In Buffalo, more of the same is always a fresh start.

Photos property of Gary Weipert/AP and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Really.

 

As I sit here writing this I am (like many of you, I’m sure) taking in a lazy weekend of NFL playoff football – a lazy weekend that just a couple of months ago seemed like it would mean so much more. Back then, about the mid-point of the 2011 season, it looked as if Buffalo was destined for, at the very least, an appearance in the opening Wildcard round of the playoffs, if not a division title. We all know how things have turned out since then, for certain, but now it’s just business as usual for many of us.

The second weekend of January has long since been the time that I pick my dog in the fight and try to decide who I’m going to root for on the path to the Lombardi trophy. Knowing many of you personally, I apologize for the cringe and look of disgust on your face right now. Yes, I do this, and I’ve never been proud of it. I don’t do it in any other sport, but I have such an affinity for football that it feels wrong to be indulging in a game and not pulling for someone. That’s the nature of the sport for me, and it’s why I can’t watch our divisional matchups that don’t include us. A Jet – Patriot game is about as boring as a post-game interview with Dick Jauron to me, and that’s saying something. Still, another year has ended with Buffalo cleaning out their lockers while twelve other teams are preparing for meaningful football, so I mark my allegiance (this year with Green Bay, yet again) and start thinking about the spring.

It’s odd here, though. We go through the same motions at the end of every campaign, it seems. The season comes to an end and fans start to let their disappointments slip away to discuss what next year could hold – what this next team could be. I’ve got to say, as depressing as it is to come to that realization, it’s fun. We’ve always got a little hope, because most of this team’s faithful have an understanding that last year’s numbers don’t matter. Your old records and stats mean nothing in the here and now. Come September, no matter what, optimism will be abound. Ryan Fitzpatrick will be coming into his second season as the team’s starting quarterback (most likely, at least… this is Buffalo, after all) and will be ditching his razor for another few months while he grows out his trademark chin fur until Buffalo’s season is wrapped up again, regardless of how that may occur. Chan Gailey will enter his do-or-die year as the Bills’ head coach, looking to improve upon his 10-22 record with a playoff berth, and some fresh young millionaire will be beginning his professional football career as the most recent 10th overall pick of the Buffalo Bills.

Between now and then, though, many changes will be coming to this franchise. Already, a day after the season ended, coach Gailey came out and made a move that we all had a feeling would happen soon enough when he fired defensive coordinator George Edwards and gave the job to inside linebackers coach and Assistant Head coach Dave Wannstedt. It’s good to see they didn’t delay that move, as it gives Wannstedt plenty of time for evaluation of the 30 some-odd defensive players currently employed in one way or another by the team. One of his first challenges to tackle, as prefaced in his introductory press conference earlier this week, is which style of defense he is going to run in 2012. Wannstedt has an extensive history as a blitz-heavy, aggressive 4-3 coach who likes to be able to put his defensive backs on islands and bring heat on every down. Buffalo has been trying, mostly unsuccessfully, for two years now to make the switch to a 3-4 front under Edwards, and in all actuality, it seems that they truly may be able to make a case for being better with the players they have as a four-man-front team. Sure, tweaks would need to be made here and there, but a front seven based in a tackle duo of Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams plugging the middle sounds mighty enticing, regardless of who you put around them. Many of Wannstedt’s players would project just fine back into the 4-3, and he has a good young group to continue developing with guys like Dareus, Kelvin Sheppard, Aaron Williams, Justin Rogers, and Da’Norris Searcy. No matter which schemes he chooses, with that man at the helm and injured players returning, this defensive unit should be massively improved over what we saw in 2011, and that’s definitely something to look forward to.

Speaking of coaching, my coach-of-the-year for the 2011 Bills team is undoubtedly Joe D’Alessandris, who presided over one of the most consistent offensive lines in football. D’Alessandris’ patched-together unit was best in the league when it came to sacks allowed (23) and tied for 4th with 4.9 yards per rushing attempt (best in the AFC) with the most inexperienced group of starters in the league (154 starts amongst everyone who started a game in 2011 – Detroit, in comparison, led with 523). He didn’t do too shabby in 2010 either with yet another depleted group of guys, so now that there’s some decent depth developing, I can only imagine this upcoming season being another solid one for his group. Returning starters Andy Levitre, Eric Wood, Kraig Urbik, and Erik Pears will go a long way in making that happen, as well as key backups Chad Rinehart (if re-signed) and Colin Brown, regardless of whether Demetrius Bell (a free agent) or Chris Hairston anchors the left side going forward.

