Inside the NFL – Day Three – Putting the Bills in Perspective
Buffalo Bills – Sometimes it is worth while to throw out an early season result when trying to evaluate a team. In the case of the Bills they dominated a KC team in week 1 that has subsequently proven they showed up unprepared for the season. If we remove that result we can focus on the other games to get a clearer picture of what the Bills are.
In weeks two and three they were down big against Oakland and New England, but were able to rack up second half points and steal victories. In week four they went on the road to face a tough Bengals defense and came up a little short. Week’s five and six had the Bills face off against the NFC East. They split their matches versus the Eagles (win) and Giants (loss). In both games turnovers were the difference.
Can we draw on these games to get a clearer picture of the Bills? I think the weeks two and three games most clearly illustrate the type of team the Bills are and will be. In both games they fell behind without putting up much resistance. They rode an offense that can produce quick plays to second half comebacks. These games display the Bills biggest strengths and weaknesses. The Bills defense is really not a strong unit. They lack any physicality and they have no way to pressure the passer. They have two really strong players on the D-line but they have yet to take over a game. Their single strength appears to be the ability of their secondary to cause turnovers. But when the Bills are not causing turnovers they struggle to stop their opponent. Their ability to win both games highlighted the strength of their offense. They can spread the field and carve defenses up with quick passes. Fred Jackson can run from the spread and is a major threat in the passing game as well. Because the offense is running so smoothly on the short game the long ball has been opened up.
In week three they got a big turnover early to get a lead on Cincy. But when the turnovers dried up the low-power Bengals offense was able to grind out the points needed for a ‘W’. The Bills were unable to move the ball effectively against the first good defense they had to face all season and Fitzpatrick ended with less than 200 yards passing.
Against the Eagles the Bills forced five turnovers. Their offense was able to run on the Eagles, but the Bills real accomplishment was being able to turn the Eagles turnovers in TD’s. With the Eagles playing from behind they were able to gain 489 total yards which highlighted the Bills inability to get stops when not causing turnovers.
When the Bills played in New York they gained an early lead but turned the ball over when it mattered most and ultimately were only able to produce seven points in the second half. On the defensive side the Bills again gave up over 400 yards and this time were gashed on the ground by Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw who had 100 yards and three TD’s.
We can see some trends developing. The Bills are a team with a strong offense but no defense to fall back on when they are not scoring. They have given up 23 or more points to every opponent since KC. So what does this mean for the Bills going forward? It means they will rely on their offense to carry them the rest of the season. I have my doubts this can happen. Ryan Fitzpatrick is the real breakout start for the Bills this season; he is playing better than he ever has. I am not sure how much longer he can play at this high level. Chan Gailey, Head Coach of the Bills, and Fitzpatrick have fully employed Gailey’s style of offense with much success early on. But whenever a team is winning with scheme early you have to cautious. Often the league will catch up with these teams and then it is on the players to win their match-ups. The other breakout star is Fred Jackson. He is the Bills most important player and his ability to break long-runs is what makes this scheme dangerous and does not enable the defense to focus on getting to Fitzpatrick.
Because of their less-than-stellar defense, winning road games will be difficult – the Bills are 0-2 on the road ignoring the opening week. This is offset by Ralph Wilson stadium and what might be the best home field advantage in the league. When the Bills are on top of their game no fans go crazier than Bills fans. For the Bills to make the playoffs they may have to run the slate in home games and steal one on the road. This would put them at 10 wins. The road steal is an easy pick: @ Miami week 11 (the rest of the road slate is very tough). But before we arrive at week 11 we get to see if this Bills team really means business during the next two weeks. They play two home games against Washington and the Jets. Winning the Jets division match will be crucial, but the game against the Skins may be the tougher match-up. The Bills will have to play this game without their Ralph Wilson crowd and instead play in the dead atmosphere of the Skydome. Yes, that it what it is called.
If the Bills escape these next two games 2-0 then I will start to buy them as a playoff team.
Check back each week for my predictions.
And that is the last word.