Sunday, October 30, 2011

Bills-Redskins Recap

 (Gary Wiepert - AP)

Oh Canada. The Bills played the best game they've ever played in the northern province today, downing the Redskins 23-0. Its the Bills first shutout since Week 15 of 2006.


-After struggling mightily to put any pressure on the QB over the first six weeks, the Bills D exploded with nine sacks against the Redskins. No doubt its a step in the right direction (I don't care who you are playing, nine sacks is nine sacks), but you really couldn't help but notice how poorly Washington's line was playing. We'll see what happens the next two weeks against the Jets and Cowboys before making a judgment on how much they've improved.

That said, the fact that the team was able to make adjustments during the bye week to improve a glaring problem area is very satisfying. 

-One thing I can definitely say about the defense changes in during the bye week is that Dareus playing the nose was exactly the right call. I've had some criticism for him of late, but he was an absolute monster today.

-Fitz had by my count three bad throws today, and none of them was the interception. I think Aikman (for once) was correct in his assessment that Fitzy was trusting Stevie to go get the ball and Fletcher just made a play on it. I'd rather have an occasional INT like that then a lot of Trentative checkdowns.

-I think that the only player clearly more valuable to their team than Fred Jackson is Peyton Manning.

-When the Bills were busy flip-flopping Levitre and Rinehart at LG during the preseason, many of us were wondering if it signaled some dissatisfaction with Levitre's play on the part of the coaching staff. Seven games into the season, it seems clear that Gailey meant what he said when told us that Rinehart had earned a chance to play for the starting job. The Levitre/Rinehart left side had an excellent game this week, particularly in the run game. Levitre's performance was all the more impressive given that he was playing out of position at tackle primarily against one of the pass rushers in the league in Brian Orakpo. It warms the cockles of this Bills fan's heart to think of the legitimate depth we have on the o-line. will start their absurdly early Pro Bowl balloting fairly soon (I think they start it around Week 9), so I've started to gather some thoughts about which Bills I think are deserving of consideration. Here's my top five as of now:

1. RB Fred Jackson- Right now, I think he's the MVP of the league. He won't win it with Rodgers playing the way he is, but he should be in the conversation.

2. LG Andy Levitre- See my above comments for this week. There hasn't been a better player on one of the (surprisingly!) best lines in football.

3. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick- He's still had a few bad balls, but this has been a consistently good year for no. 14. Brady is still first in the conference, but Fitzmagic is in conversation for that number two position.

4. SS George Wilson- A couple of weeks ago, I would've loudly argued against this, but he has been playing extremely well the last few games. Wilson has 66 tackles, 4 INTs, 10 passes defensed and a forced fumble this year.

5. WR Stevie Johnson- Frankly I don't think Stevie has been spectacular, I'm just having a hard time finding someone else in the AFC that's better. Welker and Wallace are shoe-ins, and a great argument could be made for A.J. Green. After that, who do you have? Boldin? Antonio Brown?

Honorable Mentions:

LT Demetrius Bell- I'd like to get him back out there for some evaluation. I would've been extremely high on his candidacy a few weeks ago, but given that a rookie 4th rounder and a guard have played his position extremely well in the last few weeks, he's taken a bit of a hit.

DT/DE Marcell Dareus- He's still growing (metaphorically speaking- I hope he's as big as he'll get), but he's already a bear to deal with. I haven't seen him dominate in a consistent way yet, but he may be there by the end of the year.

Looking Forward:

Next up are the Jets. Your guess is as good as mine as to which version of the Jets will show up. As long as they bring their overrated/under-producing QB with them, we'll have a good chance to beat them.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Bills-Giants Recap

Turnovers were once again the story this week for the Buffalo Bills, just not in the way they've become accustomed to. The Bills lost a tough one on the 27-24 to the New York Giants, largely on the strength of two Ryan Fitzpatrick interceptions.

The shame of the whole situation is that Fitzpatrick otherwise acquitted himself fairly well, going 21/30 for 244 and 2 TDs (plus those picks). Both throws were good decisions, but badly underthrown deep balls to Stevie Johnson, including one with only 4:10 left in a tied ballgame.


- Once again, Fred Jackson was the workhorse, piling up 168 total yards and a touchdown. He had the longest touchdown run of his career with a brilliant 80 yarder that tied the scoring up at 7. No doubt in my mind that he's the NFL's MVP up to this point in the year. No player is more important to the success of his team than Jackson.

- As hard as this loss was to take, I don't feel as though I watched bad football being played. This was. more than any other Bills game I've watched this year, a game of inches. Both teams had great individual efforts and big mental errors. Unfortunately this one really did come down to those two picks. If Fitzy managed to throw those passes just five yards further downfield, we're talking about the Bills being 5-1 right now. I'm sure he knows it to. I was watching with some friends who were Giants fans, and their hearts were going out to him. Hopefully he's puts those behind him during the bye and plays a great game against the Redskins.

- I'm beginning to wonder if Marcell Dareus is a bit too heavy right now. He's had some dominating flashes, but I saw several plays this week where turned the motor off. I'm not sure what the issue is, but that is not a good sign.

- I was hoping for to see more of Spiller in the passing game, and my hopes were somewhat answered. It wasn't a tremendous performance, but Spiller caught a career high five passes for a season high 39 yards. Doesn't sound like much, but considering that Spiller had six catches for 16 yards in the previous five weeks, its improvement. Here's hoping that its a taste of things to come.

- The pass rush was, once again, pretty awful. Shawne Merriman and Kyle Williams haven't really lit up the stat sheet this year, but their loss was definitely felt in the passing game. Arthur Moats once again flashed some skills, but started getting neutralized once the Giants committed to using an offensive lineman on him. Dareus had a few strong inside rushes, but had plenty of problems keeping it up (see above). I've got to think upgrading the pass rush has to be priority number one going into next year.

- I was dead wrong about the Giants pass rush not being a factor. The Giants sacked Fitzpatrick three times, and harried him pretty consistently. Erik Pears in particular struggled with the speed rush on the edge. Part of it has to be chalked up to the Giants ability to read the snap count, and/or the Bills inability to change it up. That crucial encroachment penalty that Fitzpatrick drew towards the end of the game was a product of Fitz finally exploiting the Giants twitchiness. Its something that the Bills will need to work on going into the bye.

- Thanks to my friends Dreyer and Andrea for the hosting and for the wings. Pleasure to watch the game with you guys!