The team saw similar production and literally zero drop-off between swaps of Bell and Hairston (as well as Levitre, briefly) at that position. That, right there, is reason enough for me to immediately dismiss the idea of them chasing a ‘premier’ left tackle such as Southern Cal’s Matt Kalil when they pick 10th in April’s draft. At this point, there are only essentially two positions that I can see them going after with that selection. Surely things will change with free agency and trades, and my tune may differ greatly by the time the day actually rolls around, but I think that wide receiver and pass rusher are the most necessary and coveted positions by the Bills in the first round this year. Regardless of whether or not Steve Johnson returns (that’s a discussion for another day), this offense needs another starting-caliber receiver, as Donald Jones and Brad Smith simply don’t cut it. If Johnson walks in free agency, a high selection could easily step in and be Fitzpatrick’s top target – if he stays, the field is just that much more open for Johnson, the rookie, and whomever else is touching the ball. As far as a pass rusher goes, whichever front the team goes with they’ll need someone who can generate pressure on the quarterback. Gailey expects veteran linebacker Shawne Merriman to return, but whether or not he can play is still in question. Buffalo tied for the third worst sack total in the league this year with only 29 – and ten of those came in one game, against Washington. Clearly, some help is needed in that area, whether it comes via a 4-3 end or 3-4 linebacker.

Even if the team only sees a slight improvement, if they can stay healthy at key positions (much unlike 2011), they should have a better record this year – on paper, at least. The Bills have drawn the card of 3rd easiest schedule in 2012 after playing 2011 with the second hardest and producing six wins. Buffalo’s out-of-division home opponents include Jacksonville, Tennessee, Kansas City, Seattle, and St. Louis and they’ll make trips to Houston, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Arizona, and San Francisco. These teams combined for a .419 winning percentage with a 67-93 record – only the Packers and Patriots will face opponents with worse statistics. Again, it’s all based on numbers and this is solely on paper, but things definitely seem favorable for them moving forward.

With still just under two months to go before we can start in on free agency and an additional two before the draft, we’ve got plenty to look at and discuss coming up. Our own contract situations, front office moves, other team’s prospects, college players, and more – I hope you’ll all be here to enjoy it with us as time pushes on. I appreciate each of you for taking your time to check this out as well as sharing with others over the past year, helping the site and it’s activity to grow. I’m looking forward to more of the same in the future – until next time.

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Sincerely, thank you.

Photo credit of SportsGrid.com

It’s bittersweet, isn’t it? In a few short hours, thousands of us will flock to the lots surrounding Ralph Wilson Stadium in quiet Orchard Park, New York for the last time in – at the least – eight months. For me, it’s an incredibly jarring reminder of which team we pull for. We’ve grown into the reputation as the guys that are never for real, those that are way too good to be true. Then again, it’s much less of a reputation than it is straight fact – this team, this organization, is annually damned for failure, it seems.

 

When we assemble later (far short of a sellout) in the wintry Buffalo weather, we’ll forget all of that, though.

 

In a season that saw us fire out of the gates and making noise, garnering attention across the league throughout the first seven weeks, the Buffalo Bills have fallen flat on their faces and lost an embarrassing eight consecutive games. Sitting at the bottom of the division at an awful 5-10 record, the Bills are primed for a top ten pick in April’s rookie draft, a position that more losses would only serve to improve.

 

…and yet, when we get to the game, that number won’t matter. That, I think, is what’s always drawn me to these games and this stadium. The remarkable ability of an atmosphere and location to completely overrule everything else is astonishing. Never before have I been able to spend an entire day without the worries of the world – without even the worries of the sport. My undying loyalty to this team stems from the feeling I receive from being around them. When I’m in Orchard Park, tailgating off of the small stretch of Abbott that the locals lovingly embrace as Jim Kelly Boulevard, I couldn’t care any less about the record or the opponent. All that matters is that we’re getting together to gather around a team that we all (the die-hards, that is) have used as a crutch, as a safety net, at some point in our lives.

My purchase of season tickets back in 2006 came on a spur-of-the-moment decision between myself and a lifelong friend. A decision to do something with our spare time, to watch some football. Really, that was it. We each used some money that we had received during high school graduation from various rewards and the like to make down payments on the inaugural 10 games of our tenure as season ticket holders, and neither of us has ever looked back. I’ll never understand why I was rewarded for my attitude towards others (which was mostly bitter anger and unfounded resentment at the time) but I’ll always be thankful for whomever it was that thought they saw something positive enough in me to designate me with the honor. Without that, I likely never would have purchased the tickets, and I wouldn’t have nearly the interest in or knowledge of the team that I currently do. Without that, I don’t write. Without that, this site doesn’t exist.

