struggled since signing a six-year, $59 million contract extension on October 30. In the last three games, Fitzpatrick has looked skittish and indecisive behind the line, and though he hasn't gotten much help around him, he's thrown seven interceptions to just two touchdowns as the Bills have scored just 26 points.
For many NFL teams, they go as their quarterback goes, and while things have been falling apart around him, Fitzpatrick has not been able to shoulder the load and elevate the players around him. Instead, he flounders as the team flounders, or he excels as the team excels.
No Pass Rush. In a Week 8 win over the Washington Redskins, the Bills recorded a whopping 10 sacks on Redskins quarterback John Beck. In the nine other games the Bills have played, they've recorded just six more sacks.
But sacks aren't the big problem; the team is unable to generate any pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The widespread belief is that this issue has led to the team's massive slip defending the pass, particularly from a group of cornerbacks that was largely good in 2010, and which has largely been terrible in 2011. Blitzes don't work, there are no natural pass-rushing prospects currently on the active roster, and in the last three weeks, the not-so-elite trio of Mark Sanchez, Tony Romo and Matt Moore have combined to complete an absurd 77 percent of their passes for 660 yards, seven touchdowns and just one gimme interception from Sanchez. This defense is getting torched by mediocre-to-good quarterbacks; imagine what would happen right now if they played someone great.
Injuries. This one is pretty self-explanatory. The list of players on Injured Reserve contains five opening-day starters (Donald Jones, Eric Wood, Kyle Williams, Shawne Merriman and Terrence McGee), as well as two more players that were slated to have significant roles (Roscoe Parrish and Marcus Easley).
On top of that, several more key contributors - Fred Jackson, Stevie Johnson, David Nelson, Demetrius Bell, Chris Hairston, Spencer Johnson, Chris Kelsay, Aaron Williams and George Wilson - have missed varying degrees of time, or been noticeably hampered by their own injuries. It's led to positional instability in several areas - most prominently along the offensive line - and made it very difficult for the team to establish any week-to-week continuity. Not only are the Bills working to beat an opponent every week, they're also trying to fill in their own holes created by injuries.
Coaching. This week alone, we've talked about the growing fan animosity towards defensive coordinator George Edwards, as well as the fact that Chan Gailey is now admitting to making mistakes with his personnel. The team has been solved in recent weeks, and Gailey and his coaching staff have been unable to counter with new wrinkles of their own.
The offense is sputtering, struggling to get receivers open and not getting the ball enough to star tailback Fred Jackson. The defense is getting gashed by passers and rushers alike. Perhaps most alarmingly, however, the team has not even been competitive in the month of November, getting blown out by a combined score of 106-26 and accused by opposing players of laying down early in ball games. Losing is never acceptable, but not showing up to play for three straight games during a playoff race is even more abhorrent.