October 12, 2012
The Buffalo Bills were a trendy pick to be a sleeper in 2012 and to end the longest current playoff drought in the National Football League, dating back to 1999. After all, Buffalo returned major cogs in their offense like running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller along with wide receiver Stevie Johnson. Defensively, Buffalo went out and inked Mario Williams and Mark Anderson to hefty free agent deals to add to a pass rush that has been meager at best in recent years.
The team drafted cornerback Stephon Gilmore with their first pick in the draft, tenth overall, in order to add a potential shutdown corner to the lineup. George Wilson and Jairus Byrd form one of the more formidable safety duos in the league and with the return of a healthy Kyle Williams paired with second year player Marcell Dareus, Buffalo had a force to be reckoned with at defensive tackle. It looked, on paper at least, that the Bills were ready to turn the corner.
As the age old saying goes, that’s why they play the games. After five weeks, Buffalo sits at 2-3, having lost both their divisional matchups so far. They’ve been absolutely annihilated the past two weeks, losing to New England and San Francisco by a combined 97-31. They allowed 48 points in the opener to the Jets, who have managed to score 50 points…in the last four games combined. If you break it down further, since jumping ahead 21-7 early in the third quarter against New England, the scoring is 90 for the other guys, 10 for Buffalo. Putrid numbers to crunch no matter how you choose to look at them.
Buffalo has two games before their bye week to try and get back on the right side of the ledger, beginning with Sunday’s clash on the road against the Arizona Cardinals before returning home to play the Tennessee Titans on October 21. There is a viable chance Buffalo could be 4-3 going into the bye, which would be helpful, given their first two games out of the bye are road games in Houston and New England before a Thursday night game at home against Miami.
Let’s take a look at some of the issues that have plagued the Bills so far this season before we take a look at Sunday’s tilt with Arizona.
Injuries: Sure, I know every team has injuries over the course of the season. The saying is that good teams overcome injuries and to an extent, that’s true too. However, there are not many teams that can overcome a long string of injuries. Buffalo simply lacks the depth to be able to sustain success without their key personnel.
Already this season, Buffalo has seen Jackson miss two full games and a good chunk of the season opener with a LCL injury. He returned against the Patriots but has not been able to get untracked the past two weeks. Spiller sprained his AC joint in his shoulder against the Browns and lost a key fumble right before the half against New England. David Nelson, who caught 61 passes a year ago, tore his ACL in the season opener and was lost for the season.
Buffalo’s biggest issue on the offensive side of the ball has been injuries to the offensive line. Rookie left tackle Cordy Glenn and right guard Kraig Urbik are both recovering from ankle injuries, Chad Rhinehart, who was filling in for Urbik, hurt his hamstring and Eric Wood, the Bills’ center, suffered a foot injury. Buffalo’s backup center, Colin Brown, also was injured in the game Sunday and was placed on injured reserve yesterday with the signing of free agent Reggie Wells. Wells is not likely to be ready this week but may see action next week against Tennessee.
Defensively, Buffalo was dealt a major blow when it was announced that Anderson would need knee surgery after suffering an injury during the second half of Sunday’s massacre. He’s out indefinitely with the injury, elevating Chris Kelsay back into the lineup. Mario Williams has talked about how he has a wrist issue, prompting the league to investigate why he hasn’t been put on the injury report all season long. The Bills are thin at defensive end as Spencer Johnson is expected to miss another game or two with an ankle injury as well.
Inconsistency: Buffalo is plagued by inconsistent play on both sides of the ball. Fitzpatrick threw three interceptions against the Jets, one that was returned for a score by Antonio Cromartie and then turned in back to back solid games against the Chiefs and Browns where he threw for five touchdowns with no interceptions. Against New England, Fitzpatrick threw four touchdown passes but added four interceptions, making him the fourth quarterback since 1985 to accomplish that feat. Fitzpatrick wasn’t really a factor in the San Francisco game, throwing one interception in the second half to squelch a potential scoring drive.
Buffalo has gotten little production out of receivers other than Johnson: tight end Scott Chandler is second on the team with 16 receptions. Donald Jones has 15 grabs and rookie third round pick T.J. Graham has 10; after that, there are no players with double digit receptions. People need to step up and make plays, be it Spiller and Jackson out of the backfield, or one of the other receivers like Brad Smith.
Defensively, Buffalo needs to be more consistent too. After holding Jamaal Charles to a measly three yards on six carries in week two (Charles went off for 233 yards against the Saints the next week) and locking down rookie Trent Richardson to the tune of 27 yards against the Browns, Buffalo was looking like they had shored up the run defense. Instead, they were gashed badly the past two weeks, with New England racking up 247 yards on the ground and the 49ers picking up a ridiculous 311 yards, averaging 8.2 yards a carry.
The Bills have had trouble in the secondary as well, allowing unheralded quarterbacks like Mark Sanchez and Alex Smith to have terrific afternoons that border on career best performances. There is a lot of youth on the defense, especially in the secondary but there is talent as well. The young players need to be more consistent in order to succeed.
Lack of Adjustments: This is a major issue with what’s gone wrong with the Bills. The team will find something that works for a portion of the game but when the opponent makes adjustments, the Bills stubbornly stick with their plan, even if it no longer is effective.
A clear case in point was the second half of the New England game. After jumping ahead 21-7 in part due to forcing a couple turnovers and Stephen Gostkowski missing a pair of field goals, Buffalo stuck with the 4-2-5 and 4-1-6 formats that they had been running defensively to that point. Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels, Tom Brady and company saw that the defensive scheme left Buffalo vulnerable to the run and proceeded to cram the ball down the Bills’ throats. Brandon Bolden, who hadn’t touched the ball all season coming in, picked up 137 yards on the ground. Stevan Ridley broke the 100 yard mark as well while Dave Wannstedt, Buffalo’s defensive coordinator, failed to make adjustments.
A week later, the Bills, fearing San Francisco’s potent running game, routinely put seven, eight and nine men in the box, daring Alex Smith to throw in order to move the ball. Unfortunately for Buffalo, Smith did, finishing the day 18 of 24 for 303 yards and three touchdowns. Michael Crabtree, Kyle Williams and Vernon Davis each had a grab of at least 36 yards, while Crabtree and Davis went over the 100 yard mark receiving.
Lack of Pass Rush: The Bills spent a lot of money on Williams and Anderson to improve their anemic pass rush, which totaled 29 sacks a year ago. Ten of those came in the same game, a 23-0 whitewash of the Washington Redskins in a game that pretty much ended the John Beck experiment in the nation’s capital. It was expected that Buffalo would be able to racket up the pass rush on opposing teams, helping force turnovers and help out a young secondary.
It hasn’t worked out that way so far: Buffalo has a mere 10 sacks in five games, which projects to 32 over the course of the year. That doesn’t sit well with the fan base or the coaching staff, which needs more production. Mario Williams has just 1.5 sacks so far, Anderson has one. Kyle Williams leads the team with 3.5, with Dareus the only other Bill with more than 1.5 sacks; he has two.
The inability to pressure the quarterback has put immense pressure on the young secondary: George Wilson is second on the team in tackles with 33, with Byrd (27) and Gilmore (25) right behind him in third and fourth, respectively. Buffalo has given up an average of 277.6 yards per game through the air, which ranks them 24th in the league. The pass rush needs to improve to help Buffalo win the battle of field position and ultimately, football games.
Coming up, we’ll take an in-depth look at Sunday’s clash between the Bills and Cardinals and focus on the key points that Buffalo needs to improve on in order to get back to .500 on the season. Stay tuned.