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.

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