Next week is the bye, and it probably couldn't have come at a better time. The Bills need to rest up and do some re-assessment. 4-2 is better than a lot of folks assumed we be right now, but the truth is that we could be better.

(AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Bills-Giants Preview

The Bills tour through the NFC East continues this week as they travel to New Jersey to face the New Giants. The Giants are fresh off of a disappointing loss to the Seattle Seahawks, one in which they turned the ball five times.

- Don't expect the Giants to turn the ball over five times again this week. Thus far this year the Giants have been fairly careful with the ball and even after last week's terrible performance are +2 in turnovers for the year. The turnover hungry Bills defense has made a living off of turnovers this year, but I don't expect them to be able to fall back on that this week.

The good news for the Bills defense, is that the Giants have managed to find other ways of getting themselves off of the field. The Giants are 29th in the NFL on third down, converting just 29% of their chances. The Bills defense is 15th in the league on third down conversions, keeping opponents to a 38% conversion rate.

- This will be a game of weakness against weakness. The Giants are 31st in yards per carry in the NFL (3.2) and the Bills are 31st in yards per surrendered per carry (5.5). Something has to give. The pessimist in me tells me it will be the Bills defense, but the critical observer in me says otherwise.

A cursory look at the Bills first five opponents reveals some very impressive running games. The Bills have faced four of the top ten rushing offenses (per carry) in the NFL in the first five weeks (Eagles- 1st, Raiders- 3rd, Patriots- 7th and Chiefs- 8th). And don't go thinking that these teams are all in the top ten because they faced the Bills. The only game that the Bills truly were gashed in the run game was against the Eagles. Even then, a lot of those yards came on two plays, Vick's 53 yard scramble and McCoy's 32 yard run.

Which brings us to the point of the conversation. While last year, teams continually ripped off five to seven yard runs against an overwhelmed front seven, this year the problem is much more with big plays. The Bills have surrendered eight runs of 20+ yards this year, which is tied for 2nd worst in the NFL right now. Its the occasional mental lapses which are sinking this defense, and thats what they need to fix.

Easier said than done admittedly. The good news is that the Giants have been particularly good at creating big plays in the run game. They've managed only one rush of 20+ yards all year. If there is a better opportunity for the Bills defense to get a handle on the running game, we haven't seen it.

- I've been beating the drum about this for the last couple weeks, and I say again: CJ Spiller needs more touches. I understand the difficulty faced in getting Spiller touches- its hard to find a place to put him. He can't quite do all that the wide receivers are asked to do, and you obviously want to get Fred Jackson as many touches as you can, but you have to believe there are opportunities to be had for him. Maybe play more split backs, which would get both Jackson and Spiller on the field. Maybe he should get more reps as on the outside, where his speed could be a big advantage vertically (something we're currently missing with the injuries to Jones and Parrish). Gailey has earned my trust with this offense, so I'm hopeful he'll find a way to make it happen, but I think its need sooner than later.

- This could easily turn into another shootout. Like the Bills, the Giants have been soft against the run this year. After strong outings against the Redskins and the Rams, the Giants have let up 177, 156 and 145 yards in successive weeks. They're 21st in yards, 17th in yards per attempt and most troubling, 28th in touchdowns surrendered. While better against the pass, they still give up 250 yards a game.

Don't get me wrong- the Giants still possess an excellent pass rush. Jason Pierre-Paul has quietly been a revelation with 7 sacks, and the Giants lead the NFL with 18 overall. The Bills however, have been down this road several times thus far this year. They played the NFL's best pass rushing team from a year ago in the Oakland Raiders and only surrendered one sack. Last week, the faced the league leading Eagles and only surrendered two. Whether by virtue of the Bills quick passing game, the play of its line, Fitzy's decision making or a combination of all three, Fitzy has kept a fairly clean jersey this year. We may very well see a lot of scoring.

- I suppose it probably doesn't have to be said, but I'd just like to stop and point out just how well Fred Jackson is playing. He's averaging 142.2 yards per game this year, third in the league behind Matt Forte and Wes Welker. His 480 rushing yards is third in the league, and 48 more yards than the Giants have collectively managed. Jackson has seven 20+ yard runs, tied for best in the league, but has yet to fumble. On top of all this, he's arguably the best pass blocking running back in the league.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Bills-Eagles Preview

Its probably still too early in the season to label any game as a "must win", but this week's tilt between the Bills and the Eagles is about as close as you can get. The Bills are 3-1, and while still technically in good position for the postseason, are fresh off a loss to the Bengals, and starting a stretch where they will face off against the Giants, Redskins, Jets and Cowboys.

The Eagles meanwhile, are 1-3 after a disastrous loss to the San Francisco 49ers last week. The "Dream Team" has underachieved mightily this year. Despite occasionally excellent numbers on offense, the only win the Eagles have managed has been against the 0-4 Rams. They're desperate for a win, and the Bills will need to tread carefully if they are to come up on top.

- You've really got to expect Freddie Jackson to have a huge day. The Bills will have starting RG Kraig Urbik back in the fold to face the league's 30th ranked run defense. The Eagles are giving up 5.3 yards per carry, including three 40+ yard runs. Gailey has made it clear this week that he wants to get Jackson as many touches as he can, and this may be the perfect week to do it.

- On paper, you would think that the Eagles have about the best trio of cornerbacks in the league, but it certainly hasn't played out that way so far this season. While the Eagles haven't given up many yards through the air, they are the league's second worst team in opposing passer rating, with their 106.7 only ranking ahead of the Denver Broncos. Despite getting excellent pressure on the QB (they are tied for the league lead with 15 sacks), Philly has managed to pick off only two passes, while surrendering 10 TDs.

While I expect Buffalo to focus on the running game, there is the potential for big plays against this secondary. Both Samuel and Rodgers-Cromartie are the type of CBs who like to peek into the backfield, making them highly susceptible to double moves. We've seen plenty of those this year on the outside from both Stevie Johnson and Donald Jones. With the sheer number of quick slants that Johnson runs in Buffalo's offense, I'd expect at least one sluggo route from him to go for a big gainer.

- Plenty of folks are concerned about the matchup between Eagles DE Jason Babin and our replacement LT Chris Hairston in the passing game, but I'm more concerned about that battle in the run game. Demetrius Bell has gotten plenty of positive press about his pass blocking this year, but I think he's been as good or better as a run blocker. 

- I'd expect the Bills to be physical at the line of scrimmage with Philly's receivers. They simply don't have the speed in the secondary to deal with the likes of DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. McKelvin isn't a particularly physical corner, but both Florence and McGee are very capable.

