2003 Season Total Disappointment For Bills
There is one word to describe the utter failure of the 2003 Bills...Disappointment. This team started the year with playoff aspirations, and after a 2-0 start talks of a return to the Super Bowl starting being heard. The team would win just four of their last 14 games and the season ended with the firing of head coach Gregg Williams. We broke down every game with position by position grades. Now for the fourth year in a row we do our position by position final exam grades as well as individual player grades for key players at each position. We also will take a look ahead at one might happen with next season's roster:
Quarterbacks: Drew Bledsoe, Alex Van Pelt, Travis Brown
Bledsoe was downright awful from week 3 and on. He finished with a career low 11 touchdown passes when he played a full season. He threw 12 interceptions and was second in the NFL with 9 fumbles lost. His QB rating of 73.0 was actually higher than is level of play. He was antsy in the pocket getting rid of the ball quickly and not accurately most of the season because of intense pressure. Two games ended with interceptions that ended potential winning or tying scoring drive. The offense failed to score touchdowns in a whopping 7 of 16 games this year. Van Pelt wasn't any better, he threw 12 passes completing five to Bills and three to their opponents. Brown re-signed with the team late in the year and saw action in the final two games. He was impressive in the fourth quarter, albeit during garbage time, in the finale against the Patriots.
Running Backs: Travis Henry, Sammy Morris, Joe Burns, Sam Gash, Ken Simonton, Willis McGahee
Final Overall Grade F: They had a lot of help but when the offense is this poor blame falls on the signal caller.
Bledsoe F-: Worst year of his career, it will take some doing to resurrect his career. He will be back unless new coach is adamant about replacing him.
Van Pelt F: When he was in the game, he was awful. His career may be finally over.
Brown Incomplete: Showed signs in his two appearances. Will be brought back to battle for number two job.
Henry was a warrior playing through a tear in his rib cartilage and then with a hairline fracture in his fibula. Despite missing one game and parts of two others he almost matched last year's rushing total. He finished with 1,356 yards and a 4.1 yard average and that is with the team concentrating on the passing game. Burns had one start and struggled, he carried the ball 39 times this season for a putrid 2.9 yard average. Morris was the third down back and caught 14 passes for 100 yards to go along with his 19 rushes for 70 yards. He was injured twice this year that cost him to miss 7 games. Did a good job in blitz pickup. Simonton saw action in two games and ran the ball twice for four yards. Gash was very much underutilized and when he was in the game he was lined up outside as a wide receiver many times! His run blocking was as solid as ever when he played. 1st round pick McGahee never saw the field as he recovers from reconstructive knee surgery.
Receivers: Eric Moulds, Josh Reed, Bobby Shaw, Clarence Coleman, Sam Aiken, Mark Campbell, Dave Moore, Ryan Neufeld
Final Overall Grade B+: Henry is unquestionably the number one back next year.
Henry A+: The only offensive player to play well all year.
Burns D-: May be back in a very limited role next year.
Morris D: His career in Buffalo is probably over.
Gash Incomplete: New coach will probably emphasize running game and then Gash should be brought back, otherwise he is more useful to another team that will use his talents.
Simonton Incomplete: He can say he played in the NFL. He won't be back next year.
McGahee NA: Will be healthy next year and will be Henry's backup and third down back.
Moulds struggled with a torn groin muscle most of the year that severely limited his big play ability. In fact lack of an accurate throwing game and time to throw also hampered his game as well as the other receivers. Moulds finished with just 64 catches for 780 yards and only one touchdown. Reed was supposed to take over Peerless Price's role in the offense but faltered. He dropped a lot of passes early in the year, came on in the middle of the season, and disappeared down the stretch. He finished with 58 catches for just 588 yards. Bobby Shaw was a nice number three receiver and actually led the team with a 13.1 yard per catch average, which isn't saying much. He had better stats than Reed with 56 catches for 732 yards. Coleman took the team by storm in training camp but struggled to get reps during games. He caught 8 passes for 69 yards. The rookie Aiken started getting playing time for his season ended with an injury. He caught three passes and dropped a few including a touchdown. Campbell struggled at times but made the tough catch. He finished with 34 catches for 339 yards. Moore was a better blocker than receiver but he played well enough to re-gain his starting job late in the year. He only caught seven passes but two went for scores. Neufeld was used mostly as an extra blocker and sometimes lined up at fullback. He did manage to catch three passes for 41 yards and even ran the ball once.
