Joined: 21 Jan 2005
Location: Bay Area
|Posted: Tue Jul 12, 2005 5:39 pm Post subject: Bufallo Bills Season Preview
Last year, the Bills came on strong after a slow start and posted a 8-2 record from week 8 on. Of those 8 wins they won 4 by 20 points or more, and 3 by 10 or more. They were truly dominant down that stretch, with their only 2 losses being against the Steelers and Patriots, who only lost a combined 3 games all season. But the Bills second-half surge was all for naught, as they couldnít overcome their 0-4 start and missed the playoffs. Their team had two strong points. One, which they always had, was a strong defense. The other was a great running game, which they only got when Willis McGahee took over the starter. The Bills would be a trendy pick to follow up on last yearís success and have a strong season if not for the fact that they lost several key players this offseason.
Key to the Billsí dominant defense has long been their two mammoth run stuffers at DT. With Pat Williams and Sam Adams consistently collapsing the pocket and drawing multiple blockers, all the other defenders jobs were made much easier. But with Pat Williams now departed to Minnesota, the Bills have lost a key piece of their defense and even if Ron Edwards has a good year starting in Pat Williams place, he canít replace Williams. While Edwards has great size, he is more of a disruptive type DT than a run-anchor, which means the Bills defense will change. Edwards could be something special because its rare that someone with his size has that kind of disruptive ability. They also have Tim Anderson, who also has pretty good size and disruptive ability. But he lacks the athleticism of Edwards and doesnít have the closing burst to consistently make plays in the backfield.
The next stage of the Billsí defense is their excellent group of linebackers. Takeo Spikes is an enforcer and a playmaker. Last year, he forced 4 fumbles, finished among the league leaders in passes defended, and intercepted 5 passes, returning 2 of them for TDs. He is a powerful run-stopper and also excels in coverage, making him one of the elite OLBs in the game. Their MLB, London Fletcher isnít quite a pro-bowler, but he is one of the most productive LBs every year, always among the league leaders in tackles. Jeff Posey doesnít get a lot of press but this undrafted journeyman has proved to be an extremely solid player.
The final layer of the Bills defense is just as strong as the other ones. Nate Clements has emerged as one of the best CBs in the league, displaying great coverage ability and playmaking ability. He is very active and with his 6 foot, 210 pound frame, he isnít shy about tackling. While he is a physical CB that gets as many tackles as almost any CB, he is also a lockdown corner that makes plays on the ball, as shown by his 6 interceptions and 5 fumbles forces. With another good year, Clements could solidify his status as a top 5 CB. The Bills also have an two great safeties. Their SS, Lawyer Milloy, is a powerful hitter and an intimidating presence that scares WRs out of the middle of the field. Troy Vincent, who was a pro-bowl CB when he was on the Eagles, switched to FS midway through his first season on the Bills. He has lost a step, but he is a veteran who knows the game and because of his size, the transition to safety is easy for him. They do have a little bit of a hole at CB after Clements. Terrence McGee is expected to start, but he is really known for kick returning and is undersized. They also have Kevin Thomas as a backup, but in general donít have good depth at CB and are weak at the position after Clements.
The Bills might seem to have a hole at pass-rusher, because they donít have any one player who really puts a lot of heat on the QB. Their team sack leader was Aaron Schobel with 8, and he was their only player with over 5 sacks. But the Bills as a team were great at putting heat on the QB and finished fourth in the league in sacks. They had 8 different players with 3 or more sacks and had players from all different positions putting heat on the QB. This can be attributed to good coaching and blitz packages, the blocking that their front 4 alone took up, and also just having players with good blitzing ability. So despite the lack of a standout pass-rusher, the Bills defense as a whole was one of the best at putting pressure on the QB last season and whether or not they can keep that up will be a major determining factor on their success this year.
Offensively, the Bills lost some key players. First and foremost, they cut Drew Bledsoe and second-year pro JP Lossman, who has a total of 5 career passing attempts, will be thrown into the fire. There is a lot to like about Lossman because of his mobility, athleticism and arm strength. But Lossman also is not a very composed pocket passer and isnít good at things like making pre-snap reads and looking safeties off, which will take time to learn. Unfortunately, Lossman has no time to learn and he will have to perform immediately or the Bills will end up in the same hole that kept them out of the playoffs last year. To make matter worse, they lost their LT, Jonas Jennings, and didnít do anything to replace him. They will now have to Mike Gandy at LT and he probably wonít do too well in protection. With Lossman essentially being a rookie because he missed his rookie season due to injury, he is in for a huge challenge trying to be a successful QB right away with a LT who will most likely be a liability in protection. Itís hard enough for any QB to deal with that, much less a young QB trying to adjust to the NFL. It could be an ugly year for JP Lossman that will remind us of David Carrís record-setting 76-sack rookie campaign.