- Plenty of folks, myself among them, have been extremely critical of Chris Kelsay over the last couple of years, and probably with good reason. As questionable as he always will be in coverage, there is no doubt that he's been maybe the most consistent player on the defensive side of the ball. He plays the run well, and has been probably our best pass rusher this year, despite not yet notching a sack. His absence certainly isn't going to help Buffalo's anemic pass rush any.

- Peter King mentioned in his weekly pick 'em column that he foresees Mike Vick trying to step outside of the system and win this game all by himself. I for one would welcome that turn of events. Don't get me wrong, there is perhaps no more dangerous single athlete in football than Mike Vick, but the man always seems an inch away from catastrophe. He's already fumbled seven times in four games, on a pace to fumble a ridiculous 28 times this year. He's also thrown and interception in each of the last three games.

If there is one thing that Bills have done well this year, its capitalize off of turnovers. The Bills have scored on every turnover except DaNorris Searcy's game sealing interception for Jason Campbell in Week Two, a total of 62 (or a shade under half of their point total for the year). Here's hoping the Eagles keep coughing the ball up.

Go Bills.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Bills-Bengals Recap

This week, sports pundits across the country openly wondered how the young Bills would handle the heady rush of victory, and they got their answer as the Bills fell to the Cincinnati Bengals 23-20. To be fair to both teams, it did not appear to be a case of the Bills overlooking the Bengals. The fact of the matter is that both teams had bright spots, but in the end the Bengals simply outplayed the Bills in a game that the Bills could ill afford to lose.


- The pass rush was slightly better this week, but still light years away from where they need to be. They were still abysmal in the fourth quarter. Both Merriman and Dareus ended up with their first sacks of the year.

- Speaking of Dareus, he was a huge bright spot in the first half. Aside from the sack, he knocked down a pass and generally made a nuisance of himself in Cincinnati's backfield. We saw little repetition of that in the second half, although it seems clear to this observer that most teams are running far more towards Dwan Edwards' side.

- Maybe I'm unfairly used to Kyle Williams absolutely dominating, but I'm concerned at how little I've seen of that domination this year. He had one excellent stop in the backfield this week, but otherwise was only notable for encroachment penalties.

- The offense was in no way crisp and efficient, but unfortunately, I really think it was due to the Bengals defense rather than any lack of execution on Buffalo's part. Fitzpatrick missed on a couple throws (he usually does), but he didn't force anything stupid or take unnecessary chances.

- The Bills made some effort to get Brad Smith work early in the game, but almost immediately he was rendered an afterthought. Both Smith and CJ Spiller have hardly gotten touches the first quarter of the season. Admittedly Freddie Jackson has been playing out of this mind and the young receiving corps has been pretty good, but these two weapons continue to be underutilized.

- The Bills have been excellent in the red zone this year, but just couldn't get it done today. Turning just one of those field goals into seven points and the game is ours.

- If you're going to play soft zones, you have to tackle. Buffalo did an extremely poor job of that on the last drive. You don't need to make a big play guys, just bring Brian Leonard down.

- I'm sure plenty of folks are going to be upset by the third down non-catch call against Stevie Johnson, but whether or not you agree with the side judge's call, the referee made the right decision. If no indisputable visual evidence in available, you go with the call of your judge. In a side note, I liked that there was no hesitation on Gailey's part about going for it. Successful or no, the players know he trusts in them. 

- At least our frequently heartbroken brethen in Detroit have something to celebrate. Great win guys.

Next week is the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles are just too talented to be 1-3, but there they are. I expect them to come in hopping mad after a terrible loss to the Niners. I hope the Bills come in just as angry.

(Image credit- Tony Tribble- AP)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Bills Fan's Excitement-Skepticism Complex: Episode II

Like most folks from Buffalo, I've been a Bills fan for life, but it wasn't until my freshman year of college that I really became a Bills fanatic. It was 1999, the last year that Buffalo was really relevant. Fandom is a strange thing- my love for this team was growing at precisely the same time that the Bills couldn't help but soil themselves on the field. Looking back on the last 12 years, I think that part of that affection springs from my distaste for what George Orwell called the "the tyranny of the strong over the weak" (well, someone writing about George Orwell called it that anyways). The Bills have been, for the most of the last decade, the weak. They've been smaller, or slower, or too prone to mistakes, or incapable of capitalizing off of the mistakes of others. Often, they've been all of these things.

Never has this been more evident than when the Bills have played the Tom Brady-led Patriots. Home or away, the Patriots have owned the Bills the way the President's Physical Fitness Challenge owns the fat kid with asthma. Its been excruciating to slog through each year, secure in the knowledge that you are guaranteed to be humiliated twice a season. No matter how hopeful I am for the season, it's been something I can't get past- a permanent part of the furniture of my mind.

And now, suddenly, that's all gone. The Bills are, as far as pure wins and losses are concerned, the best team in the NFL (at least tied for the best). If there was ever a week to deal with the hope/terror axis that Bills fans continually rotate around, this is it.

1. Sweet Jesus, we just beat the Patriots.

The writers of this blog have always tried to maintain a certain objective distance from the teams we love. Admittedly its an impossible task, but we always try to back up any outlandish claims or observations with something concrete. The idea is that any casual observer reading this blog will come away from it with a sense of the state of the franchise we're scribbling about.

Sometimes though, you just have to throw out all logic and reason, and embrace the fan that you are. In that spirit: HOLY SH#T!!! WE BEAT THE PATRIOTS!!! F^&K YEAH!!!

Whew. I feel better.

There has been the sneaking suspicion amongst Bills fans that, whatever the end result of the year would be, the Bills were an improved team this year. You'd be hard pressed to find an observer who thought that the Bills had a realistic shot at beating the Patriots, but wonderfully enough, they have.

As I alluded to above, the Patriots have been symbols of everything that has been wrong with the Bills for the last twelve years: the crucial mistakes, the inability to fight back when down, shoddy QB play, bad gameplanning and game management. The Patriots haven't beaten us just because they had better players (I'd argue that they probably haven't always actually), but because they had the mental toughness and the intelligence.

Sports pundits talk all the time about building your team to win your division first, and win your division by knocking off the best team. I'm not sure I agree with that concept (Jacksonville for example has been building to beat the Colts for at least six years), but I think that were very few doubts amongst Bills fan that we wouldn't be a contender until we beat the Patriots.

In and of itself, the victory was of course, moderately important. It gives us a leg up on divisional games this year, and gives the team confidence heading into what will be a very tough stretch. More importantly, it psychologically opens the door, for me at least, that we are not only a legitimate playoff contender, but a Super Bowl contender.

