Sometimes you just don’t know what to say – your mind is full of everything and nothing all at once. You try to express yourself and can manage barely more than a grunt. If you’re a Bills fan you know this feeling – it probably hit on Sunday afternoon.
The sickening disorientation and agitation felt by many Bills fans can be explained as the effects of a bad hangover, but unlike a normal hangover this is not the result of drinking too much alcohol. For many Bills fans, the drink of choice this season has been Kool Aid, the kind served by other Bills fans, the media and the team itself.
Three weeks ago the Bills and their fans were on top of the world and on top of the AFC East standings. Sitting at 5-1, the Bills were the talk of the town – even the media considered the team to be one of the 10 best in the league. Talk was about how many games the Bills would win – double digits, certainly – and whether the playoffs would come as AFC East Champs or the AFC Wildcard.
Fast forward to today and many Bills fans undoubtedly think of the playoffs like this. Some still cling to the belief that the Bills will see the postseason, and I believe these folks are either delusional, bad at math or simply new fans who haven’t yet endured enough pain a la their favorite NFL team.
To see the field in January the Bills will either need to clinch the division or land a wildcard spot. Given that the team has lost to every single opponent in the division, the Bills are in a bad spot to finish on top. They are a game behind New England and New York and behind Miami thanks to a poor divisional record. None of those teams looks to tank anytime soon. From a wildcard standpoint the Bills will be competing against the teams that didn’t win the AFC East as well as some good teams from the other divisions. Again the divisional losses will likely doom the Bills – anything short of 11 wins likely means they stay home and 11 wins affords the Bills only more loss before the end of the season. The path to victory for the Bills is possible but so improbable that it could well be compared to John McCain’s outlook on election day – everything would have to fall into place and there are too many ifs to make that realistic. I’m firmly with Jim Mora on this subject.
From boasting about the limitless future of a young Bills team and a star quarterback to wondering how the team will win another game and who should be under center – oh how painful this crash has been.
I, like many Bills fans, are suffering from fatigue – the fatigue of waiting for the playoff team that never comes. Fatigue of being served the same old dog food week after week, season after season. Fatigue of paying to see a team without a soul go through the motions on Sunday afternoons. I can’t decide whether the current state of affairs warrants flying into a rage or conserving energy by learning to accept losing and not care so much.
So what are the problems with this team? Why are we suffering through yet another season of mediocrity or worse? I warned about a few of these things in previous weeks (and was labeled as being too negative), but here’s how I see it.
Quarterback – Trent Edwards is showing that he’s a young quarterback who is prone to mistakes, particularly at the hands of wily veterans in the secondary and in the face of pressure in the pocket. In recent weeks Edwards has turned the ball over too many times by making bad reads about coverage and not taking care of the ball when under pressure. The good news is that the fix to these things can come with experience and haven’t really been the result of making inaccurate throws or poor mechanics. Small consolation when a guy returns the ball for a score against the Bills, though.
Receivers – The unit still lacks a reliable #2 wide receiver to take pressure off of Lee Evans and he can’t carry the team if he is always double covered. Josh Reed has been a clutch player, always making a crucial if unspectacular catch, and the Bills have missed him with his injury. Roscoe Parrish has playmaking ability, but doesn’t appear to be involved in too much of the offensive gameplan. For yet another year the Bills are getting next to nothing (at least not reliably) at the tight end position – how many more seasons until the Bills get a performer here? Tony Gonzalez would have been a nice pickup, but fans can see why he didn’t want to play in Buffalo – is this a team and organization that impresses anyone these days? When was the last time we were impressive?
Offensive line – This is a terrible group and the biggest reason the Bills are struggling to move the ball. One of the biggest, heaviest lines in all of the NFL, the group can’t generate enough push to convert short yardage situations on the ground. In pass protection the unit has been destroyed by solid defensive line players the past few games and the pressure allowed on Edwards has been unacceptable. It is criminal that Derrick Dockery is the highest paid player in Bills history – an average guard at best this season. It is laughable that Jason Peters wants a new contract – if the Bills oblige in reworking his deal they should get back money from him for the performance he has put in this season. As usual, the center position is a mess and the middle of the line is a real point of weakness. Something needs to be done about this unit if the Bills are ever to see the playoffs.
