With the season a quarter of the way complete I suppose it is time I found some time to comment on the Bills despite the lack of free time my current personal life affords me. The Bills are off to their best start in 16 years, a perfect 4-0, on pace for the elusive perfect season.
Bills fans are excited – really excited. Here in Boston the Backer’s bar has been so packed with fans that they’ve had to open the extra bar area in the basement, something I’ve rarely seen in my 10+ years with the club.
The message boards are lighting up with frenzied fans talkin’ proud about their Bills and posting links to the national media’s weekly power rankings. Suddenly everything is better – Sunday afternoons are great, talking smack with friends and coworkers at the water cooler is easier, even the beer tastes better. Who cares if the national economy is melting down, gas prices are up, war continues in the Middle East – the Bills are winning!!
It reminds me of the medical ward scene in Airplane with Ethel Merman – “You'll be swell! You'll be great! Gonna have the whole world on the plate! Starting here, starting now, [gets drugged with a powerful sedative] honey, everything's coming up roses….”
I enjoy the Bills current success as much as the next guy (although many of you question my fan credential when I question the Bills), but it’s time we all get hit with a bit of that sedative as we are belting out our song at top volume…
While some in the national media are talking about the Bills, there is a reason the Bills are still flying under the radar to a large extent – the Bills still have a lot to prove.
Before we proclaim ourselves AFC East champs, AFC champs and Super Bowl champs, let us not forget that at this point our prior 2008 opponents are a collective 4-11 and if you count our upcoming game with Arizona the breakdown becomes 6-13. None of the teams is over .500 at this point.
The record certainly belies the strength of some of the teams. Jacksonville and Seattle are probably better than their records currently indicate, but the Bill benefited from catching these teams when they had serious injury issues. Being a receiver in Seattle these days is like being a drummer for Spinal Tap – someone brought in to play a role beset by bizarre injuries (when they enlisted their third quarterback to play receiver he was injured in pre-game warmups – I guess he is lucky he didn’t just spontaneously combust). When the Bills faced the Jaguars in week 2 they matched up with at least 2 offensive linemen who had not been on an NFL team on opening weekend.
Oakland and St. Louis are two of the weaker teams in the NFL and the Bills certainly had their hands full in each of those games until pulling out wins later in the game. Instead of enjoying some lopsided drubbings in favor of our heroes, the contests had me playing drinking games with Pepto Bismol (every time Trent Edwards gets knocked down take a shot).
There are some fundamental problems with the Bills and unless they are addressed the Bills will not hold up to premium NFL teams – to be the best you have to beat the best.
The play of the offensive line has been very suspect to date. Aside from some solid play late in games, the offensive line has done a poor job pass blocking, getting flat out beat by defenders too often. Edwards has been knocked down too many times for a line with healthy high dollar players. Jason Peters has played very poorly – his holdout has clearly impacted his play (fortunately it has yet to impact the team).
The defensive side of the line has also failed to perform at a high level. While they have been able to stop the run for the most part, their pass rush has been barely adequate – Aaron Schobel has been almost invisible and the pocket time they have afforded opposing quarterbacks is going to be deadly when they match up against signal callers better than Trent Green and JaMarcus Russell.
The slow starts the Bills have had in the past two games is not something they can ill afford to continue. You may be able to dig your way out of a hole against an Oakland or a St. Louis, but you’re probably not going to get away with that against a San Diego or a Denver.
Now before you go writing me hate mail, there is actually quite a bit I like about the 2008 Bills. Chief amongst these traits is their attitude – this team refuses to give up, refuses to lose. They have a great confidence about them – not cocky, just confident that they can play with and beat anyone – gotta love that. Unlike previous years when the Bills were slow out of the gate and found themselves at 2-6 before they found their groove, the Bills have gotten off to a great start and winning early has immeasurable value to a young team like the Bills.
Marshawn Lynch has been running hard and running well and Fred Jackson has been terrific as a second back in the mix. The previously maligned Josh Reed seems to end up with solid but unspectacular numbers, but always seems to make that key third down catch. Paul Posluszny is becoming a force in the middle – if he stays healthy he’s going to have a great year. Ashton Youboty, a guy I wasn’t sure would even make the team has been tremendous, making some really key solo stops as well as making plays on the ball. In fact, the play of the secondary has been so solid I feel pretty good even with Terrance McGee out for at least 1 game. As usual, special teams have been stellar.
What is very encouraging to see is the strength of the coaching. Offensive and defensive game plans have been imaginative and have given opponents more than they can handle. With some slow starts early in games the coaching staff has been fantastic at making adjustments to fix the problems and have given the Bills the ability to win late in the game.
Edwards has shown great poise as a field commander. He has done very well in some pressure situations and has shown great leadership – he pumps up his teammates and they seem to respect him. With more seasoning he could be special – could the Bills finally have found their quarterback of the future?
So, color me happy, but also color me realistic. The Bills are going to face some better competition and they are going to lose some games. They aren’t a shoo-in to win the AFC East, nor are they guaranteed to make the playoffs. Talk of such things at this point in the season is utter folly – do so at the risk of angering the gods of woofing and setting yourself up for misery should the momentum of this team turn. In short, if you feel like jumping out of bed and belting out an Ethel Merman ditty, take that sedative – you’ll thank me for it later…