Offensive Line: Mike Williams, Ruben Brown, Trey Teague, Jonas Jennings, Mike Pucillo, Marcus Price, Ross Tucker, Marques Sullivan
Final Overall Grade D: Didn't give Bledsoe any help since they couldn't get open much all year.
Moulds D: His played like a warrior through injury, but didn't help the team much at all this year. He should improve next year when healthy.
Reed D-: He's a much better number three than a number two. Look for him to return to that role next year.
Coleman Incomplete: Another training camp wonder than struggled to find the field. Talent should improve at this position in the off season making his return doubtful.
Aiken Incomplete: Was going to get more playing time down the stretch before injury. Will get a good look in training camp and probably will be on the roster next year.
Shaw C: Did better than Reed but they are similar receivers. One won't be back next year, they will probably keep Reed since they drafted him highly.
Campbell C+: Showed some promise with a few big plays but the team may draft a blue chipper to start.
Moore C: Consummate professional who did what was asked of him. Will be back next year.
Neufeld B: Interesting role player who will be invited back to camp.
This unit did a decent job in run blocking as the backs averaged just under four yards per carry. Their pass protection was atrocious. They couldn't pick up blitzes and made Bledsoe very gun shy as he didn't have time to throw. They gave up a league high 51 sacks, need we say more?
Defensive Line: Aaron Schobel, Ryan Denney, Pat Williams, Sam Adams, Ron Edwards, Justin Bannan, Chris Kelsay, Keith McKenzie
Final Overall Grade F: Big reason in why Gilbride's pass attack did not work.
Williams C-: Struggled in his sophomore year but did play better late in the year before injuring his knee. Will be back at right tackle next year and look for continued improvement.
Brown F: How did he make the Pro Bowl again? Had his worst season in Buffalo. His off the field problems with the team the final week may lead to his release.
Teague D: Struggled all year with a shoulder injury. May not be a center. Look for him to move to guard or tackle next year depending on who gets brought in.
Jennings B+: Jennings was the best player on the line before his season ended with a toe injury. He did a nice job blocking Bledsoe's blind side and will be there again next year.
Pucillo D-: One the starting right tackle spot and played poorly most of the season. May not be back next year. If he is, it will be as a backup.
Tucker B: Moved into Pucillo's spot when he was injured and didn't give it up when Pucillo came back healthy. Tucker played well enough to earn a possible spot on next year's team... as a backup.
Sullivan D: Was a good team player that did not complain about his benching. Played late in the year after injuries took their toll. Had one great game against the Giants and was awful the rest of the way. Will probably play elsewhere in 2004.
Price C: Great player to have as a backup. He can play both tackle positions well. Struggled at times late in the year like the whole line did but in some cases played better than the starter. Will be back next year as a great depth player.
The new beefed up line did a great job in stopping the run giving up just 3.5 yards a carry. They didn't do a good enough job rushing the passer early in the season but came on as the season progressed. Adams and Williams both scored touchdowns on defense as this unit made most of the big plays by a defense that was lacking them.
Linebackers: London Fletcher, Takeo Spikes, Jeff Posey, DaShon Polk, Josh Stamer
Final Overall Grade B+: Another pass rusher would make this unit dominant.
Schobel B+: Continued his steady improvement with 11.5 sacks. Could take the next step to stardom next year.
Denney D+: Was non existent for a 16 game starter. He had a quiet 3.5 sacks. May not be here next year. Definitely won't start. If he does they are in trouble.
Williams A: Continued his solid career. May have had his best season.
Adams A: Came to play every day, every down, made some big plays and dominated some games. He and Williams will make a dominant force in the middle again in 2004.
Bannan D: Saw some time in the middle after Edwards was hurt but didn't do much. Would find it hard pressed to return next year.
Edwards Incomplete: Saw a lot of playing time for Adams in the first five games before having his season ended by injury. Will be back to play a pivotal backup role next year.
Kelsay D: Didn't do enough to steal playing time from the underachieving Denney. May be another in the long line of 2nd round bust defensive ends for this time (except Schobel and Hansen). Will be back probably at Denney's expense.
McKenzie D: Was inactive most of the season when he actually should have been in the starting lineup. When he did play he got some good pressure on the QB. He will come cheap next year, may be good to re-sign as insurance.
Before the season Spikes claimed the Bills would have the best linebacking corps in the league. While they probably weren't the best, they were pretty damn good. Spikes overtook Fletcher for the team "tackle title" in the final game but both men were tackling machines. Spikes also had two interceptions on opening day. Posey was a bit of a disappointment but he did have the knack for the big play. He had 5.5 sacks but two of them resulted in forced fumbles.
