Based on Super Bowl, Bills still have a ways to go

Another NFL season is in the books and the Super Bowl participants have shown the city of Buffalo exactly how far away from relevance the Bills are.

A season that started so promising ended in a nosedive for the Bills. There were countless questions surrounding the team in training camp that came to a head during the season-ending losing streak. Even worse, after spanking Tom Brady early in the year, the Bills were shredded by the NFL’s most metro-sexual gunslinger to end the year. Then they got to see him prance around Super Bowl media day trashing the city’s hotels.

Of course, Tommy lost his second-straight Super Bowl to Eli Manning. Boo frickity hoo, Boston has enjoyed more success than the ugliest members of any late ‘90s boy band these last few years. Get over it.

The point of this post is to highlight where the Bills are headed, not to rail against the Patriots. But I do feel the need to sidetrack for a moment. For starters, Brady wasn’t that far off on Buffalo’s hotels. There are some real holes throughout WNY (see: Adam’s Mark). But he was also comparing apples and oranges to an extent since none of Buffalo’s hotels would compare to all-inclusive resorts he stays at while dancing and watersliding like a girl on his summer vacations.

Seeing Brady lose the game gave plenty of redemption for his comments. Considering I wasn’t all that hung up on them to begin with, it wasn’t that big of a deal. If as much energy was put into developing downtown as it is barking at these guys, Buffalo would be a terrific city. Consider the loss karma for his comments and for being generally douchey all the time.

There is plenty of solace in seeing the Patriots lose the Super Bowl. Not because I have a deep seeded jealousy of their success. Rather, my team is still so many steps away from being a contender that I have found many other teams to take interest in since they’re contenders. The Bills had a nice run early on, but have so many glaring weaknesses, you wonder if this draft will do enough to remedy the maladies.

The Good

  • Fred Jackson was the runaway MVP for this team. When he was neutralized, the offense sputtered. When he was lost for the season, the offense all but died. He needs to get the contract he deserves. A better combination of Jackson and C.J. Spiller will form a formidable rushing attack.
  • The offensive line held up well all season. Credit Ryan Fitzpatrick for not taking many sacks, but the entire unit did a fine job this season. Looking top to bottom, the offensive line may have been the most effective unit on the team. I only expect their performance to improve based on offseason acquisitions.
  • Chan Gailey had a great offensive strategy. He took advantage of his quarterback’s strengths and rolled up some wins because of it. He underutilized C.J. Spiller to an extent and often failed to adapt when necessary during the team’s lengthy losing streak.
  • C.J Spiller showed flashes of why he was picked ninth overall. In Fred Jackson’s absence he put up quality numbers and proved he can carry the ball more than a handful of times during the game. His role needs to increase next season.

The Bad

–          Pass rush. The pass rush had a little oomph at times this year, but was largely ineffective. Shawne Merriman obviously isn’t the answer outside. Maybe they keep him around this year and he adds some talent down the depth chart. But there  is no talent on the edge that is a threat to get to the QB every down.

–          Defensive identity. Dave Wandestadt is going to the 4-3 full time. I’m not sure if that is the best option considering some of their most productive players last season are tailor made for the 3-4 (Barnett, Sheppard). This needs to be the scheme they stay with all season. They also need to ensure they have the proper personnel to run the system.

–          Defensive line. I liked what Marcell Dareus brought this season. He was the player the Bills needed to take at number three last year. Maybe Von Miller would have brought more flash, but Dareus brings substance. With Dareus and Kyle Williams in the middle of the 4-3, I expect the line to improve next season. This year was pretty ugly.

–          Special teams. For the first time in a long time I was disappointed with the Bills special teams units. The kickers did a fine job, but the coverage and return units were rather suspect. These are not the same units you saw when Bobby April was running the show.

The Next Step

The Bills have a lot of needs. The first three rounds of the draft will not give them enough players to properly address the laundry list of issues they had this year. They will need to grab some players in free agency in order to make the necessary improvements.

Right now the biggest need is a pass rusher. Whether that person is Quinton Coples, Courtney Upshaw or perhaps Melvin Ingram; a pass rusher at number ten in the draft is almost a certainty. If he isn’t off the board at ten, I would say Coples would be the player Buffalo goes with.

The Bills will also need to explore an actual NFL wide reciever. David Nelson has proven to be a special find as an UDFA and Steve Johnson has carved a niche as a rising star. However, none of the other wide outs on Buffalo’s roster are fit for the roles they’re expected to fill. Buffalo needs to bite the bullet and acquire a true outside threat for Ryan Fitzpatrick to throw to. Late in the season the passing attack was figured out because there was no deep threat. A burner on the outside would certainly meet that need.

The mid to late round picks are always up in the air. But there is some value in this year’s draft that could translate well for the Bills. Andrew Datko, for example was a four year starter at tackle at Florida State. His injury history will push him down the draft board but his skillset makes him an attractive option. Last year’s draft was full of players who saw significant playing time this season, another draft like that is almost a necessity.

The Bills were extremely quiet in free agency last summer. They need to be a bigger player this year to speed up the rebuilding process. If they chase a few big name players there will be less of an onus on Buddy Nix to solve every problem through the draft.

This team is still a long way off from being a competitor, but there were some developments worth keeping an eye on as they build for the 2012 season.

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