Another week, another Bills loss – by now you should be used to it.
Sure, the Bills were coming off their bye week, but I think few had any designs on them playing the class of the AFC on the road and ending up with a win. On the contrary, many expected the game to be a tremendous blowout in favor of Houston, but the Bills lost by 12 – almost enough to cover the spread.
So the Bills lost a game I figured they would lose, by a score about what people expected – why does it feel so bad then?
A Bills loss always hurts. It seems to hurt more when they blow the lead and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. It also hurts when they get destroyed by their opponent – literally nothing going right for the guys in red, white and blue. Yesterday the Bills found a new way to cause pain – by doing what was expected of them.
It’s plain to see that the Bills are going nowhere beyond week 17 of the season – AGAIN. Like the rest of us, they’ll be on the couch watching the playoffs and thinking about the ever-elusive “next year”. It hurts because this was supposed to be the year when things started to go right for our lovable losers – when they built on the small sparks they showed in the past few years under the Gailey/Nix regime.
For once, there was some decent talent on the team. On paper the defensive line overflowed with talent. The secondary was young but talented – with some seasoning they were going to be the next Antoine Winfield /Nate Clements combination. The safety position had some ball-hawking players who were going to reap the benefits of opposing quarterbacks facing constant pressure.
Offensively there was hope that Ryan Fitzpatrick would flourish under new positional coaching and a head coach who has a reputation for getting the most out of limited quarterback talent. Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller would be a deadly combination of players on the field at the same time – both were elusive in space and could catch the ball in addition to taking a handoff.
And here we sit at 3-5, looking at another sub .500 season, looking at an April draft pick in the 10-15 range – that’s déjà déjà déjà déjà vu.
Sunday’s loss should make it clear to everyone that the team’s problems are the teams problems for the past 13 years – lack of talent and poor coaching. Put the Bills sideline, guys with helmets and guys with headsets, up against just about any other sideline and the Bills come up short.
The Houston loss put coach Chan Gailey at 13-27 for his tenure in Buffalo, his losses more than doubling his wins. On Sunday it was easy to see why – he was completely outcoached, had a poor game plan and proved incapable of making any in game adjustments.
If you’ve watched the Bills this season you know that Fitzpatrick has struggled mightily with accuracy and has no ability to get the ball downfield. If he’s in a rhythm he can move the team with short passes, but don’t ask him to put the ball in the air for more than 10 yards. The running game on the other hand has been a strong point – Jackson proving slippery and getting the hard yards as Spiller shows true explosiveness – a guy who is a threat to score every time he touches the ball.
After having 2 weeks to reflect on the state of the team, you would think that Sunday’s plan would have been to grind it out through the run game – playing to the team’s strength and also eating the clock – the less the Texans high-powered offense had the ball the better.
Alas, such a plan was not to be. The Bills abandoned the running game and watched the game slip away. Spiller ran the ball 6 times, less than many 3rd down change of pace backs – Houston’s Justin Forsett had 6 carries in relief of Arian Foster. Jackson also had a whopping 6 carries in the game and when you add in Brad Smith’s wildcat rush for zero yards you find that the Bills only called 13 designed running plays.
If you’re floored by 13 runs, understand that the Bills only called 3 running plays in the second half. That means that a halftime, with the score 7-6, Chan Gailey looked at the game plan and decided to actually run the ball less in the second half. He backed this up by calling 3 straight passes on the Bills first drive in the second half – a drive that went three and out. The Bills last ran the ball with 8:23 left in the third quarter – there really are no words to explain this. Asked after the game why the run was abandoned, Gailey discussed how the situation changed, things got out of hand and soon the Bills had to throw to try and stay in the game. It was almost sad to see the old man try and explain his confusing logic and justify it – he really seemed lost in the press conference.
As pass happy as Gailey was, almost all of the passes were short. Not any short, but short of the end zone – in three trips into the red zone not a single attempt was made to pass the ball into the end zone – amazing.
Defensively it was more of the same – no blitzing, very little pressure from the front four, terrible play by the linebackers and youngsters in the backfield being schooled by opponents. The press knows better than to ask Gailey about the defense – he doesn’t know, he doesn’t deal with the defense.
That a head coach can be so lost, so incapable of reacting to situations, and to completely abdicate any authority and responsibility of one half of the team is mind blowing. If you’re a hall of fame coach with revolutionary game planning you might be able to get away with coaching half a team, but Gailey isn’t. Would any other NFL team tolerate Gailey’s methods and results?
The coaching may also factor into the talent on the team. Coaches certainly have input into personnel decisions, and they certainly have responsibility to develop and get the most out of the talent that exists on the team.
Whether a result of poor coaching or not, Buffalo has a talent problem. Put bluntly, Buffalo probably isn’t nearly as talented as fans and even the media had thought.
Talk all you want about how good each person on the defensive line is, but the truth is that the unit is average at best and a complete failure if you expected one of the top defensive fronts in the NFL. Houston seems just fine without Mario Williams, and Buffalo looks like they made a huge mistake by giving his $100 million, half of it guaranteed. The Bills secondary is also more than disappointing. Stephon Gilmore hasn’t been terrible and has certainly had his rookie mistakes (you don’t give Andre Johnson a 10+ yard cushion on 3rd and 4), but he’s also shown precious few flashes to explain his draft position. Aaron “Potsie” Williams has been downright awful – out with a knee injury it’s doubtful he’ll be missed. Justin Rogers gives you what you would expect out of a 7th round selection. Terrance McGee is aging and Leodis McKelvin simply doesn’t have the talent to play much beyond return duties.
I could write page after page about the shortcomings of Fitzpatrick, but we all know he doesn’t have the talent to be an NFL starter. Like Bills quarterbacks before him, he’s become fundamentally one dimensional which allows the passing game to become a non-factor in the overall game plan.
Without any ability to stretch the field, the Bills get stymied trying to move the ball, especially as a game wears on and opposing defenses adjust to any of the success the Bills have had (imagine that – a defense which adjusts in-game to situations). If you shut down your run game to go to your non-existent pass game you end up floundering – and losing.
So where do the Bills go from here? Unfortunately, to face the New England Patriots in a stadium where they have never won. Oh, and once again New England is coming off their bye week, having a full two weeks to prepare for Buffalo popgun offense and toothless defense. If the first half of the season has been any indicator, I expect the Bills to show up with an inflexible game plan, refuse to make any adjustments, abandon the run game in favor of a non-existent passing game and get trounced. Defensively they’ll go all out to stop the run because that’s how they lost last time and will show once again that the only adjustments they make are for things in the past, not what they should anticipate in the future. Tom Brady will throw for 400+ and 4+ scores as Buffalo and their fans just pray for it to end. Some things never change.