 

I’m fed insults and personal attacks year-round based solely on my allegiance to an organization that has unknowingly given me so much over the years, and I’ve got to tell you, I couldn’t care any less. There’s not a negative word that you can throw me in regards to the Buffalo Bills that wouldn’t elicit a smile and a shake of the head that suggests that you really just don’t understand, that you really don’t “get it.” Really, unless you’ve been through it – unless you’ve felt what joy the Ralph can bring, you never will.

 

When the lots open up in a few short hours, we’ll be far more consumed with firing up the grills, tapping the kegs, and finding our friends than things as silly as ‘Tebowmania’ and ‘winning’. The gathering, the camaraderie exuded by the thousands of strangers that, for that day, are family – that’s more than enough for me. Yeah, it would be nice to be planning for a playoff game, but hey, there’s always next year.

 

…and there always will be.

 

As the seconds wind down and the home season comes to an end, the smoky jerseys are retired – the snowy hats get tucked away – and a glass is raised. So Buffalo, preemptively, I’d like to say thank you. They may not ever be a great team, but they’re our team. They’re our Bills, and I wouldn’t give them up for anything in the world. Thank you for another season of memories – another season of opportunities – another season of enjoyment.

 

Here’s to many, many more. Let’s go Bills.

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It’s lonely at the top, but in the basement we’re right at home.

Photo property of Jim Rassol / Miami Sun Sentinel.

I’m not going to ever be that guy, that typical blogger – rather, that typical Buffalo sports writer, if I may – who gets off on writing these long diatribes about how terrible the team is and ridiculing their readers for following such a train wreck. I’m also never going to be that guy that feeds you garbage to make things seem like they’re better than they are. I just don’t see a point in coming here every week to tell you folks that this team isn’t good, and especially don’t see the benefit in acting like they are.

 

The team’s lost seven straight. What’s the purpose of trying to build a facade of hope? We were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention as of last Sunday’s loss at home against Tennessee and right now are just playing the draft positioning game. We have fourteen players on injured reserve, eight of those starters. You want a silver lining? Look at the youth, look at the miniscule depth we carry, and look at the experience they’re getting. Guys like CJ Spiller, Da’Norris Searcy, Chris Hairston, Chad Rinehart, Justin Rogers, and Aaron Williams – guys that otherwise, without injuries, wouldn’t be getting the opportunity to play. All of these men are quickly growing up in front of us and giving us a sneak peek at the future. I have no doubt in my mind, after watching these particular six men play over the past few weeks, that they could all eventually end up being competent starters for the Buffalo Bills down the road.

If you want that silver lining, you can be the grand optimist for 2012 and just go gaga over the possibilities of when everyone’s healthy and today’s effective starters are tomorrow’s eager benchwarmers. I mean, truly, that’s what you’ve got to do if you’re an enthusiastic supporter of this franchise, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just sad to see it happen this way again, and it’s made writing about the team consistently a daunting task for me.

 

With two games left, we’re holding up the bottom of the East with a 5-9 record after starting the year 5-2 and looking like a contender for our first division title in sixteen years. With games against the resurgent Broncos and postseason-ready Patriots remaining, 5-11 looks like a distinct possibility which makes next season the epitome of a do or die year for head coach Chan Gailey. Gailey only netted four wins in his first season at the helm, and no matter how this one turns out, there is very little chance that Ralph Wilson decides to make a change this soon, which means he better come out swinging in 2012. It’s hard to place the blame on him with things such as the injuries, questionable free agent signings (remember when Brad Smith and Kirk Morrison were supposed to be relevant?), awful defensive playcalling, and horrendous quarterback play feeding so heavily into the losses, but that’s the nature of today’s NFL. I like Chan, probably way more than most of you do, but if we aren’t still playing next January, he needs to be shown the door.

To make that happen, the things that he can control are limited. Limited, though, does not run the same path as impossible. Simply put, he needs to find himself a new defensive coordinator. George Edwards has been insanely bad and it makes me wonder how long he would have lasted at Florida had we not snatched him up from his barely-dry contract with them in February of 2010 after just four weeks at the school. The logical and seemingly impending option is assistant head coach Dave Wannstedt, who currently serves as Edwards’ inside linebackers coach. Wannstedt has managed some very good defenses in his time and I can’t really imagine his expertise is being utilized as heavily as it should be in this capacity considering the current state of affairs. If Buffalo sends Edwards packing and does choose Wannstedt as his replacement, you can expect another scheme change coming, which will render a fair number of our players useless. Wanny runs a stubborn 4-3 base and rarely deviates from that. The thoughts of a defensive line with both Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus in the middle is more than enough to put me on board with this idea, though.