2. Ryan Fitzpatrick has the cleanest non-kicker jersey in football. 

I think that its same to safe that most Bills fans have been pleasantly surprised by the Bills performance as a whole this season. Even if we weren't coming of an endorphin-inducing win against the Patriots, we would still be feeling pretty good about the two excellent victories that preceded it. Maybe nothing has been more surprising or exciting than the play of Buffalo's offensive line.

Those who read Pro Football Focus might have noticed an interesting tidbit on Thursday. According to their metrics, Buffalo is league's best team with regards to pass blocking efficiency. Yesterday that little stunner with a another revelation thats not surprisingly only because of the prior tidbit: Three Bills are top five in their respective positions in pass blocking efficiency. LG Andy Levitre came in fifth among guards, RT Erik Pears came in second (really?) among right tackles and the much maligned LT Demetrius Bell came, astonishingly, in first amongst LT. What that means folks, is that a guy who nearly lost his starting job in the preseason to a guard is rated by PFF as the best player at maybe the second most important position in football through three weeks.

The first thing that popped into my mind: How could this have happened? If you asked an optimistic Bills fan about our chances of playing the run better, they'd probably tell how big an acquisition Dareus is going to be. If you asked that fan about the pass rush, and they'd suggest that perhaps you'd see a resurgence from Merriman. If you asked about the offensive line though, they'd probably tell you it was going to be a train wreck. But whether you buy PFF's analysis or not, the line's play has undeniably excellent.

In three games, the Bills have officially surrendered two sacks, tied for best in the NFL. They've also given up only 11 QB hits, tied for fourth. Lest you think that its a product of playing some bad pass rushing teams, please observe that the Oakland Raiders have 10 sacks on the year, tied for fourth in the NFL. They managed only one of those against Buffalo.

This sudden surge of competence doesn't stop with the passing game however. The Bills O-line has been impressive in the run game as well. As a team, the Bills are averaging 5.6 yards per carry, good for 2nd in the NFL. They've run for first downs on 30.1% of their carries thus far, also 2nd in the NFL. A lot of that yardage is coming via huge Fred Jackson runs. Last year the Bill had 9 runs of 20+ yards and no runs of 40+ yards. Already this year, they have 6 runs of 20+ and 1 run of 40+. I'm not forgetting the fact that Freddie Jackson is playing like the best back in football, but anyone who's watched the games can attest to just how big those holes have been.

1. Can we trust the pass defense?

Question: How many times has Tom Brady thrown four INTs in a game? Answer: 6, including last week's game. That means that it happens about once every 28 games or so (including playoffs). Thats not very often, in fact it last happened in 2006. Optimists and casual observers are quick to praise the play of Buffalo's secondary. And I see how they could make that argument. Jairus Byrd continues to be the best player in the secondary (actually I think he's been the best player on the defense so far this year), good Leodis showed up for a change, and Drayton Florence had another INT for a touchdown. Even Wilson, although abused for much of the day, made a huge play in the fourth quarter to kill a Patriots scoring drive.

That said, remove a lucky bounce or two, and the Bills lose this game. Take out some uncharacteristic bad decision making by Brady and its a walk for the Patriots. On the flip side of those four (glorious) interceptions, we're still talking about a secondary that surrendered 387 yards passing and four touchdowns to number 12. That brings the total to 710 yards and six touchdowns the last two weeks. Wes Welker (16 catches, 217 yards, 2 TDs) and Rob Gronkowski (7 catches, 109 yards, 2 TDs) both had career days. Welker was guarded for a unnervingly large portion of the game by safeties and more frustratingly, linebackers. Nick Barnett is a fine coverage 'backer, but he's no match for an elite quick twitch athlete like Welker. Yet there he was, play after play.

You're probably thinking to yourself right now, "Well of course Barnett was there a lot, they were playing a lot of zone coverage". And you would be correct. The problem though, is that unless you have the horses up front to get pressure out of your base lineup, sitting back in hook zones doesn't do you many favors. If there is one thing that the Bills have been awful at this year, its getting pressure on the QB.

So far the Bills have amassed all of two sacks in their three games, worst in the NFL. At that clip, the Bills will end up with about 10 sacks on the year, a feat six teams have achieved in three games. Odds are currently good that a single player will produce more sacks than the Bills roster (unless we can somehow schedule the Bears for the next 13 games).

Right now, it could be said that Chris Kelsay is the Bills best pass rusher, and while he's played very well, this is not a positive development. Outside of a toe tap to Brady last week, Merriman has been ineffective and often on the sidelines. Younger players like Dareus, Carrington and Batten have had moments, but have racked up few pressures. Even the erstwhile Kyle Williams has been far less dominating this year.

Whatever the issue, the Bills can't afford to let it linger. Over the past ten years, the eventual Super Bowl champion has finished out of the top ten in sacks only three times, and out of the top 13 only once (the 2006 Colts). If we're serious about this being a championship team, then this just has to get better.

2. A bungle in Cincinnati?

In his press conference after the game, Coach Gailey was quick to praise his club's effort and resolve against a very tough opponent. He was even quicker though, to caution against getting too much ahead of ourselves. This week's victory makes it clear that the Bills have learned how to deal with hard times, but we don't yet know how they will deal with success. Already the media scrutiny is starting to build (you may have seen this week's SI cover for example). Major sportswriters, who usually write little more than a quick snippet commenting on the Bills continuing ineptitude, will suddenly have feature stories on our young players. You many think that dealing with success would be an insignificant challenge after toppling the Patriots, but NFL history is littered with the charred remains of promising young teams.

We don't need to look much farther than our week one opponents, the Kansas City Chiefs, for instruction. Last year's AFC West champs were set to take another big step this year, into real contender status. Now three weeks into the season, they're 0-3, losing by a combined score of 109-27. Not only that, but they've also lost their two best players for the year (Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry). Matt Cassel, the supposed franchise cornerstone, has a smidgeon worse passer rating than Kerry Collins, the only NFL quarterback ordered by his doctor to observe a strict diet of muselix and oat bran.

The Chiefs aren't alone in their failed expectations. Even teams who consistently win are prone to melting down. The Ravens finally took it to their arch rival Pittsburgh in a highly emotional contest, only to fall to a less talented (although admittedly underrated) Titans team the next week. And Baltimore had at least beaten the Steelers in the last eight years.

We've also been here before haven't we? 4-0 in 2008. 2-0 in impressive fashion in 2003. Its always tease, tease, tease. 