Secondary: Antoine Winfield, Nate Clements, Izell Reese, Lawyer Milloy, Coy Wire, Preston Prioleau, Kevin Thomas, Terrence McGee
Final Overall Grade A: No tinkering needed to this unit.
Fletcher A: Last year we asked how good he'd be if he had people around him. He did this year, and he was even better. He will roam the middle of the defense for years to come.
Spikes A: The Bills got everything they expected from their prize free agent signing.
Posey C-: His numbers weren't much better than his predecessor Keith Newman. Maybe the scheme doesn't led itself to big numbers from this position? He did play better late in the year.
Polk B: Was in on goal line situations and played well. May see a bigger role next year.
Stamer Incomplete: Came off the bench in certain situations and played well. Most likely will return next year.
The Bills defense was tough to pass on this year as the lockdown duo from Ohio State had a good season in coverage. They still had trouble forcing turnovers. Winfield had a great season as a run stuffer. He is the best tackler in the league pound for pound. He only picked off one pass this year and dropped another one that would have went for a score. Clements had three picks and returned one for a score. No safety picked off a pass for the second straight season! Terrence McGee was the club's best rookie as he moved into the nickel back role and played well, he picked off two passes. The addition of Milloy gave the secondary more experience. Milloy was awesome in the opener, struggled through the middle of the season, but came on again down the stretch. Reese took over the starting role early in the season next to Milloy from Prioleau. Wire saw time in situational downs.
Special Teams: Rian Lindell, Brian Moorman, Antonio Brown, Nate Clements, Jon Dorenbos
Final Overall Grade B: A solid unit that may lose their best player.
Winfield A-: Great player that may be missed. We probably go elsewhere as a free agent.
Clements B: Big play maker will need to be a lockdown corner if Winfield goes.
Milloy C+: Will be better next year after a full camp and season with the club.
Reese C+: Did a nice job, will be back probably as a backup free safety.
Prioleau B-: Did a better job coming off the bench than as a starter. Will have to battle for a roster spot next year.
Wire B+: Took demotion when Milloy arrived like a real pro. Started the finale next to Milloy. Look for him to make the move to free safety permanent next year so he will once again be a starter.
Thomas C-: Struggled as the nickel back early in the year before losing his job at times. Should be back as the nickel back next year.
McGee B+: Showed flashes of something special. May move into starting lineup with the possible departure of Winfield.
Lindell replaced the departed Hollis and had his ups and downs. Moorman had a fantastic season and a case can be made that he was the MVP of the entire team. The kick and punt coverage units were near the top of the league all year long. Brown won the return job in the pre season but didn't break a long run until the final game of the season. That caused Clements to begin returning punts again and he put excitement back into the role. Dorenbos did a decent job as the long snapper.
Final Overall Grade B+: The kicking game stops this from being an A.
Lindell D: Made only 17 of 24 kicks. Will be back but the team should look at other options.
Moorman A+: One of the best punters in the game. Good thing he is locked up for another six years.
Return Game D: Awful like it is every year. Need Clements to return punts again next year. Brown won't be back.
Coverage Teams B: Near the top of the league. A flashback to the Steve Tasker days.
Coaching: Gregg Williams, Kevin Gilbride, Jerry Gray, Dick LeBeau, Danny Smith
Williams lost the team down the stretch. He made better game day decisions than the past but wasn't hands on enough with the defense. Gilbride was insubordinate by not going with the blueprint to run the ball. He was pig headed by not doing what fit his players best and Williams was just as bad by not forcing him to do it. Gray developed into one of the best defensive coaches in the game and had some help from LeBeau who brought the zone blitzing scheme with him and helped the team generate 38 sacks. Smith did a solid job as the special teams coordinator. The unit went from being an embarrassment before Smith got here to one of the strengths of the team.
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Final Overall Grade D: The offensive coaching was embarrassing, the defensive coaching was inspiring.
Williams F-: He's gone. Enough said.
Gilbride F-: Should never work in this league again.
Gray A+: Embraced bringing LeBeau on and together they had the 2nd best defense in the league. Will get consideration for head coaching job but likely won't get it.
LeBeau A: Helped immensely with the defense and showed class every step of the year. Will ride off into the sunset ending a glorious career in football.
Smith A+: Did a tremendous job the last two years with this unit. The new coach, whoever he is, should bring him back.