Gailey, more importantly, needs to put in some quality time with his multi-million dollar quarterback however. As was pointed out here early in the season, Ryan Fitzpatrick still locks on to his target and refuses to look to his other options on top of overthrowing whomever it may end up being a vast majority of the time. Lately, he’s had an especially hard time and seems to have something off with him mechanically. It wouldn’t surprise me to hear following the season that he’s been playing hurt on top of that all, and surely the timing differences with three separate starting centers since signing his contract extension aren’t doing him any favors either. Still, Gailey needs to make sure that his franchise quarterback – the centerpiece of his team – has his head in the right place and is doing the right things. As much as I’d like a top-tier quarterback in this April’s draft, this organization needs to back their promising signal caller and do what they can to ensure his (and their) success going forward by giving him help around him and on the other side of the ball.

 

Whatever it is that needs to be done, I sincerely hope that Chan, Buddy, and their crews are up to the task because it’d be nice to support a team that’s good for more than six weeks out of every year. Here’s hoping – until next time, keep looking forward, Bills fans.

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24-28 – If this was hand grenades, boy, we would have been just fine.

Photo property of AP / Julio Cortez

 

Injuries sure stink, huh? Today, it’s been a month since we’ve won a game. I bet back in October you never would have thought that would be the case – never would have thought we could drop five of a six with four of those in a row. It’s a shame, but really, what can you do? It’s on the front office – on Nix and Whaley, on Wilson and Gailey – to bring in players that can step up and fill in when a starter goes down. So far this year, we’ve placed seven opening day starters on injured reserve : receivers Roscoe Parrish and Donald Jones, runningback Fred Jackson, linebacker Shawne Merriman, center Eric Wood, cornerback Terrence McGee, and nose tackle Kyle Williams. On top of that, another seven reserves found themselves on the shelf for the remainder of 2011. It’s a terrible problem that depletes not just the talent levels across the board, but the camaraderie and leadership that these guys develop from playing around one another.

That said, it’s hard for me to look at this skid and really have that “same old Bills” attitude that so many of you have adopted. Please, kindly, back away from my team and go find one that doesn’t have hardships if you’re going to flip your gourd at every sign of decline. If you’re like this now, you haven’t been with us in the past, so good riddance. I’ll admit, it’s been hard. Just last week, during the Miami game, I turned a Bills game off before it was over for the first time in somewhere around a decade. Once I saw the decorated veteran JP Losman come into the game for the Fish, it was curtains for me. The loss infuriated me so much, the team played so bad, that I didn’t even drop my customary block of text onto this site for you all to pick through. Why bother? I couldn’t have drawn a single positive from the game, and the negatives are generally understandable and can be drawn back, mostly, to the injuries.

It may be incredibly difficult to fathom, considering it was still a loss (to a division rival at that), but that was the most promise that this team has shown in weeks. I’m still not sure that there’s a winnable game left on this schedule for this banged up army of misfits, but it was good to see us get as close as we did to toppling the re-surging Jets.

Close, though, is never as good as actually winning. Close doesn’t win you divisions or put you in the playoffs. Spencer Johnson (pictured above) was close to a safety in the second quarter, but he didn’t get one so does anyone but myself remember? Exactly my point. Johnson, by the way, has been consistently horrendous since the team moved him to outside linebacker a few weeks ago. I keep saying it because it keeps being true – the Jets took major advantage of it this weekend and ran right at him a few times. He can’t contain the edge and certainly can’t pursue, and now that the secret’s out I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get abused more in the waning weeks of the season. Two uncommon and extremely disappointing bad performances put in on Sunday came from two of our five rookies starting. Marcell Dareus only managed a single tackle this week amidst a bucketful of rookie mistakes. He was drawn off, missed tackles, took bad angles.. mostly a non-factor all game, definitely not the norm for him. The other sad showing came from linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, who was absolutely terrible in this one. He showed that he’s still very new to the big game, taking action late on most rushing plays, attempting to arm tackle everyone, and at one point completely ignoring his coverage assignment in Dustin Keller as he walked his route and stood in the back of the endzone to catch the first of his two touchdowns. Thankfully, fellow rookie Da’Norris Searcy played well down in Jersey in relief of the injured George Wilson – he only recorded three tackles but was very active, showing incredible range and a definite nose for the ball. Just in the few showings we’ve had of him, I’ve been impressed and excited for what the future will bring from him. Also showing out on defense were corners Drayton Florence and Justin Rogers, who’s seeing plenty of nickel duty with Leodis McKelvin’s recent demotion. Florence was taking great angles against the Jets top wideouts throughout and undercut a Santonio Holmes route to make an interception that Buffalo scored off of.  Rogers is coming along nicely, as well, looking much better than what you’d expect out of a seventh round pick. I’ve got a feeling that between him, AJ Williams, and Searcy we’ve got the makings of a quality secondary corps in the next few years.