But there is hope for the offense and the team because of Willis McGahee. McGahee is a powerful runner with tremendous speed and quickness. At 230 pounds, only power backs such as Jamal Lewis and Jerome Bettis have more size than McGahee. But McGahee isnít just powerful and fast, he has all the makings of a great back. In his first active year in the NFL, he displayed field vision that is second to none. While he can use his power to grind out short runs and fall forward at the end of runs, he is a very slippery runner who can effectively bounce it outside and beat defenders to the corner. In the open field, he has great moves and a second gear that he can turn on and burn defenders with. And near the endzone, he is money and always finds a way to get in. McGahee does need to improve as a blocker and receiver, but as a pure runner, he is emerging as one of the best. His stats werenít incredible, particularly his 4.0 yards per carry average, but behind his horrid line, who can blame him. He does have one of the leagueís best blocking fullbacks on his side, Daimon Shelton, which should help his cause. McGahee is the reason the Bills have a legitimate playoff shot, and I expect McGahee to be on the MVP ballot come December.
The offense also boasts a good group of receiver. Eric Moulds is declining a little bit, but nonetheless he still consistently draws double-teams and can be a quarterbacks best friend. Second-year pro Lee Evans is the perfect complement to Moulds. Evans does not have the size or physicality of Moulds and he is not a go-to guy. But he is a big-play machine who uses his blazing speed to turn catches into big gains and get open downfield. His 17.6 yards per reception average was sixth in the league and he turned out to be an excellent replacement for Peerless Price. Josh Reed, who was picked at the beginning of the 2nd round in 2002 has basically been a bust. He does not have speed to stretch the field, doesnít have the leaping ability or height to win jump balls, isnít very big and sometimes has a hard time escaping the jam. That being said, he has great hands, is great at finding soft spots in coverage and is comfortable going across the middle, making him a useful possession slot receiver. Rookie Roscoe Parrish is also expected to make an impact. He was a productive receiver in college and has blazing speed. He isnít much of a threat in the deep game because he is undersized, but he is a big play threat once the ball is in his hands because of his speed and elusiveness and he has great hands and is comfortable going across the middle. Parrish and Reed will be used as slot receivers with somewhat different roles. Reed as more of a possession receiver used to pick up short gains and Parrish as a big-play threat. Their TE, Mark Campbell doesnít bring much to the table as a receiver. He is more of a blocker than anything else and is only a threat in the short passing game. Rookie TE Kevin Everett, who has excellent receiving ability, got injured during minicamps and might not be fully recovered until next year.
Their O-line is an extremely weak unit. It was already bad before losing LT Jonas Jennings to free agency. The one good player they have is RT Mike Williams, who is a mauler. They did well to sign Bennie Anderson, a powerful guard who has spent his career blocking for Jamal Lewis in Baltimore. Chris Villarrial is a blue-collar type guard who is better at run-blocking than pass-blocking. Both Anderson and Villarrial lack athleticism and neither is great in space, but theyíre both strong and tough. Their center Trey Teague is a solid starter with good skills and they even considered moving him to LT which speaks to his skills. As said before, Mike Gandy at LT could be a disaster for the Bills as he will probably have a tough time dealing with responsibility of protecting the QBís weak side. They have some decent backups on the O-line in Ross Tucker and Lawrence Smith, both of whom started several games for the Bills last year. But both of them play the interior line and the Bills donít have any good OT backups to speak of.
Across the board, the Bills donít really have great depth. They donít have a good backup to one of their linebackers. All three are workhorses that rarely get injured or take plays off, but itís still not a good idea to be that thin at a position that most teams try to stay at least 5 or 6 deep at. Their secondary isnít deep either, as they donít have good backup corner and only have one passable backup safety in Coy Wire. Their D-line has a few good backups in Tim Anderson, Ryan Denney and George Gause. And very importantly, they have a good backup QB in Kelly Holcomb. The guy has been known to step in and win as a backup before, and with the way Lossman is primed to get killed this year, Holcomb will probably see some playing time. They also have Shane Mathews as a third stringer, should injuries take them that far, which they easily could. At HB, they have Lionel Gates as a backup and with Travis Henry not expected to play for the team, that means the load will basically be on McGahee. That makes some people nervous considering the injury McGahee is coming back from, but McGahee seems completely recovered and he should be able to shoulder the load.
On special teams, they have Rian Lindell, a kicker who is reliable from short distance but canít be relied on for kicks past 40 yards and one of the better punters in the league, Brian Moorman. Their return game is excellent with pro-bowl KR Terrence McGee and while Nate Clements was a solid option at punt returner last year, Roscoe Parrish will probably take over that job and allow Clements to focus on just defense. They also have good coverage teams, giving them a very solid special teams unit.
The Bills are definetely a potential playoff team because of their defense and running games. They do have some problems that they will have to overcome and I donít think theyíre a threat to win their division unless the Patriots struggle. However, I do expect them to fight for a wild card spot in the crowded AFC and if McGahee has an MVP caliber season and the defense and special teams play like they did in the second half last year, this could be one of the leagueís top teams.
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