So here we are. One of only three undefeated teams in the National Football League, facing the lowly Bengals, a team who just last week lost 13-8 to a team who's entire offensive line false started. This should be a walk. We haven't lost to the Bengals since 1988 (we lost twice to them). That's ten straight victories. If you've owned a team for that long, a team that's once again struggling, than the game is in the bag right?

And that is exactly why you should be nervous. The Bengals defense is 3rd in the NFL right now. They're allowing just 2.9 yards per carry, tied for best in the NFL. They're also 6th in opponents completion percentage and only surrender 188 yards passing game (although this is admittedly offset somewhat by some big plays they've surrendered). So far this year, the Bills have beaten the 23rd (Chiefs), 28th (Raiders) and 32nd ranked (Patriots? How is that possible) defenses in the NFL. With an emotionally exhausted Bills team coming to town, the Bengals have to think that they have a real shot at this ballgame, and unless the Bills are extremely focused, they're probably right.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A win like this embiggens even the Flutie-sized among us.

In case you weren't reminded often enough, it had been 2,940 days since the Bills last beat the New England Patriots.

The imagery from that opening-day victory in 2003 remains vivid: Waves of pressure on Tom Brady. Sam Adams rumbling, bumbling, stumbling into the end zone with a pick-six. Total domination. It seemed like the Bills knew exactly what the champion Pats would do, and maybe they did, by virtue of the late acquisition of Lawyer Milloy to bolster the defense and cram for the proverbial exam. Then, all of that would prove pretty meaningless, as the Bills couldn't sustain that effort in a 6-10 season.

Today's win? It feels different. As in 2003, it feels really, really good, too -- but better. The Bills are just under a fifth of the way through this campaign, and they now have three wins. That's one fewer than in all of the trying 2010 season. Let's make this clear, though: three wins doesn't buy you much. A divisional win buys you a little more. Winning at home when you need to, when your fanbase so desperately desires it, against the juggernaut Patriots, goes a little further. None of that, though, can really express why the Week 3 win over the Pats feels irrationally good, though. Let’s dive a little deeper.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Three Quick Keys to Beating the Patriots

1. Pressure up the middle

Tom Brady is a handsome, rich impregnator of supermodels, and as such, kind of a hard guy to like for most ordinary mortals. That said, even the most virulently anti-Brady fan has to admit that no quarterback in football has better pocket awareness than Brady. He won't threaten you as a runner like Mike Vick, or shrug off hits like Ben Roethlisberger, but Brady is a master of making those subtle movements to keep his feet clean and allow him to step into his throws.

The trick with Brady (as it admittedly is with most pocket QBs) is attack the A gap. Brady is much less effective moving and resetting either to his right or (especially) to his left. The Bills are going to need to crowd those A gaps with rushers and cause some confusion for backup center Dan Connolly. Whether or not the rush is coming, a split second of hesitation from Connolly is all Kyle Williams will need.

2. Do the small things. 

In each of the Patriots' games this year, there have been two primary storylines:

1. The Patriots amazing up tempo passing game and,

2. The Patriots capitalizing on the mistakes of their opponents.

The latter was especially true in the San Diego game, where the Chargers turned the ball over four times in a 35-21 loss. Fortunately, these little plays are exactly the type of things that the Bills have been doing throughout this season. Here's a couple of stats for you:

Penalties- 8 (3rd)
First downs- 28.5 (2nd)
TOP- 33:54 (5th)
TO Diff- +3 (8th)
3rd down- 44% (9th)

Yep, the Buffalo Bills have, in a weird way, become the New England Patriots. They're controlling the ball, not taking bad penalties or making crucial mistakes. If you don't believe, let's look at those same stats from a year ago.

Penalties- 82 (6th)
First downs- 16.4 (26th)
TOP- 28:36 (26th)
TO Diff- -17 (32nd)
3rd down- 38% (18th)

Although I have to admit I was surprised how few penalties we took last year, the point still holds- the Bills have been a much more efficient club this year.  If you're going to have a chance against the New England Patriots, you are going to need to minimize your mistakes and capitalize off of theirs.

3. Put the ball in the end zone.

Probably the single most important key. The Patriots are going to score their points, there really doesn't seem to be any way around that. The Chargers scored on only two of four attempts in the red zone. The Dolphins were goal to go five times and ended up with only three touchdowns. Last week we saw the Bills generate five touchdowns on five second half drives. While its probably too much to ask that they continue to be that automatic, they need to be aggressive in terms of 4th down and red zone opportunities. Kicking a 25 yard field goal instead of going for it on fourth and nothing cannot happen this game. If the Patriots end up stuffing us and going 93 yards the other way, so be it. We've got the best running game in the NFL, a huge offensive line and a couple of players designed by nature to generate first downs (I'm looking at you Brad Smith and David Nelson).

Let's play this game to win.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Bills fan's Excitement-Skepticism Complex: Episode I

It's fair to say that after Week 2's epic 38-35 comeback against the Raiders in the home opener, the Bills have generated more excitement than we thought possible just a few weeks ago.  This is all the more enjoyable following a preseason marred by tinkering with the offensive line, the loss of the team's de facto #1 receiver and offensive elder-statesman, and a lockout that should have made the learning curve steeper for a young and developing team.

Healthy skepticism seems to be part of the membership application process for a Bills fan.  For every golden moment on the horizon, there is usually a Lucy in waiting, ready to pull the ball away and laugh at our Charlie Brown-ish pursuits.

Yet, this looks and feels real.  Two legitimate victories against last year's #1 and #2 rushing teams.  Fresh off a great win against a tough opponent.  7 TDs for Fitzy in two games.  If you don't recall such excitement, it's because your memory of Jim Kelly has been dimmed by the long, feckless search for his successor.  So, we've got the best start by a Bills QB since the Kelly era on our hands.  The media who hate us, except for when they love us, love us right now, bringing Stevie Johnson and even Kirk Morrison into the studio to get the story of this unlikely turnaround.  Our guys are jumping into the stands, for crying out loud.

Mid-high-five, though, look the hell out for a leg sweep from the other boys in white, blue and red, with Sensei Belicheck and his cackling pupils looking once again to put us in a bodybag.  Pundits and fans alike will forecast a classic "back-to-earth" game, with Tom Brady and co. proving that once again, they have the Bills' number.  (Early lines give 8.5 points to the Bills, making them a big underdog at home).  For good measure, Brady has assembled almost a third of a Pro Bowl season in two games.