Brian Moorman of the early 2000’s showed up, dropping his punts with great placement and even putting one out at the one-yard-line in the second quarter. Helping out the punt game was Leodis McKelvin, manning the gunner role and making some key tackles deep before injuring his ribs in the third quarter. Outside of those two, however, special teams looked pretty sad. Dave Rayner completed a 53 yard field goal try but also whiffed on a terrible attempt at a squib kick, and noone handling return duties (split between McKelvin, CJ Spiller, and Brad Smith) could do anything.

The offense was a fresh and welcome change from weeks past, even considering everyone playing out of place. While Andy Levitre was terrible handling center duties (especially out of the shotgun) last week, Kraig Urbik abandoned his right guard spot and did a wonderful job snapping the ball against the Jets. Urbik, told by his quarterback that he’s the “Fattest center in the league” stands at six-foot-five and 329 pounds, which actually does make him the largest. He got good pop off the snap and handled the ball out of the shotgun well, even though Gailey dialed down the frequency of those plays. Less than twenty percent of Buffalo’s offensive snaps came out of the shotgun this week to accommodate Urbik’s unfamiliarity with the position compared to a number closer to fifty percent, sometimes more. Making his first start of the season behind both Urbik and Ryan Fitzpatrick was runningback CJ Spiller, playing in the absence of injured starter Fred Jackson, who went on IR this week. Spiller looked to be developing well out of the backfield, at least compared to how he was the last time he really took a quality amount of touches. He only rushed for 55 yards and caught passes for 15, but simply looked better than he has in the past. He didn’t get put in many situations to pass protect, which was the area of his game that kept him off of the field throughout most of his rookie campaign, but when he was in to block, it wasn’t noticeable which usually means he was decent enough.

Also finally being utilized, albeit due to injuries across the board, was gadget man Brad Smith. Smith, to this point, has been a waste of an investment – terrible returning kicks and pointless out of the wildcat. He got forced into the number two wideout role with injuries to Donald Jones and Naaman Roosevelt and performed very well, hauling in passes for a team-high 77 yards and a touchdown. On that touchdown play, Smith was trying to bat the ball away from Jets defender Antonio Cromartie and ended up with another shot at it, which he capitalized on and took it for 36 yards for the score. Smith’s never really been a full-time receiver but Gailey and Fitzpatrick liked what they saw out of him this week, and he’s been confirmed to be the starter on the outside going forward, with Johnson as the top target and David Nelson in the slot. In regards to Nelson (47 yards, touchdown), it was another day at the park for him. His downfield blocking was great, and he had a great show of class when he deliberately handed the ball off to an official after he made it into the endzone. Maybe some guys around him could learn from that. Not to say that I have an issue directly with Steve Johnson’s touchdown celebration. Sure, he looked like a fool, but so do most of the young guys trying to have some fun when they cross the pylons. My issue comes with him taking it too far, going to the ground and costing us fifteen yards on the ensuing kickoff. Still, after he mouthed off to fans about the whole ordeal, someone must have talked some sense in to him because he says he’s done with the celebrations. Amidst the whining about the dance, he told the fans that the entire final drive was a misunderstanding between him and Fitzpatrick. Not quite. The one pass that everyone ragged on him for dropping, around the twenty yard line of the Jets, would have gone to at least the ten, maybe more depending on the angle the safety took. It hit him in the mitts in full stride and he let it go, then blamed everyone else. Later in the drive, on the third-to-last play of the game, Johnson worked Revis to the outside right corner of the endzone before breaking in to the middle of the field, but Fitz threw as if 13 would be breaking to the deep corner, which caused another drop that you can’t fault Johnson for. That may be what he was clamoring about, or it could have been the last play of the game, where he was (again) open on a slant across the middle of the field, right on the goalline, and Fitzpatrick overshot him by about five feet. Johnson had to stretch out entirely and put himself in danger to even attempt for a shot at it. This continues to be a problem with Ryan, and on his drives with high completion percentages, it was mostly due to his guys bailing him out. I just hope that this is something that gets worked on in the offseason.

