Like millions of other people out there, I’m a big fan of the Walking Dead – I never miss an episode on Sunday night. After a day of watching football, it’s great to sit back and watch some good ‘ole zombie killing. Think you’ve had a rough weekend watching the Bills lose another one and having to go back to work tomorrow? Your life is paradise compared with the survivors of the apocalypse. I’ve never had to fend off walkers to get food or other necessities, never had to barricade myself in a secure location lest I be eaten, nor have I had to instruct my small children on the proper way to take out a zombie with a head shot.
Halloween is upon us, and zombies are everywhere – forget romanticized vampires in teen movies – zombies are ubiquitous in our culture – the CDC actually has a page on preparing for the zombie apocalypse not because it will happen, but what you’d do to prepare for it is the same as what you’d do for a range of disasters than can and do occur.
So what do zombies have to do with the Bills? This is still a Bills article, isn’t it?
As I watched Sunday’s game against the Saints, it struck me that the Bills are running from their own zombie menace – injuries. For at least the early part of Sunday’s contest the Bills played admirably against one of the best teams in the NFL, on the road no less. The final score might not show it, but this was yet another one of those coulda woulda shoulda games – but for some moments the Bills were actually in the game. I’ll admit – after the win over the Dolphins last week and the close games the Bills have played this season, I wasn’t ready to believe they didn’t stand a shot against Drew Brees and company. I honestly thought this could have been one of those stunner games the Bills win every so often that has the rest of the NFL world shaking their collective heads and saying,” Buffalo? Really?”
The sad reality was that the Bills are playing with a starting quarterback who was on the practice squad weeks ago, half of a solid running back tandem who is also banged up, a #1 receiver playing his heart out but so banged up it hurts to watch him hobble after every play, and a #1 cornerback with a club where his hand used to be trying to shut down talented targets for Drew Brees. These are just the major injuries we know about – other guys are probably banged up but we don’t hear about it.
In the zombie genre you have to stay away from the zombies at all costs – get bitten by one of them and even if you survive the attack, you’re going to become one of them. Like a disease, zombies can spread rapidly – one minute everything seems fine, the next you’re up to your neck in walkers.
This year, like last year and the years before, the Buffalo Bills have been bitten hard by the injury bug. It hasn’t been delivered via zombie bite, but it might as well have been as the results are the same – somebody’s out or playing at less than their normal self. It’s been really hard to see the true capabilities of the team because it seems that they’re always so hurt at key spots.
In 2013 the zombies have already taken Kevin Kolb (gone and feared eaten – he’ll likely never play again), E.J. Manuel (bitten on knee – hopefully will recover), C.J. Spiller (high ankle zombie bite – could linger), Steve Johnson (bitten on hip), Fred Jackson (several bites taking their toll – 1 solid bite away from the end of the season), and Stephon Gilmore (zombie bit his hand – will hopefully grow back soon). Zombies have also ended the season for Chris Hairston, Brad Smith, Alex Carrington and Dustin Hopkins. Jairus Byrd and Leodis McKelvin have also had injuries but have returned to the lineup.
In 2012 the Bills lost Leodis McKelvin, Scott Chandler, Arthur Moats, Chris Hairston, Fred Jackson, Chris Kelsay, Terrence McGee, Erik Pears, Ron Brooks, Colin Brown, and David Nelson to the Injured Reserve. While hardly a gallery of all-pro players, many of the injuries created significant holes in the lineup – it was hard to see the capabilities of the Bills because it seemed that was always a piece missing.Two years ago, the Bills lost Marcus Easley, Roscoe Parrish, Shawne Merriman, Kyle Williams, Eric Wood, Chris White, Terrence McGee, Donald Jones, Fred Jackson, Torell Troupe, Rian Lindell, Lee Smith, Mike Caussin, and David Raynor to the injured reserve list.
The names I’ve just listed are only players put on injured reserve meaning they missed significant time, or more likely, the remainder of their season once they were injured. I haven’t listed players who missed games or were hampered but didn’t get put on IR but I really don’t have to – the list is long enough. The zombies are out there, and they’re finding victims.
Besides the sheer number of injuries it’s also about where the injuries are being taken. At different times the Bills’ offensive line, receiving corps, secondary and linebacking corps have all been decimated by multiple injuries in the same position – really hard to play up to potential when an entire unit breaks down due to injury.
The Bills are starting to accumulate talent on their roster, but they remain perilously thin at many spots. Because they are thin, there’s often times a huge drop off in talent between the original player injured and his replacement on the field. This season we’ve seen a rotating cast of defensive backs get picked on by quarterbacks who know how to find the weak link.
Injuries are part of football – every team is being stalked by the same walkers and every team is suffering losses – I understand that. Maybe I’m just a homer with blinders on, but it really does seem that the Bills get hit harder than most other teams. At any given time the Bills may not be the most banged up team in the league, but they certainly seem to rank up near the top much of the time. Again – it’s not always about how many guys are hurt, but who is hurt and what they represent to the team.
So why does it seem that the Bills are always hurt? Bad luck? Bad Karma? Poor conditioning? Lack of depth? Lack of Talent? The answer is probably a mixture of all the above. As I said, after years of poor personnel decisions the Bills aren’t exactly stacked with top talent, especially backup. Top players aren’t exactly flocking to Buffalo, so backups for the Bills may be guys who would be on practice squads for other organizations.
Still, it’s hard to ignore bad mojo and the Bills seem to have that – 4 kickers on IR in the last 3 years? That’s not even a contact position. And both quarterbacks contending for the starting job in camp this year are out – how many other teams are riding their practice squad quarterback at this point in the season?
Oddly, it’s the injuries that give me some sort of hope. If the Bills were a much healthier team with the same poor record I’d think that they just aren’t a very good team. With injuries and the inability to see the team play with their intended player at each position it is much easier to think the losses are a direct result of the injuries – but for guys being out we would have won that game.
With half a season yet to go I’m hoping the Bills do a better job of avoiding zombies so we can see what they really have. With Halloween coming this week I think I’ll be more than happy to start getting rid of zombies – except for the zombies on Sunday night, I’ve had my fill.