With this in mind, we're highlighting a few reasons to remain excited for the Bills in the face of their biggest challenge yet this season, as well as some cause to temper our expectations despite these two big - and drastically different - wins.  We'll continue this as a series throughout the season, and thus we present Episode I of The Bills fan's Excitement-Skepticism Complex.

1. Two big wins! Woo hoo!
Perhaps you were watching at home.  Maybe you were listening to 97 Rock while doing something productive, so as not to rue time spent taking in a loss passively on the couch/barstool.  You could have even been trying to discern the action in a crowded bar from a pixellated DirecTV feed that resembled a cubist masterpiece.  No matter how you took this one in, you just knew the Bills were going to come up short, like they always do.

Except this time, they didn't.

Every post-game interview with every Buffalo player has cited something "different" about this Bills locker room.  They believe that when this team is down, it's not out.  Against the Raiders, it was a relentless, punch-for-punch comeback effort from the Buffalo offense, highlighted by critical and thrilling fourth-down conversions.  Whenever this team does return to meaningful January football, this game will be one that a young team can call upon for inspiration, a sign of their ability to get it done in the clutch.  Going into Week 3 with half of 2010's win total in their pockets has to feel good.  Says the cliche, winning breeds confidence, and I believe for the first time in years that this team thinks it can beat the Pats.  They may be crazy, but let's let them enjoy the ride, and with nothing to lose, there'll be no harm in going on that ride with them.

2. The last traces of Levy/Jauron's fingerprints are gradually fading
God bless him, and thank him for his many accomplishments in Buffalo, but Marv Levy was not a good football GM.  Russ Brandon was no better.  And when Dick Jauron had his way?  Yuck.  If there was a philosophy, it was somewhere between "you can never have too many DBs," and "let's find linebackers built like kickers."  But the days of the small, speedy, smurfy Bills that they assembled are numbered, and this is a good thing.

The team has shifted toward road-graders and big, strong men at most positions, with a few gadgets here and there.  The offensive line is slightly bigger and stouter, and they are holding up well at the point of attack.  So far, they lead the league in rushing (though in no small part to the shiftiness of Fred Jackson, who looks better than ever at age 30).  This looks like a team that can play football.  Sure, there are a few exceptions.  Roscoe Parrish, who has actually survived 3-4 front offices depending on your count, is a nice toy that breaks down too easily.  (Note: as we published this, word came that Parrish was placed on injured reserve, which might spell the end for him in Buffalo.)  CJ Spiller is not large, but he starting to turn the corner in the role of Chan Gailey's "waterbug" running back.

But Donte Whitner: gone (how's that workin' out for you, San Fran?).  Aaron Maybin?  The CFL is calling.  Guys who play smaller than their bodies, like John McCargo?  We hardly remember ye.  The revamped front-seven and some underrated pickups are working wonders, despite the defensive foibles in the Raiders game.  The WRs not named Roscoe are bigger targets that Ryan Fitzpatrick can loft it to - and they get tough yards over the middle.  Speaking of Fitzpatrick, who among us does not believe in this guy anymore?  And how much better off are we with #14 instead of #5 taking the snaps?  Answer: a whole lot.  (Come on! You knew this!)

We could write a whole post about unsung hero Erik Pears, who, along with much-maligned left tackle Demetrius Bell, is putting together a solid season thus far.  Pears also is a redemption signing for GM Buddy Nix, who signed the ghastly Cornell Green to man right tackle last year. Gailey and Nix have sifted through the Levy/Jauron era and refashioned a team of nobodies who refuse to accept their destiny, rather than a team that plays like a bunch of nobodies.  That's easy to love, and it's easy to get excited about with these kinds of results.

1. Tom Brady will eat this secondary alive
Not literally, of course, because no one is suggesting that Tom Brady is a cannibal.*  But if Brady isn't looking at the Raiders game film and seeing exploitable defensive back play for miles, it's probably because he has stepped away from his 70" TV to use the john, and hasn't turned the on the 70" TV in the john.

If these guys hailed from Quebec, we'd call them the French Toast secondary.  They were horrendous in the home opener - George Wilson and Leodis McKelvin in particular.  Bills DBs HAVE to look back at Brady and contest balls in Week 3.  If they don't, they will continue to draw up a blueprint for opposing QBs for the rest of the season.  Where will relief come from?  Rookie Aaron Williams is being thrown into the fire a bit with Terrence McGee gone, and Drayton Florence and Jairus Byrd are playing admirably.  Wilson is a vocal leader and good guy who may need to take a backseat to Bryan Scott in some situations to limit liabilities.

Of all the DBs, McKelvin should seriously be on the hot seat.  He shows flashes, and then he has games like this one where he makes for easy target practice.  Ever the Jauron product in times of failure, McKelvin actually seems to think he played pretty well, while making a 5th string WR look like Jerry Rice's bionic son from the future.   It is not simply about showing the talent that made him a #1 pick, though he most certainly possesses the speed and athleticism necessary for a #1 corner.  The greater concern is that at a time when the game starts to slow down for most veterans, McKelvin looks perplexed about what's going on out on the field.  He has three INTs in 3+ seasons, and not for lack of opportunities.  He is putting himself in bad position regularly, and he does not seem to see the play developing until it's too late.  Unless he begins a substantial turnaround, he could be yet another high Levy/Jauron pick sent packing next year.

2. They are the Buffalo Bills
..and this will remain the root of all skepticism, until the happy day that the Bills hoist the Lombardi Trophy in something other than our dreams.  A better move on the ball by Scott Chandler's man Tyvon Branch, and we're talking about the same old Bills, finding a way to blow it.  A blocked field goal was a bad sign, even if Chan's call to kick one from fourth-and-pinkies proved the difference.  To wit, this kind of excitement doesn't always produce a victory, as we well know. "Last team with the ball wins" is a dangerous game for this team to play, with many opponents equal to or better than the Raiders remaining on the schedule.  We can't expect good hands, busted coverage, (un)timely penalties, and for even more to go the Bills' way.

That, my friends, is why this is bound to end badly.  For there are unlucky teams, and then there are the Buffalo Bills.  It's hard to care about football in quite the same way after Wide Right, Home Run Throwback, Just Give it To 'Em, and losing in the big game to jerks like Deion Sanders, Jimmy Johnson, Bill Belicheck and Bill Parcells.  Perhaps it's better not to let ourselves get hurt again, despite the temptation to give in.  This cast of lovable underdogs makes the test harder, but it's also a good reason to keep a level head.  Keep expectations low.  Under-promise, over-deliver.  Ask for nothing and be rewarded -- and surprised -- with more.  There is strength in remaining underrated, and this way, no one gets hurt.