Not one to end things on a down note, the discovery of Scott Chandler is becoming an even better one. From the injury issues the team has incurred, Chandler has emerged from solely a red zone (or red area, if you’re Mark Kelso) target in the first quarter of the season into a well-rounded tight end. When he came here, Chandler was seen primarily as a blocker, but he has developed good hands and takes advantage of the mismatches created by David Nelson’s size in the slot to be able to open the offense up and work the seams to give his quarterback another quality target. He caught six passes for fifty yards in this game after a 71 yard showing last week in Miami. He’s what you’re looking for out of a waiver wire pickup, and is one of the few feel-good stories left for a young Buffalo team this year.

This weekend, the team will play host to the 6-5 Tennessee Titans which, if there’s still a wildcard on the schedule, this is it. A win against the Titans keeps Buffalo in the hunt for the wildcard, though after four consecutive losses it’s not as solid a shot as it once was. Even with a win, and a few more at that, it’s an outside shot at best. Currently, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati hold the two AFC Wildcard spots and we still have the Jets, Titans, and Broncos in contention with us – along with those two North clubs. New England, Baltimore, Houston, and Oakland all hold the leads in their respective divisions though none of them have a strong foothold by any means, so the playoff picture is still wide open. I don’t know that Fitzpatrick and his crew can overcome the losses both on the field and in the locker room to keep themselves in the hunt, but if this week’s effort was any indication, they’ll sure as hell keep trying.
Until next time, Bills fans.

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Pre-Game Injury Update and Notes [11/20/11]

Last week, we suffered a number of injuries while in Dallas that will hurt us going forward, this week included.

– ILB Chris White, sent to injured reserve due to a torn ACL.

– OC Eric Wood, sent to injured reserve due to a torn ACL.

– WR David Nelson, probable due to ankle injury and illness.

– WR Steve Johnson, questionable due to shoulder injury.

– LT Chris Hairston, expected to start today after weeks away.

– LT Demetrius Bell, should be available after weeks away.

– FS George Wilson, OUT due to shoulder injury.

– CB Aaron Williams will return today after missing most of the season.

With Johnson and Nelson likely to play but at a reduced capacity and availability, it’s likely that we’ll see a lot of Fred Jackson in this one.

Even if Bell can go, Hairston should get the start (and the remainder of the starts) at left tackle as I fully believe he has better composure and ability along with the highest likelihood to stay there in 2012.

White’s injury won’t be noticed much, the already weak linebacking corps just gets weaker. The team did sign DE/OLB Kyle Moore this week to help with that, but he’ll likely be inactive this week.

Wilson not going would be huge after the year he’s had. Still undecided whether Bryan Scott or Da’Norris Searcy would start in his place. DB Josh Nesbitt was promoted this week but don’t expect him to see the field at all. If 37 is out, my money’s on a 60-40 split between Scott and Searcy simply because Scott is used all over the field in this defense. With Williams returning, the pass defense should see a huge upgrade since he’ll be taking over the nickel for McKelvin. Excited about that.

The biggest blow out of all of these is absolutely Eric Wood, however. With Wood out (again), Andy Levitre moves around again. The team’s normal starting left guard, who’s been filling in at left tackle since Bell and Hairston have been on the shelf, will be finishing the season at center. In his place, Chad Rinehart will start at left guard and Hairston will start at left tackle. That means that the only depth players remaining on this line are guard Colin Brown and tackle Demetrius Bell, along with tackle Sam Young who has yet to be active this year. That’s laughable and something that needs to be addressed in the offseason. It’s frustrating beyond all belief that after losing Wood, we went out and promoted a DB then signed a defender that may not even be able to play for us (Gailey admitted he has no idea if Moore can play linebacker at all). Urbik and Pears remain on the right side.

Hopefully, these guys can overcome these hardships and kill off this two-game losing streak they’ve got going. Miami’s on a decent roll at the moment, so this should be a good one. Check back here later to see my thoughts on what happens in South Beach. Until then, Go Bills.

UPDATE: George Wilson is OUT for today’s game. Inactives include Rian Lindell, Reggie Corner, Wilson, Josh Nesbitt, Demetrius Bell, Lee Smith, and Kyle Moore. Aaron Williams and Sam Young are active.