Running Backs – Marshawn Lynch is a solid back who hasn’t received much support from the offensive line, but he has to do a better job of finding the holes and making positive yards. Like Willis McGahee before him, Lynch is spending too much time looking for the home run play and dancing in the backfield rather than moving the chains. Lynch seems to forget that he’s more bruiser than burner and as such he must understand that he’s not going to get to the corner before lots of other guys. Fred Jackson has been a great asset as a change of pace back but he isn’t geared to help the Bills where they could really use help – short yardage situations.
Defensive Line – Frightening statistic – in the past 6 games the defensive line has chalked up 1.5 sacks over 197 pass attempts. Any way you slice it, that is just pathetic. Chad Pennington and Matt Cassel have looked like they are shoo-ins for Canton with Cassel even showing what a tremendous scrambler he is. The unit certainly misses Aaron Schobel even though he hasn’t had tremendous stats this year when healthy, but the group has no depth and can’t do anything with current healthy personnel.
Linebackers – The group is quick and aggressive, and other teams have used that to their advantage by running screen passes and plays that count on over pursuit. They have had a very tough time defending the quick slant and the underneath zone, two things opposing coaches are throwing their way with great frequency.
Defensive backs – This group is banged up – Terrence McGee is back after injury, but is he 100% yet? Ashton Youboty showed great promise but is out on IR. Jabari Greer has played fairly well and Donte Whitner was solid but will be lost for an untold period of time with a shoulder injury. The unit lack numbers and depth – they simply can’t cover everyone in extra receiver sets, particularly when the defensive line isn’t pressuring the quarterback.
The 2008 rookie class has contributed very little to the team this year. While fans shouldn’t expect Pro Bowl performances from rookies, they should expect that the early draft pick should be able to contribute something to the team this year, but that has rarely been the case. Leodis McKelvin isn’t ready to play in the secondary and the fact that the Bills allowed a hobbled McGee to get burned for 176 yards by Ted Ginn shows just how little faith they have in the rookie’s current ability. James Hardy has been almost invisible, hardly the big play jump ball receiver the Bills wanted. He route running has been bad, and he seems unwilling to jump of with a defender and grab the ball aggressively. Chris Ellis hasn’t seen much action, very odd considering that that particular unit is weak.
The coaching has become stale and unimaginative, particularly on offense. Worse yet, it has become predictable – even the casual fan seems to know what is coming. Why run the ball 3 consecutive times in a goal-to-go situation and then later refuse to run in short yardage situations? Why abandon the run? Why does the team allow a huge game clock-eating drive late n each game a la the Baton death march? The replay challenges have been an absolute disaster, something the team can ill afford considering these calls often determine whether a big play goes for or against you. The Bills challenge when they shouldn’t and waste timeouts, lollygag and allow the other team to challenge when the Bills get a rare break and don’t challenge quickly enough when the call would help them – the team needs to find someone to handle challenges and get him in place now. The coaching has also seemed to fail to inspire the players – there appears to be little to no fire in the players on the field, something that must change of the Bills are to win more games this year. Some of the coaching basics have been poor such as having too many men on the field, failing to get play in in a timely manner and poor clock and timeout management. Simply put, over the past 3 weeks the Bills have been severely outcoached by their opponents and I am not impressed. At this point I don’t care that our coach is a nice guy or an Ivy League grad or is exceptionally organized – we’ve had these guys and we aren’t wining. If it takes hiring a jackass in the mold of Jimmy Johnson to win then so be it - the Bills need fire and they needs to win, even if that means we can’t get it done with someone who can quote Shakespeare or cite historical references.
I’m done venting, but I’m not done hurting. The Bills are a team going nowhere in a hurry yet again, putting another mediocre product on the field each week and hoping the fans still show up. How much longer can this go on? How many “next years” are there? Why do a feel like I’m walking up the down escalator? Why do I care so much about a team that doesn’t seem to care?