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Its been a rough start to the 2007 season for the Buffalo Bills. So bad, in fact, that Bills fans are already starting to call for the head of their quarterback on a platter. Indeed J.P. Losman’s 251 yards passing sounds like the stat for one game rather than a combined two game total. However, things are not quite as bad as they seem. Bills fans need to keep things in perspective before they panic and call for a quarterback change.
Fans are desperate for a winning season and rightly so. It’s been a long time since the Bills sniffed the post season flowers. The Bills have not made it to the post season in this millennium. A change at quarterback to the rookie Trent Edwards would surely set the club back at least another two seasons. Is this really what fans want? The Bills’ greatest chance of seeing the post season in the near future is to stick with J.P. Losman. A deeper look at the stats shows that this might not be such a bad idea.
All too often too much weight is put on yardage in the NFL. The weekly rankings of offense and defense are based purely on yardage and take absolutely nothing else into account. A glaring example of this would be week 1 for the Bills. The Bills defense allowed the Broncos to accumulate 470 yards of total offense. Thats a large number and certainly not a sign of good things, but they only allowed 15 points. By yardage the Bills were 31st in the league. By Points Allowed they were ranked 15th. Say what you want about it, but ultimately points are what matters. Even after getting dominated by the Steelers in week 2, the Bills defense is still 21st in the league for points allowed despite their 31st ranking for yards allowed. Bend but don’t break at work. The Bills defense has allowed touchdowns in 3 out of 8 redzone situations. Thats only 37% of the time, a very commendable stat. Particularly considering that two of those touchdowns came late in the Pittsburgh game when the Bills Defense had been on the field for 40 minutes. Had the offense gotten a few first downs and gotten closer to sharing time of possession equally with their opponent, these scores would have never happened. In other words, despite the laundry list of injuries, the Bills defense is playing well enough to keep the team in games. There’s a lot they could do to play better, but considering the youth on the field, the defense has played pretty well.
Which brings us back to the offense. The offense has been largely unproductive in the first two games. That much is certain, but all hope is not lost. The Bills have been rock solid on first downs, averaging 6 yards per rushing attempt on first down, it would seem that they ought to be in good shape to be moving the ball down the field. The team hasn’t been able to string together three consecutive positive plays though. Fans are blaming Losman, and he has not looked sharp at times for sure. In reality though, despite claims from observers, Losman has completed 63% of his passes. Good enough for 16th in the league, better than e. Manning, Young, Garrard, Boller, Green, McNair, Roethlisberger, Leinart, Grossman, Campbell, Bulger, Romo, McNabb, Smith, Anderson, Jackson and Clemens. So the critics who claim Losman has been inaccurate are really full of it. The problem is that Losman’s completions are for an average of 5.46 yards per attempt. He may have missed some reads that could have gotten him more yards at times (most quarterbacks do) but ultimately, the defense has taken away anything over 5 yards. Buffalo’s receivers have been forced to take short out patterns and small gains in the middle and fight for yards. This was particularly a problem in Pittsburgh, when Josh Reed was out with an injury. Reed is the teams’ best slot receiver both because of his smart play and ability to break tackles after the catch. In his absense, Roscoe Parrish got more balls thrown his way, and led the team in receptions for the game, but Roscoe is small and several times was tackled for a short gain because he was unable to break the initial tackle.
Losman was heavily criticized by the media for calling for a more open offense. The Media spun his comments into a direct criticism of the coaching staff. I don’t think that was Losman’s intention, but if it was, can you blame him? The Offensive play calling has been pathetic at best. I don’t think the Bills have tried a reverse yet, audibled even once or done anything that is even remotely difficult to cover. Beyond Lee Evans, the Bills don’t have a really dangerous second receiver, but several solid 3rd receivers. Bill Belichick often points out that its awfully hard to cover all four of Buffalo’s receivers when the team goes 4 wide. Yet the Bills have mostly used 2 receiver sets, giving Losman minimal options even when the revamped line has given him time to throw. This doesn’t put Losman in a position to succeed and makes it much easier for the opposing team to run blitz packages. It seems that Steve Fairchild has been so afraid of his opponents pass rush that he has left extra guys back to block, making it easier to cover the receivers and inviting the opposing team to do just what he is trying to stop them from doing, Blitz.
Fairchild needs to put more faith in his 100 million dollar offensive line and get more targets out running patterns for Losman. Perhaps it is because the line was so bad last year that he is hesitant to do so. The result is making it awfully hard for the Bills offense to perform. Losman wants Fairchild to open things up a bit and take the leash off his quarterback. Critics have argued that if Losman can’t make the simple stuff work, what says he can handle himself in a more open offense. Hmm, lets see, maybe, last season? The first half of the season in 2006 Fairchild kept the leash on his offense and they struggled and mostly embarassed themselves. Then, after the bye week, he took the leash off and let Losman play football. Surprise surprise, the team suddenly had a powerful offense. The argument that Losman (or any quarterback) should be able to perform well in the NFL using only a rudimentary basic playbook is ridiculous. NFL defenses are way too good for any team to get away with calling bland and predictable plays. We will be waiting all season for success if this doesn’t change.
Bills fans should also take into consideration that the Bills have started the season by facing the top defenses in the league. The top three defenses in the league going into week three are New England, Denver and Pittsburgh. And no, its not just because Denver and Pittsburgh played Buffalo that their stats are so good, they did the same thing to the other teams that they have played. This week the Bills face the Patriots who have shut down the Jets (who are worse than the Bills) and the Chargers who are very talented but suffered a huge drop off in coaching talent since last year (what were they thinking?). The Patriots are still one of the best, if not the best, team in the league. The Bills have a huge challenge ahead of them on Sunday.
On the positive side, Paul Posluszny is third in the league in tackles (it helps that he has had to play 40 minutes per game, more time on the field means more tackles). Marshawn Lynch has looked like a superstar. He hasn’t had a 100 yard game yet but he was running against Denver (90 yards, was close) and Pittsburgh (65 yards but the Steelers haven’t allowed a 100 yarder in 20+ games). If Fairchild can mix things up a bit better with the passing game to make things a bit less predictable, Lynch will have more of an impact.
The Bills haven’t beat the Patriots in years and it looks unlikely that it will happen this week. However, this team is playing with a lot of heart and will make this a much closer game than the 16 point spread implies. (I think that’s the largest spread I’ve ever seen in the NFL!) Aaron Schobel loves sacking Brady and has done so 10.5 times, more than any other player in the league. The Bills as a team have sacked Brady more than any team (30 times). Its a divisional matchup and anything can happen. There’s always the possibility that Brady gets hit hard and loses some touch in the game as a result or that Randy Moss gets ejected for soem crazy infraction. Anything could happen. But in all likelihood, the Bills will give up a heartbreaking loss to the much better Patriots. If the Bills can at least put up a fight, it will go a long way to helping their season. Patriots 28 Bills 24.
Its brutal to have to start the season facing the three best defenses in the league, but hope is on the horizon. Next week the Bills play the Jets, ranked 24th, then Dallas ranked 26th, then Baltimore ranked 4th (doh!), then the Jets again, then Cincinnati ranked 30th, Miami ranked 25th, The Pats again, Jacksonvilel ranked 12th, Washington ranked 16th, Miami again, Cleveland ranked 32nd, The Giants ranked 29th and the Eagles ranked 6th.
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