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7-44 : Everything’s bigger in Texas

Photo property of AP / Tony Gutierrez

 

…even the ass whoopings.

With Sunday’s abomination, it’s safe to say that Buffalo’s playoff potential is quickly fading. Not because they are sitting at 5-4, and not because they lost to a mediocre (at their absolute best) Dallas team. Their hopes are fading because they got flat-out embarrassed in back-to-back weeks by teams that they should have been able to put up a fight against if nothing else. On top of all that, they’ve now got to deal with further injuries sustained and the window seems to be beginning to close on this team. Luckily for the Bills, the AFC is a weak conference overall this year so that window will stay propped for a little longer.

There were so many things wrong with this team’s showing in Texas that it’s hard to find a way to be positive. You can almost always look at a game and take something good away from it but really, what was there? I mean.. Brian Moorman averaged 52 yards per punt and Fred Jackson topped 100 yards again but do those stats mean a damn thing when you aren’t putting points on the board? I know that there’s been a popular argument lately about yards being ever-important and this game is one of the examples of that not being the case. If Jackson had run for 250 today and we still got blown out, would anyone care? You shouldn’t.

The defensive unit was horrendous, generating zero pass rush and giving Tony Romo all day long to throw en route to a 270 yard, 3 touchdown performance in which he only threw three incompletions. It’s hard to get a pass rush when you’re missing a few starters that are generally instrumental in bringing that noise (nose tackle Kyle Williams, outside linebackers Chris Kelsay and Shawne Merriman) and starting guys that just aren’t effective there (Troup at nose, Batten and Spencer Johnson at linebacker). Dallas was scoring at will and it took Buffalo the entire first half to be able to get a stop on third down. Romo took advantage of two more weak spots on the defense when he started picking on Drayton Florence and Leodis McKelvin, who were god awful through the entirety of the game.

This was easily the most pathetic performance from Fitzpatrick all year, as well, throwing for just 146 yards with three interceptions and a sole score. That’s not going to help your team win any games. Can’t totally fault Ryan on this one – he had no time to handle the ball and make his reads as Andy Levitre, getting the start at left tackle, was getting abused all game… and the situation didn’t improve when the team lost starting center Eric Wood to an injury later in the game. Interesting situation there – Levitre was in at left tackle because the top two at that position have been out. He’s the team’s normal starting left guard and Chad Rinehart has been filling in nicely there, but Levitre is also the backup center, which created a dilemma. With no other options at tackle, Levitre stayed put when Wood went down, pulling right guard Kraig Urbik further inside and bringing third string guard Colin Brown in to take his place. At that point, it probably would have been less heart wrenching to just punt the ball on first down every time. Another year, another blatantly obvious issue with depth. Go figure.

I truly cannot bring myself to watch this game over again to try to find some inkling of a topic to really pat these guys on the back for, so I’ll just keep this short. This Sunday, the road trip continues and these boys better be ready for some adversity as Miami has a bit of steam behind them after winning two in a row. It’s not much considering how they’ve played leading up to this, but if you were to just take a look at these teams over the past two weeks, could you honestly say that you expect Buffalo to easily win a game with the Fish, in Miami, at that?

It’ll be a long week with this one hanging over us, but I’ll be back with you once we find out the severity of the injuries to Wood, George Wilson, and others to update you and give some thoughts on the upcoming game. Until then, hold your head high, stretch your legs, and get comfortable. The bandwagon just lost a lot of passengers.

Stick it out, Bills fans. I’ve got a feeling that this ride’s far from over.

 

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11-27 : Saving Ryan’s Ego

Photo property of AP/David Duprey

 

Throughout the week, I’ve heard all sorts of explanations for us losing this game – heard all sorts of reasons for why it’s time to panic – heard all sorts of reasons as to why we’re ‘falling off.’ Can we be honest, folks? The sky’s not falling. The end is not near. It’s football – losses happen. If you need to find a scapegoat for this loss to feed the beast for some sadistic reason, I’ll give you two – quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and his head coach, Chan Gailey.