Will our skepticism and excitement be rewarded as the Bills seek to beat the Pats for the first time in 16 games before a once-again-raucous crowd at The Ralph?  We're not holding our breath, but oh, are we ready to cheer like madmen if they can pull it off.

*Also, we are not not saying Tom Brady is a cannibal.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Bills-Raiders Recap

As the kids would say: OMG. After an abysmal first half, the Bills collected themselves and managed to pull out an exciting 38-35 win against the visiting Oakland Raiders. It was in no way a pretty victory. The pass defense in particular acquitted itself poorly, giving up 323 yards to a very average Jason Campbell. The Bills did however, take a helluva beating in the first half but scrapped back outscoring the Raiders 35-14 after halftime.

Freddie Jackson had another huge game with 117 yards and 2 TDs only 15 carries. Even better, the much maligned CJ Spiller ran for 63 yards on just four carries. That's 15 and change per folks. As a whole, the Bills averaged a whopping 8.7 (you read that correctly) yards per carry.

This week's re-cap may skimp a little on details, as your faithful narrator was stuck watching a Directv feed that, well, just wouldn't feed.


-Great second half adjustments on the offensive side of the ball. Partially it was just a matter of getting the ball into the offense's hands, but credit where credit is due. Gailey went to a quick passing game in the 2nd half and his quarterback responded with 162 yards and 3 TDs after halftime. Its been a while since the Bills had a coach that could make quality adjustments at halftime. Enjoy it folks.

-Kudos for the second straight week to our beleaguered offensive line. Oakland the second best in NFL in sacks last year, and they got nary a one against Buffalo. That makes one sack surrendered in two games for the Bills, against some very good pass rushing teams. It may not last, but for now, its pretty sweet.

-On the other side of the ledger, the Bills pass rush is a genuine concern. The Bills have a single sack in two games, that lone sack belonging to Spencer Johnson. For most of today's game Jason Campbell had enough time in the pocket to chainsaw an ice sculpture. Thus far the regular season version of Shawne Merriman has been less than impressive in the pass rush department (not mention some issues with setting the edge in the run game). If things keep on like this, might Coach Gailey think about moving Arthur Moats back to the outside?

-Speaking of poor pass defense, Leodis McKelvin had just an awful game. He was repeatedly beaten by Raiders 5th round rookie Denarius Moore (Moore ended the game with 5 catches for 146 yards and a TD). Both George Wilson and Drayton Florence were also inconsistent, if better than McKelvin. At this point, I'm only truly comfortable with Jairus Byrd, who had another solid, sure-tackling game.

-When's the last time you felt this good about a Bills Tight End? Not only did Chandler catch another touchdown pass, but he threw a couple of keys blocks to spring Freddie for big yardage. Chandler now has three TDs in two games, which ties him for second most TDs in a single season by a Bills TE during the decade (tied with Jay Riemersma and Robert Royal). The immortal Mark Campbell is currently in the lead after hauling in five touchdowns in 2004.

-In case you were wondering: Ryan Fitzpatrick has 7 TDs in two games.

Next week is the New England Patriots. Tom Brady has thrown for 940 yards in two games. We just gave up 323 to Jason Campbell. This could be painful to watch.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Three Quick Keys to Beating Oakland

1. *Sigh* Stop the run.

The hardest part about writing this whole "Three Keys" thing, is that this one is far and away the most important thing virtually every week. Its just so painfully, devastatingly obvious that every week the Bills will lose if they can't defend against the run. Last week it was the Chiefs, who were the best rushing football team in the known universe last year, and this week its the Oakland Raiders, who were the second best rushing football team in the mapped cosmos. I scrambled my brains every day after work this week for something other than "stop the run", and there just isn't anything as valid. I have to make it a key. I have to.

Stop the run defense. I don't want to spend anymore of my life talking about this.

2. Win the one-on-ones. 

Last year, the Raiders were quietly one of the best pass rushing teams in the league, registering 47 sacks (tied for 2nd in the NFL). The Raiders achieved that feat in impressive fashion, getting four or more sacks from seven different players. Frankly I don't expect us to win in the trenches offensively that often. I do however, expect us to win on the outside, and thats where things get interesting.

Last year, the Raiders were 21st in the league when it came to surrendering passing plays of 20 yards or more. Even more interestingly, they 28th in the league in giving up touchdown passes. They gave 29 TDs, and only picked off 12 passes. Remember, this is with Nnamdi Asmougha still holding down one corner. Last week against the Broncos, six different Broncos receivers had a reception of 15 yards or more. The Bills receiving corps is going to need to have similar success against Oakland's banged up secondary.

 3. Attack Jason Campbell's right arm

Before you say anything, I'm not advocating breaking anything. History has shown however, that Campbell has predilection for putting the ball on the ground. His fumble last week was his 43rd fumble in his last 58 starts. Twice he's fumbled 13 times in one season.

Obviously its easier said than done, and Campbell has managed to recover quite a few of his fumbles, but the opportunity is there. Hopefully Buffalo's defense will put in some extra strip drills this week to prepare.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Bills-Chiefs Recap

As usual, the Bills fought hard in a close game but were unable to...what's that, they won? Good God.

Yes, I've double checked and it turns out the Bills have defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 41-7 at Arrowhead Stadium. The Bills dominated in all three phases of the game against the defending AFC West champions, turning three Chiefs turnovers into 17 points. New starting tight end and resident yokel Scott Chandler caught two touchdown passes from Ryan Fitzpatrick, who threw four total on the day (the other two were to Stevie Johnson and Donald Jones).

The Bills much maligned defense (dare we say it) dominated the Chiefs offense, allowing only 227 total yards against a team that run for 274 yards against them last year. The Bills surrendered only one long touchdown drive, an 11-play, 81-yard drive at the end of the first half. Jamaal Charles, who last year torched the Bills for 238 total yards, managed just 65 yards (although he did score the Chiefs lone touchdown).


- Excellent use of waggles and rollouts by Bills offense. Using Fitzpatrick's mobility helped keep the Chiefs defense off balance, and more importantly, kept him off his back.

- Speaking of keeping Fitzpatrick off of his back, a hat tip is due to the Bills O-line. I'm sure most of us were expecting our line to be 1600 pounds of human misery against even an average pass rush, but they did very well, even if Tamba Hali did manage to rack up a sack.

