Extra Point: Letdown in Miami sets the stage for empty finale

Just one more game until Bills fans can unite and begin to prognosticate and mull over the draft. One more game after Sunday’s loss in Miami.

Buffalo’s loss to the Dolphins was about as meaningless as they come which is really only unfortunate in the sense that 2012 makes a baker’s dozen worth of seasons in which all four December games were dead air filling three hours on a Sunday afternoon.

Sunday’s loss wasn’t all that different from most of the losses this season. The Dolphins enjoyed success with their ground game, managed to include an offensive wrinkle that baffled the Bills’ coaching staff and they forced Ryan Fizpatrick to try and make plays to change the game.

This recipe can be found on page 13 of the “How to Beat Chan Gailey Cookbook” offered at retailers across the country.

Trying to make heads or tails of another one of these losses is beyond pointless. Unlike some of the games earlier this season, Sunday’s defeat brought nothing new to the table. Mario Williams, Kyle Moore and Shawne Merriman were ineffective off the edge in what was truly the most unimpressive game from that trio in a few weeks (Seattle excluded due to the overall awfulness of the defense that day). The defensive tacks and secondary were also quite average for most of the game themselves. As for the linebackers, they might be better off seeing if the other team will play eight-on-eight rather than keep those three on the field.

Now, it is important to realize that because Mario Williams did not have a three sacks and wasn’t a factor on each and every play of the game that he is not only horribly overpayed but an overrated and pampered talent that is going to drag this franchise to the ground. At least that is what Jerry Sullivan will lead you to believe.

In fact, this lost season will fit nicely atop Super Mario’s mantle for no other reason than him being anointed as the player who would save the team and begin to drag the franchise from the depths of mediocrity this season. Count me among those who bought into the philosophy. The Bills hadn’t had a game changing defensive talent on the roster since Aaron Schobel was good six years ago. Williams was that player and more before he even put on a helmet and despite what Buffalo’s resident pessimistic jackass columnist will have you believe, he was that player.

Williams is the first Bill to eclipse ten sacks since Schobel did it in the mid-2000s and is just on the outside of the league’s top-10 for sacks this season. What is going to be overlooked by many in Buffalo is that Williams play through the middle portion of the season was a catalyst for the Bills success. When he hasn’t played well, the defense hasn’t played well. But when he is making plays and wreaking havoc, the Bills are a better team. At the end of the day that is exactly what he was signed to do.

Go ahead and beat your drum about his contract and being overpaid. You might as well hitch that wagon to the Ryan Miller horse while you’re at it. While many arguments about Williams and his play have validity, most of this white noise just shows how ill-prepared Buffalo is to have a true superstar.

Whether it be Miller or Williams (or any future big name that is signed here), Buffalo fans (and some media members) seem to live under the misguided pretense that this player is to be a god-like figure who will singlehandedly carry his respective team to glory. Most of the time it just leads to whiner line calls and columns referring to fridges and other nonsense but sometimes there are intelligent people having intelligent conversations. While I might not be the brightest bulb, I can certainly see what Williams was able to contribute to an otherwise pitiful defense.

Missing the Mark

While plenty of press will revolve around the shortcomings of the coach, quarterback and defensive unit, I wonder why Marcell Dareus hasn’t received more scrutiny. Dareus has had a very difficult year and I commend him for being strong in the face of the tragedy he has faced. What I certainly don’t know is how it has affected his play and I wouldn’t dare speculate to that degree.

What I do wonder is how things may have differed if the Bills had landed Von Miller in that draft. While Cam Newton was the assumed #1 pick, Miller and Dareus certainly could have switched places. Would Miller have brought more to the defense? Was Dareus a consolation prize for the Bills at #3? Or is this just another instance of “Buffalo Sports Luck” and the team finding the lone bust in a rich top-five? I don’t hate Dareus as a player and I think he can be a difference maker, he shows as much at times in each game. However, he doesn’t seem to have the same motor as Kyle Williams. Perhaps Dareus is a little overweight and isn’t capable of playing as the dominant force he was at Alabama. I’d like Dareus to come back in 2013 after dropping about 20 pounds and committing to a more nimble and agile game.

Linebackers MIA

The play of the linebacking corps has been the Achilles heel of this Buffalo defense. Kelvin Shepard was drafted as a 3-4 inside linebacker and hasn’t done much to prove his worth in a 4-3. Nick Barnett has been capable as a three-down player but is clearly an aging commodity. As for Nigel Bradham? He has been average at best and hasn’t done much to appear to be improving as the year has progressed. He may have the most upside of the three and that is a scary thought.

None of the three were visible difference makers on Sunday and that has been a near weekly occurrence this season. Linebacker may be the biggest need for the Bills and could most definitely be in the cards when they come to pick in the first round.

MVP: CJ Spiller has continued to build on his impressive breakout campaign. Good for him for showing how effective he can be with more than 20 carries.

