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Should Buffalo Bills Be Focusing On Running, Stopping Spread Offense?

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In case you missed it from this morning's Web Rumblings, Jerry Sullivan (The Buffalo News) has an interesting column up regarding the NFL's trend toward pass-heavy, multiple-receiver offensive attacks. Spurred on by the Green Bay Packers victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV, Sullivan noted that teams have taken to beating the Steelers with that approach in recent years - hell, Buffalo almost did it this past season - and goes further in fleshing out his valid argument.

Sullivan uses the trend data to make a pitch for the Bills taking an elite quarterback (novel concept), a wideout like Georgia's A.J. Green, or a corner like LSU's Patrick Peterson in the 2011 NFL Draft. I think he missed an important point: should the Bills stay ahead of the curve and simply tailor their team to stopping spread offenses?

Think about it: if the Bills are going to seriously compete for a championship - let's just table the jokes and assume that's their actual goal - they'll need to beat some pretty excellent teams to do so. Teams that have good quarterbacks and score a lot of points. They'll even need to do it within their own division, where Tom Brady and New England's pass-first, spread offensive system still reign supreme.

Speaking of the Patriots, not only have they been ahead of the curve for several years - they've run a spread offense pretty much since it was very obvious that Brady was going to be one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the league - but they're re-defining the curve, as well. New England's spread offense now features the tight end - two of them, to be exact - and any football coach will tell you that the most difficult offense to stop is one that has two excellent tight ends. (That offense, incidentally, is also perfectly designed to shred a 3-4 defense.)

Buffalo is already a pass-first offense under Chan Gailey. In 2010, Ryan Fitzpatrick attempted 25 or more passes in 11 of 13 games; in that same time frame, Bills running backs toted the rock 20 or more times in just six games. In fact, Fitzpatrick threw 35 or more times in five games, and had another game with 34 attempts. If you're a football purist - "run and stop the run" - then you'd better adjust your expectations, because Gailey's going to throw the football. (That's not to say that the Bills shouldn't try to run and stop the run better, of course.)

The evidence is ample. To be an elite NFL team, you need to be able to defend the pass as well, if not better, than you defend the run (and that needs to be good to start with). You also need to be able to stress a defense through the passing game. While Bills fans pine for better line play, more size and more physicality, I think Sullivan is bang on: the real focus should be increasing depth for the oncoming dominance of the spread offense.