- No one who watched the game could doubt that value of Fred Jackson to this offense, but I thought Spiller ran reasonably well during his few carries. I'm sure folks will have a problem with this stat line (5 carries, 16 yards, 1 TD), but I thought he was much more decisive than what I'd seen last year. He didn't get a lot of assistance from the line in his limited carries, but he made the most of them.

- The defense was much better at dealing with delays and draws. They did allow one big play to Dexter McCluster, but in general they were able to hold contain.

Next up for Buffalo are the Oakland Raiders, led by undead owner and GM Al Davis. It'll be another excellent test of our re-vamped run defense, and also a chance to use some of the value pack garlic the Bills picked up at Costco.

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)


Fix up your wings.  Make sure you've got a case of something or other to deal with that thirst.  You'd better have plenty of napkins on hand -- for wing sauce.  Or tears.  Football season is upon us once again.  GO BILLS!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Three Quick Keys to Beating Kansas City

1. Play with discipline defensively.

I was going to headline this bit with something slightly more dramatic, like "Please stop the run. For the love of all that's holy, please stop the run". I would then curl up into a ball and ask for warm milk. I have my pride though.

No one was worse at stopping the run last season than the Bills, and no one was better at running the football than the Chiefs. A stout run defense hinges partially on the size/physicality of your defense (something the front office has concentrated on improving), but mostly on technique and discipline. Buffalo's defense will need to stack and shed well, and tackle better. A lot of responsibility will fall on the outside linebackers, who routinely failed to set the edge in 2010. Merriman and company will need to make sure that Jamaal Charles is funneled back to the strength of the defense. This defense is simply no longer built to deal with someone of Charles's speed and agility in the open field.

2. Hit Tamba Hali every play.

Last year, Hali had 1.5 sacks against an overmatched Bills line (well to be fair, just about everyone was overmatched against Hali- he was second in the league in sacks). If anything, the offensive line is less settled than it was last year, with both starting LT Demetrius Bell and starting LG Andy Levitre shuttled in and out of the lineup during the preseason. Neither Bell nor very tall journeyman RT Erik Pears is going to be up to the task of handling Hali on pass downs.

What the Bills do have going for them are three old fashioned blocking TEs in starter Scott Chandler (6'7" 263) and backups David Martin (6'4" 264) and Lee Smith (6'6" 269). They also have one of the NFL's best blocking running backs in Freddie Jackson. Expect to see a lot of chipping and double teams on Hali. Make him fight off consistent double teams, both in the pass game and the run game.

3. Forget about last year.

This seems an odd suggestion at first glance, I'm sure, but in many ways last season's game against Kansas City was the quintessential Bills game of 2010. They played extremely hard for nearly five full quarters and almost beat a playoff bound club. They failed to do so partly because of their terrible run defense, and partly because of self inflicted wounds. This game won't be about getting payback for last year's loss, this game will be about starting 1-0.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

2011 Buffalo Bills Season Preview- Two Unanswered Questions

Every NFL team goes into their offseason with a variety of questions that it needs to answer. This is especially true of 4-12 teams. We decided to preview the Bills' 2011 season by asking the two most important questions from the end of last year, and then trying to determine whether the Bills answered those questions.

1. Who Is The Guy?

For the last 15 years the Buffalo Bills have started every seizing asking the same question: Who is the starting Quarterback? Every year the answer also been depressingly the same: Not Jim Kelly.

At this point in 2010, the Bills had just wrapped up an epic exhausting three-way QB competition between Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Brohm. Edwards won, only to be waived by the team a few weeks later. He was replaced by Harvard alum and Oak Ridge Boy Ryan Fitzpatrick, who proceeded to stun mildly surprise Bills fans with arguably the best year by a Bills QB in the last decade. Fitzpatrick threw for 23 touchdowns in 13 games, the most since Drew Bledsoe threw 24 TDs in 2002 (16 games). He also played a fairly important part in the development of Buffalo's young receiving talent, including Donald Jones, David Nelson and especially Stevie Johnson.

As impressive as he looked at times, Fitzpatrick was also maddeningly inconsistent. He was often wildly inaccurate and made more than one extremely unfortunate decision. Fitzpatrick turned the ball over nearly as often as he got it into the end zone, surrendering 15 INTs and losing 5 fumbles. Bills fans were left to wonder if Fitzpatrick could be the long term answer.

So did Buffalo answer their question at QB? Yes (sort of)! Contrary to some thinking around the organization, the Bills did not draft a QB. They did bring in former Gailey protege Tyler Thigpen in order back Fitzpatrick up in a way which would provide absolutely no real competition at the position. So on the plus side Bills fans, you have an undisputed starter at QB for the first time in the last decade. On the downside, even "good Fitzy" is at best, a slightly above average QB. Here's hoping he can take the next step.

2. Is There Any Chance We Could Keep Our Opponents Under 150 Yards Rushing a Game?

If you were asking that question of the 2010 Buffalo Bills, the answer would be no. No we cannot. The Bills gave up on average 170 yards on the ground per game, surrendering a total of 2714 yards on the year. That's 4.8 yards per carry. I really can't state in strong enough terms how horrible that is. If only last year was an aberration. Since the beginning of Dick Jauron's tenure, the Bills have surrendered over 2000 yards on the ground three times. The two years they held opponents under that mark (2007 and 2008) they yielded a mere 1993 and 1946 yards on the ground respectively. I say again, horrible.

So did Buffalo answer this question? Of course we won't know the answer to any of these questions definitively until the year really gets started (sorry if I've led you on), but the current front office has given answering this question their best effort. Only three players from the Jauron era still remain in front seven on defense. One of them, Kyle Williams, is one of the best players in football at his position. The other two holdovers, Spencer Johnson and Chris Kelsay, are playing different positions than they were under Jauron. The rest of the front seven has been re-tooled with Nix/Gailey era imports. The Bills have swapped out an ailing Marcus Stroud for the 340-pound Marcell Dareus. In the last two years they've stockpiled proven 3-4 talent in the shape of Dwan Edwards, Shawne Merriman, Andra Davis and Nick Barnett. They've also added several intriguing younger players to the mix, players like Danny Batten, Torell Troup, Alex Carrington and Arthur Moats.

Early returns are cautiously optimistic. The Bils finished 29th against the run in the preseason, but the first team defense looked much improved. They showed very well against the Bears and Lions first team offenses, and was certainly respectable against the Jags (even if they were without Jones-Drew). We'll have a much better idea just how far along they are after this week's game against Kansas City,  2010's best rushing offense.