LVP: Passing offense. For a coach who showed so much creativity early last season, his approach and offensive play calling has been horrendous as of late and the inability of the offense to move the ball without CJ Spiller was appalling.

It was over when Reggie Bush scored his third touchdown of the game. Based on the way the passing offense was working, the Bills weren’t coming back from that deficit.

Extra Point: Same story, different day in loss to Rams

Sunday’s let down was more of a re-run than a new episode in the saga of “The Ways the Bills Lose”. After holding a lead for most of the contest, a late drive and poor offensive execution in the fourth quarter sealed a victory for the visiting St. Louis Rams.Bills Rams

CJ Spiller had eight touches all game and that is really all that needs to be said on the Spiller matter. Chan Gailey has criminally misused Spiller on nearly a weekly basis and hasn’t figured out a way to solve the problem. Spending more than a sentence on Spiller’s misuse on a weekly basis is quite literally the definition of insanity. So, why not focus on the other things the Bills have failed to capitalize on?

The Buffalo defense has been downright angry in the weeks since the bye. Mario Williams is good for at least one big play per game and has become a real issue for opposing lines to handle. In addition, the interior combo of Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams has added to the headaches for opposing offensive lines. Thanks to the play of those three players, someone is typically bursting through the line each play.

Thanks to the improved play of the defensive line, the Bills run defense has been nothing short of dominant and there has been far less pressure on the defensive backs to make huge plays. Just look at Stephon Gilmore who is rounding into a very impressive talent at corner. Between Gilmore and Jarius Byrd, the Bills have the makings for a very impressive defensive backfield. Continue reading

Extra Point: Squishing the Fish

Winning affords teams a number of things. Namely, it absolves them of many of their mistakes made along the way. For one night, at least, the Bills can be absolved from some of their misguided decisions.

Buffalo managed to secure their first division win against Miami thanks to a sound defensive effort and another phenomenal return from Leodis McKelvin. C.J. Spiller had another productive evening on a night when neither offense was capable of building much momentum.

However, the one thing that stood out to many fans were the dubious playcalls made in specific situations by Chan Gailey. His third and short playcalling was particularly questionable on drive ending plays:

–          3rd and 1 from the BUF 33 – Tashard Choice wildcat run, no gain. Punt

–          3rd and 3 from the MIA 14 – Empty set, incomplete pass intended for Donald Jones. Bills FG

–          3rd and 1 from the MIA 16 – Empty set, incomplete pass intended for Scott Chandler. Bills FG

–          3rd and 3 from the MIA 17 – Fitzpatrick sacked. Bills FG

–          1st and goal from the MIA 4 – Three pass attempts, one defensive pass interference penalty and three incompletions. Bills FG from the MIA 1.

–          3rd and 1 from the BUF 44 – C.J. Spiller run for -1 yard.

The final play listed came in the fourth quarter when the Bills were milking the clock. Now, that was probably the right playcall and it just didn’t get the job done. But it is perplexing to think that Gailey would call six pass plays on short yardage situations in the red zone. Maybe the specter of Spiller’s goal-line fumble against New England still haunts the coach. Maybe Fred Jackson’s absence caused Gailey to go in a different direction. However, these are exactly the situations that fans and media have pointed to as shortcomings with Gailey’s attitude towards the run game. Continue reading

Extra Point: Bills run away from winning combination

Before the final drive of the game for the Bills, CJ Spiller only had nine total touches. He picked up a pair of receptions on that drive to bring his overall number of touches to 11 on the day. Fred Jackson also had 11 touches. Of the 54 plays the Bills ran, Jackson or Spiller had the ball on 40 percent of them.

Nine of the 22 touches the backs had come in the passing game, leaving only 12 total rushes between the two. That is 22% of the offense that went through the running game (excluding runs by Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brad Smith). Yes, less than a quarter of the offense went through a running attack ranked in the top five of the NFL.

That isn’t to say that CJ Spiller didn’t produce. Outside of getting stuffed on a few runs, he still averaged 6.5 yards per carry and has 102 all-purpose yards. That is a whopping 9.2 average per touch. So, while the rest of the offense sputtered, Spiller was capable of nearing first down yardage every time he touched the ball (on average). Continue reading

Extra Point: Playcalling bites Bills late

Poking the bear one too many times led to the Bills getting bit. The bear in this case was questionable play calling.

For the second-straight week, Chan Gailey was rolling the dice late in a game the Bills held a lead in. Unlike last week against Arizona, the opponent came away with a victory after the Bills failed to milk the clock and secure their lead.

This week wasn’t nearly as blasphemous as last week in Arizona, but it showed the same stubborn attitude that almost cost the game out west. Credit Gailey for this much, he didn’t try to have Brad Smith throw deep this time around. However, he still abandoned a running game that had dictated Buffalo’s success for the entire afternoon. Continue reading

Extra Point: Bills escape with win in spite of playcalling

One thing that the past dozen years has taught Bills fans is that there is always a new way to lose a game. Sunday almost became the most recent as an ill-advised wildcat pass, 61-yard field goal and a subsequent chip shot almost did the Bills in. However, the Bills survived and escaped Arizona with a win, in spite of themselves.

