There’s not much I can write about today that you haven’t already read about Sunday’s loss to the Rams. If you watched the game (and many more did thanks to a last minute buy-up of remaining tickets), what you read probably didn’t say anything that you hadn’t screamed at your TV or down onto the field from your seats.
The sad truth is that the problems with the Buffalo Bills are obvious – painfully obvious. Obvious to diehard fans, obvious to the Bills press corps – heck – they’re even obvious to my grandmother and she suffers from cataracts.
I wanted to give Chan Gailey a chance when he arrived three years ago – I sucked up my burning desire to see a playoff team and swallowed hard, hoping that this time patience would pay off. There was plenty of work to be done and it would take some time, but eventually we would see the proverbial baby Buddy Nix talks about – but the building had to start all the way at the foundation.
Fast forward to 2012 and Gailey sports a record with more than twice as many losses as wins. You’re going to have losses when you’re building and you have New England on your schedule twice a year, but the lack of results at this point in unacceptable. What’s more, it’s pretty obvious that the lack of results is due to the coaching rather than in spite of it.
The Bills have regressed from last season – the stats don’t lie. Almost everyone agrees that the team has better talent than it had last season, so poor performance is either a result of overestimating that talent or misuse of it. While I do think the talent on the team is somewhat less than I originally thought, it’s clear that much of the problem is poor coaching.
In past weeks I’ve said that Gailey must go, and now a deep-throated chorus of fans and media alike have joined in the call – it’s time to take Chan back behind the barn and give him the Old Yeller for the good of all.
The best player the Bills have is C.J. Spiller – you know it, I know it – everybody except Gailey knows it. Just about any other team would build their offense around the young and explosive running back. On Sunday Spiller touched the ball a paltry 8 times – 7 rushes and 1 screen pass. In cold rainy conditions with swirling December winds, Gailey decided the best approach was to throw the ball.
Throwing the ball twice as many times as you run it is wrong on so many levels I don’t know where to begin. Lest anyone forget, the Bills quarterback is Ryan Fitzpatrick, not Joe Montana. At best Fitzpatrick can be a game manager and caretaker of the offense, but under no circumstances should you ask him to go and win the game – he doesn’t have the skills and consistency to do that. The Bills lead for almost the whole game on Sunday, so you’d think they would want to control the clock and grind it out – a man nicknamed Tuna won a Super Bowl keeping his opponent’s high powered offense off the field by controlling the clock. On Sunday only 4 of Buffalo’s offensive possessions went for longer than 3 minutes. Did I mention that weather was a factor? In freezing rain who insists on trying to drop back and pass 33 times?
When Gailey did run the ball, he felt it important to share the ball between his running backs. The result of this share-the-wealth philosophy further dug into Spiller's potential carries. Fred Jackson received 9 carries to Spiller’s 7, even after Jackson coughed up the ball in the red zone. I like Jackson – he’s a good guy and a solid running back – on many other teams he would be the undisputed starter. Last week Jackson was the hot hand and I had no problem with Gailey riding him as long as he could. But Sunday was different – Jackson did not have the hot hand, yet Spiller was the guy once again sitting on the sidelines in key situations.
Pressed by media to explain why the most talented running back in the game was used so sparingly, Gailey explained that each running back has a turn. Sometimes it’s Spiller’s turn, sometimes it’s Jackson’s turn – as if this was some sort bizarre egalitarian Pop Warner league where everybody gets a trophy for playing and they don’t keep score. Seriously – are you kidding me? I’m the father of twins and love each of them dearly, but if I was coaching them and one was clearly better than the other you better believe I wouldn’t be splitting carries evenly according to some sort of “turn” system.
Perhaps Gailey realized what a terrible justification it was to vocalize, because he later claimed that Spiller’s removal from the field was to give him a breather because he was winded. If that excuse has any shred of truth to it I want to hit myself in the head with a hammer – hard. That a starting running back would need to be repeatedly pulled from an NFL game because he runs out of air says that he’s either way out of shape, a chain smoker, or an asthmatic – someone who really shouldn’t be playing at all. More likely, the “winded” story is a damnable and obvious lie, used to cover up the shortcomings of the coach or player.
Unless things turn around quickly for Spiller neither the fans nor the running back are likely to be happy. Spiller has been diplomatic about his lack of touches, but it has to be bothering him. If he’s not going to be the workhorse in Buffalo he’ll certainly go somewhere where he’ll be the man when he gets a chance – re-upping with the Bills won’t be a consideration. It would just be par for the course to see another talented player drafted by the Bills go find glory elsewhere.
Once again, play calling was beyond suspect on Sunday. It became crystal clear at the end of the half as Buffalo drove down to the Rams’ 34 with 1:02 left on the clock and all 3 timeouts. They threw a pass that went nowhere and blew about half the time on the clock before the next play. They then advanced the ball to the 23 and called their first timeout. The next play clearly showed Gailey’s intentions – a field goal. Fred Jackson (with Spiller on the sideline) ran up the middle for a loss of 1 yard and called Buffalo’s second timeout. There was no shot at the end zone – instead Gailey called the play you would call at the end of the game as team was going for a winning field goal – run the clock down, keep the ball between the hash marks and try to make the attempt incrementally shorter. An ill-advised screen pass brought the drive to a halt, and inexplicably the Bills called timeout with a full 11 seconds on the clock – assuring that the Rams would touch the ball before halftime. Who leaves time on the clock like that?
Of course the most blatant example of coaching ineptitude came at the start of the fourth quarter with the Bills nursing a 5 point lead. The team drove to the Rams’ 34 yard line where the drive stalled – 4th and 7. The Bills originally lined up for a 52 yard field goal attempt that would put them up by 8 points, when suddenly Gailey changed his mind, called timeout and decided to punt. There are a number of things wrong with this – 1)Shows no confidence in Rian Lindell, who, despite Gailey’s fears, has proven that he can hit from 50 and beyond, 2)Punting has a very good chance of being a touchback, leaving you with a net put of 14 yards 3)It gives the ball back to the Rams who can beat you with just a touchdown rather than tying you with a touchdown and a 2 point conversion 4)If you actually do chose the worst option and punt you don’t burn a timeout you’ll probably need – you take a delay of game penalty – if it’s accepted you get another 5 yards of punting room, if it’s declined then no harm, no foul. Explaining his gutless call Gailey said he thought the field goal was going to be 50 yards, not 52 – how on earth do you as head coach lose track of where the ball is on the field? That’s your job!
On Sunday Gailey will have another opportunity to dazzle us with his stupidity. Jackson will be out of the mix with a knee injury – any other team would certainly use the opportunity to feature Spiller, but I suspect that Gailey will still treat us to a heavy dose of Tashard Choice even though he has said differently. If he implements a kindergarten “turn” system with Choice he should be tarred and feathered and run out of town, but I suspect we’ll see some flavor of it.
Gailey is in way over his head at this point. His game plans are terrible. His play calling is painful. He isn’t utilizing the tools at his disposal. He seems lost or confused at times and frankly he’s making some mistakes that are sloppy. It’s time for Chan to go, but as I’ve said previously he’ll be back next season unless he goes on multi-state homicide spree. I understand that the Bills probably don’t want to start over again with a new coach, but resistance to change does not justify keeping an incompetent coach in his position because you don’t want to rock the boat. Dick Jauron was in the same place during his tenure with the Bills and stayed a full season beyond the point when everyone knew he had to go – I suspect the Bills will be similarly slow in putting him, and us, out of our misery.