We’ll start with the most obvious of the two in Gailey. You could just see that he was unsure of what to do all game long against Rex Ryan’s defensive schemes, and he even admitted that much to the media this week, calling it one of the most poorly coached games of his career. I’ll tip my hat to that, because it was god awful. We went to our bread-and-butter screen play ONCE all game long and it went for over twenty yards. Why not try that again if you know it works? His decision to run a draw with Jackson set back seven yards on fourth and inches had me scratching my head (it didn’t work, if you were wondering). It’s not a good look for a team that plays, essentially, the same defense in two of their next three games. You’ve got to imagine that Rex and his brother Rob compared notes in anticipation of Gailey’s unit traveling down to Dallas, exposing quirks and nuances that regular film review can’t see. Maybe, being the thinking man that he is, Chan was taking the preseason approach to this game – running vanilla, not showing much at all, simply because he faces Rob this week and Rex again in two weeks and wanted the actual offense to be effective for the Dallas game and the re-match with the Jets at the Meadowlands. Maybe, but incredibly doubtful. Chan had a bad week, plain and simple. He’s got to do whatever it is that he can to right the ship mentally moving forward, though.

The other problem child here is our beloved gunslinger having the same damned issues that I’ve been pointing out all year. Fitzpatrick spent the entire game locking on, ignoring his progressions, and forcing asinine throws. I’m all for having faith in your receivers. I encourage it, even, but you can’t expect these guys to go out and break through every coverage or beat every defender. Ryan loves to force throws to, more than anyone else, slot receiver David Nelson. On consecutive drives in the 2nd quarter, 14 had time and shot the rock at a fully covered Nelson. On the first of those plays, Nelson was double covered and the pass was intercepted by Calvin Pace. On the second? Triple coverage resulted in a David Harris interception. He did squeeze one in to 86 for a garbage time touchdown late in the game, but Fitzpatrick needs to break himself of this habit. He did it consistently throughout this one with Johnson, as well, especially after 13 beat Darelle Revis down the right sideline for a beautiful long ball, which gave Ryan the mindset that Stevie would be able to break free every time. On the Bills’ final play of the half, Fitz took no time at all to check coverage or look for other targets, just lobbed the ball to a double-covered Johnson in the endzone. Stevie had no shot at it, and that was the story with most of the receivers throughout this game. I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen Donald Jones and others get laid out a few times too many trying to chase inaccurate passes this year. Hopefully these parts of his game will wane in the coming weeks because we can’t afford to not have the main cog of this machine operating properly.

Those two weren’t the only things wrong with the boys in bl…white this week, though. What was up with the pass coverage? I understand that the Jets have weapons – Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress, Dustin Keller – but there is no way that they should be wide open on every single play. None of our defensive backs could stick with these guys, and that right there is reason enough to be glad that Mark Sanchez isn’t half the quarterback that he’s talked up to be. Also, take some time this week – focus on number 91, Spencer Johnson. Watching Johnson play outside linebacker, where the team has him now, is scary. We’re talking Joe Namath’s thing for Suzy Kolber scary, not Fred Jackson’s running style – big difference. Spencer was a good defensive tackle – he’s been a serviceable end – he’s horrendous at linebacker. 91’s size (6’3″, 305 lbs) makes him the definition of a liability in coverage and he offers nothing in the way of a pass rush while standing up. I know that he can’t be faulted for the coaches squeezing him in there to cover for injuries, but if he’s gotta play off the line again after this span someone’s gotta be fired because your depth should never be that bad. Don’t want to harp on the special teams units as they’ve been, overall, very good this year but we wouldn’t be talking about Dave Rayner suiting up to kick for the next 4-6 games if these guys could figure out how to stay in their lanes and make a tackle. Lindell hurt his shoulder making a tackle after no less than five Bills players watched the New York return man breeze by them from fifteen yards away.

I don’t want to sound like I’m just writing this to tear these guys apart, because I’m not. There were some positives in the otherwise lackluster showing – Byrd’s pick and Wilson’s pick-ruled-incompletion were both incredible plays keeping us in the game, and Alex Carrington looked good again at linebacker, getting decent pressure and picking up a sack in the first quarter. Jackson ran like an animal against a stingy Jet defense, a recurring story this year, and Moorman’s kickoff in the third after taking over for Lindell was excellent, sailing eight yards deep into the endzone. Other than that, there wasn’t much else memorable from this one for us, however.

I don’t like to give props to these guys, I really don’t. As far as players go, I’ve got respect for one former Jet player – defensive back Steve Ebbecke (if you’ve heard of him, go ahead and pat yourself on the back) for producing a good friend of mine – and current coach Rex Ryan for being a brilliant defensive coordinator. Past those two, if it’s wearing green and white, I don’t want to talk about it. Still, you’ve gotta give credit where it’s due for Ryan outclassing his equal in Gailey this week. Hopefully, Chan has something up his sleeve for the next two meetings with the Ryans this year as our playoff hopes literally depend on it.

 

Here’s hoping. Until next time, Bills fans..

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