Thus far, the 2012 season has been maddening for most fans. The team has turned in varying performances which haven’t been consistent from week to week. In fact, the most consistent performance turned in this year was by the defense in back-to-back gashings against New England and San Francisco.

However, Sunday was the opposite. The defense was stout in collecting a handful of sacks and limiting the Cardinals offense to a limited array of success on only a few plays. Not only was the run game adequate, but the pass rush was downright dominant. For the first time this season, there wasn’t a soul in Bills Nation who could kick any sand on the defensive line.

The defensive performance was not only refreshing following two-straight losses, but it was necessary on a day in which the offense wasn’t up to the challenge of putting their foot on the collective throats of the Cardinals.

Offensively, Ryan Fitzpatrick continued to dig his grave with the fans and probably has begun to dig one with the coaching staff as well. The fans, who were exasperated after the collapse against the Jets and Patriots, were ready to run him out-of-town after every poorly thrown pass on Sunday. It doesn’t seem as if Chan Gailey is necessarily ready for that just yet as he continued to call pass plays despite the obvious inability of his quarterback to do any damage through the air.

However, the decision to try to milk the clock after a first down sack late in the fourth and the design of many of the late passing plays does point to a more conservative play calling approach which may be trending away from the glaring weakness that is Fitzpatrick’s arm strength.

That playcalling, however, just about sealed the Bills fate on the afternoon. After a baffling decision to throw a deep ball out of the wildcat formation, Gailey continued to force passing plays despite his running game’s obvious dominance on most downs.

Alex Carrington’s fingertip deflection of AJ Feely’s game winning field goal attempt kept the Bills above water and Jarius Byrd’s second interception gave the Bills the win. Without those two big plays and the continued success of the pass rush, the Cardinals probably would have come away with a victory.

Continue reading

Brad Smith listed as a QB, Moats moved to ILB

The Bills opened training camp today and there are already a few interesting tidbits floating around.

Arthur Moats was deadly at OLB last season, apparently the Bills prefer him as an ILB

The first comes from Mark Gaughan’s report in The Buffalo News. Right now, Brad Smith is listed as a quarterback on the roster. This means two things to me. One, they do not want to sacrifice one of their wide receiver positions on Smith when they can “hide” him elsewhere. Basically, Smith can play a variety of positions and you can’t necessarily pigeon-hole him into one. I was concerned after his signing because NFL teams have such ridgid numbers set as they enter camp and the regular season. It is a safe bet that the Bills will not have more than six receivers on their roster entering the year meaning Smith would have likely forced out either Marcus Easely, Donald Jones, David Nelson or Naaman Roosevelt. Now that he is listed as a QB the Bills won’t likely have to part with one of their youngsters.

The second thing this points out to me is the fact that they must really like Easley and Nelson. They are my favorites to secure the final WR spots behind Lee Evans, Stevie Johnson and Roscoe Parrish. I was particularly worried that Nelson would be cut due to the signing of Smith. Now it seems as if he may be safe. That being said, Jones and Roosevelt are likely the odd men out in the grand scheme of things. Smith can run out in kick and punt coverage like these two did last season. They became expendable when the Bills signed Smith. Continue reading

Tom Modrak sent packing

The Buffalo Bills made a personnel decision many thought should have been made at least a year earlier. Tom Modrak was relieved of his duties as VP of College Scouting.

In fact, Mr. Modrak will no longer be with the organization at all. This ends a decade of average drafting based, at least partially, on advice from the team’s former number one scout.

Just to highlight some of his handiwork, Aaron Maybin, Donte Whitner, John McCargo, J.P. Losman, Mike Williams and three different running backs. Of course, not all of these picks can be saddled squarely on Modrak’s shoulders. But it is safe to say his scouting staff and influence in the war room had something to do with it. Add to that the fact that the Bills haven’t had a largely successful draft class under his watch; you’re eventually led down the road of termination.

This is a strong move by the organization. Many have pointed out that this is the time (after the draft) that scouting staffs see turnover. Additionally, many have said that the reason he wasn’t fired last year was due to the fact that it was the first year under Chan Gailey and Buddy Nix. Basically Modrak was given a grace period before being shown the door.

Fans should be glad he is gone. There is little doubt that he orchestrated a great deal of the poor drafts the Bills have had in the past decade. Obviously the new regime has identified the people they should keep and the one they need to jettison. While this won’t expedite the rebuilding process, it does offer a ray of hope that the team will begin to draft well once again.

The only depressing part of this story is that this guy was able to stick around for 10 years. Perhaps if this move had been made a few years earlier the fan base wouldn’t a massive gray cloud hovering over them in the form of a three year rebuilding project.