There is a certain buzz around the Buffalo Bills for the first time this offseason. While the Bills generally manage to do enough in the offseason to generate excitement among the most fiercely loyal of NFL fans, it has taken a while to set in for the 2010 season. This season, it took some good old-fashioned results on the field, not some big name signing, to create a buzz in Buffalo about their Bills. While it is nice to have something to get excited about, let’s try and maintain our realism, and see this team as it really is.
For the offense, there has been more signs of life than at any time since perhaps 2002 (the last time they didn’t finish in the bottom quarter of the league). BUT…Trent Edwards is coming off an atrocious season in which he was 2-5 as a starter, throwing just six touchdowns and seven interceptions. I’m sure Dick Jauron’s philosophy was to stay conservative, but when Ryan Fitzpatrick was in last season, he seemed to think that some plays were designed to go for more than three yards. Edwards has exuded confidence we haven’t seen in a while, but opposing defenses are not yet throwing in their exotic blitz packages and coverages yet. Trent seems to have a particular difficulty against the 3-4 defense, which everyone in his division implements.
C.J. Spiller looks like an explosive runner out of the backfield, and we’ve all heard about his ability as a returner and receiver. BUT…he does make an awful lot of negative plays trying to make the big play. He has not yet had NFL defenses keying in on him and trying to take him out of the offense (though I know Cincinnati was stacking the box early). He only averaged 15 carries per game at Clemson, so the rookie wall will be a concern to watch out for as well.
Roscoe Parrish appears to be a member of the offense this year, as he was Edwards’ most effective target against the Bengals in his last outing. BUT…in five previous seasons with the Bills, Parrish’s catch totals were 15, 23, 35, 24 and 3. He has been in the league for quite a while without producing at a respectable rate as a receiver. While he may not have had a great coordinator at any time, he certainly has had a few, all of whom have been unsuccessful in making him a threat to opposing defenses.
The offensive line finally appears to be healthy. BUT…Demetrius Bell, Eric Wood and Andy Levitre are all still young inexperienced players with under a season’s worth of experience. Geoff Hangartner comes from Carolina, where he only started after they suffered injuries. I didn’t hear one Bills fan ever pine for the days when Cornell Green would be holding down the fort at RT until they signed him (and that still isn’t many). This unit will need to gel and continue to learn on the job.
The special teams has been a strength of the team for many years and has consistently ranked at the top of the league. BUT…boy do they miss Bobby April so far. The coverage units have been atrocious. There have been no real threats to break any big returns. I know Bruce DeHaven is a respected coordinator, but it seems his units were much better when he had Steve Tasker and Mark Pike running down kicks. While talent is obviously required for any coach to be successful, you also have to wonder how much of DeHaven’s success was due to Marv Levy’s due diligence during his time with Bills, as Marv was a former special teams coach himself. Hopefully DeHaven is just working out the kinks, but he has a lot of work to do.
The defense is switching back to the 3-4, which should help to create more confusion for opposing offenses. BUT…it is a transition year for the defense, and they probably do not yet have all the right pieces in place for this scheme just yet. If preseason is any indicator, they do not. The defensive backs will have to adjust to more man-to-man coverage, and one of the linebackers is going to have to show that they can generate a pass rush. I still need to see Maybin beat starting-caliber offensive tackles. The secondary is also licking their wounds after that Bengals aerial assault.
Luckily for the Bills, this is the NFL where unexpected teams (teams with no scheduled prime time games, good news) always seem to come from nowhere to make the playoffs. I also am enjoying watching an offense that isn’t lifeless and can stay on the field for more than three plays at a time. But let’s just remember that this is a 6-10 team that hasn’t signed any top-tier free agents. They’re a young team playing in perhaps the toughest division in the NFL. Let’s just hope they continue to improve upon the aforementioned areas of weakness, and remain competitive throughout the season. Hopefully, this will be the kind of young, talented team that lays the foundation for future success, even if they only win a handful of games this year.