The Instigator Podcast Interview – Featuring NFL Cleat Customizer Polo Kerber

This week’s Instigator Interview features Buffalo’s own Polo Kerber of Sole High. Sole High’s popularity has skyrocketed as Polo and his team have become the go-to for custom cleats throughout the NFL. We chat about the customization process, some of Sole High’s more notable NFL clients and an upcoming project they’ve worked on with Alex Ovechkin.

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Where will Miles Austin end up?

This is a guest post from Jason Troxell

Depending on who you ask, March 11 arrived as a bummer for some Dallas Cowboy fans. On that day, it was reported that longtime wide receiver Miles Austin will be cut post-June 1, which is when he’ll enter a very crowded free agent pool. Or will he?unnamed

The latest news out of the swirling tide of NFL rumors is that Austin will indeed leave Dallas in his rearview. On the Cowboys’ official website, two writers answered a slew of questions surrounding the team. And of course, leading the way was one about whether or not Austin will return to the Lone Star State. If we’re to believe what these guys are saying, it’s not looking good:

“That’s always a possibility, but I’d be surprised to see that happen. I think more so than the money, the Cowboys were ready to move on to a new player at the position. It wouldn’t hurt to have him, but his hamstrings got to the point where he seemed like a ticking time bomb before the next injury. He’s one of the best receivers remaining in free agency, but it’s hard to count on that.”

It’s a fair point. Continue reading

Breaking Down the Bills Schedule and (Way Too) Early Predictions

As we enter the middle of the 1st round of the NHL playoffs (which have been outstanding), the NFL schedule release is the first tangible sign that football is coming sooner rather than later; and for Buffalo sports fans still smarting from the Sabres’ dismal season that is welcome news.

I have to say I was left decidedly underwhelmed when the schedule came out 30 minutes early on the Bills’ website (courtesy of an NFL faux pas). No game on Thanksgiving after it was supposedly leaked by the Bills was a bit of a letdown, but my biggest disappointment came from not seeing a Monday night game on the slate. When Fox Sports Wisconsin reported the Bills would face the Packers on a Monday night at The Ralph I was more than excited to see the Bills on the league’s big stage for the first time since 2009; sadly, it wasn’t to be. Miami as a home opener will definitely be a blast, but I’d much rather see the Fish make the trek north in December. There are also no warm weather teams forced to deal with the cold and wind of Buffalo in November and December; the only two warm weather teams the Bills face beyond Week 10 (Oakland and Miami) are both on the road.

Everything is not negative, though. Four home games in September and October, plus a Packers team that draws well in December, will have Bills execs and salespeople pretty happy. You’ll also remember the Bills taking issue with the number of times they had to face a team that had an extended period of rest before playing Buffalo. That won’t be an issue this year as there are only four matchups this year involving a team having extended rest, and the Bills have the benefit of a long rest in two of those. Most obvious among the positives for this year’s schedule: no Toronto game. It has been much discussed so I won’t beat a dead horse, but it’s nice to see eight games at the Ralph again.

On to the week to week breakdown; keep in mind these are obviously done before the draft and before things like preseason injuries are accounted for.

Week 1: At Bears- The Bills open on the road against an NFC team for the first time since 1997, and visit the Bears for the first time since a 40-7 beat down in 2006.

The Bills visit Soldier Field in Week One

I don’t see it being that bad of a day for the Bills, but I don’t see a win. If the Bills’ front seven can harass Jay Cutler consistently it could be a different story, but the combo of Matt Forte and Brandon Marshall against a still unproven Bills run defense and a secondary missing Jairus Byrd doesn’t bode well. Final Score: Bears 27, Bills 17.

Week 2: Dolphins- The Bills swept Miami last year, and will make it three in a row in the rivalry. My reasoning rests in the unsteady right arm of Ryan Tannehill. Simply put, I don’t think he’s very good. After being shut out in a must win game at The Ralph last year, the Bills front four could have another field day. Final Score: Bills 28, Dolphins 10.

Week 3: Chargers- This game is a tough one for me. The Chargers went on a tear at the end of last year to not only make the playoffs but beat Cincinnati on Wild Card Weekend. Despite that the Bolts still ranked near the bottom of the league in pass defense, and in a coin flip I think the Bills will pull this one out. A cross country flight plays a factor in this one, as the Chargers were inconsistent on the east coast last year. Final Score: Bills 24, Chargers 23.

Week 4: At Texans- This could be the Bills first encounter with old friend Khalil Mack. The Bills will likely face Case Keenum under center, or potentially a rookie QB making his fourth NFL start; good news when you have a front four like Buffalo’s. If the run game does its job, the Bills move to 3-1. Final Score: Bills 24, Texans 13.

Week 5: At Lions- Jim Schwartz makes his return to Detroit. While Matt Stafford and company had the propensity to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory last year, I don’t see them slipping up against Buffalo. Schwartz might have some added insight on his old team, but not enough. Final Score: Lions 27, Bills 17.

Week 6: Patriots- I know the Bills have beaten the Pats once since I was 15. I also realize that that one win was beyond unlikely given the Bills personnel and Tom Brady inexplicably throwing four picks. I’m still taking the Bills. They should’ve won on opening weekend last year, and have come close more than a handful of times in Foxboro. This is the one the Bills finally get from New England without feeling like they stole it. Final Score: Bills 28, Pats 21.

Week 7: Vikings- This is one of the games I label as a “must win” if the Bills want to be taken seriously as a playoff contender. The Vikes have two playmakers on offense in Adrian Peterson and Cordarrelle Patterson, and Patterson was more of a threat on special teams last year. They still don’t have a quarterback and the defense is not what it was two or three years ago. The Bills get it done, but make it way more difficult than it should be. Final Score: Bills 21, Vikings 17.

Week 8: At Jets- The Bills haven’t beaten the Jets in New Jersey since 2009, and have looked particularly awful in their four losses there since. Factor in the arrival of Chris Johnson to the Jets’ backfield, and how awful EJ looked there last year, and it doesn’t bode well this time around either. Final Score: Jets 30, Bills 16.

Week 9: BYE

Week 10: Chiefs- The Kansas City Chiefs were the beneficiaries of Jamaal Charles’ monster season in 2013.

Sean Smith and the Chiefs got a few gifts in 2013

I’m also assuming Andy Reid and friends had a multitude of horse shoes lodged in various places for the first nine weeks of 2013; how else would you explain Jeff Tuel hitting Chiefs CB Sean Smith in the numbers for a 100 yard touchdown? The team is essentially the same outfit the Bills bludgeoned a combined76-24 in 2011 and 2012, with the exception of Alex Smith. The Bills get revenge from last year. Final Score: Bills 27, Chiefs 17.

Week 11: At Dolphins- Barring any trades or major injuries this should be similar to Week 2 in Buffalo, and by that I mean the Dolphins will likely still be starting Ryan Tannehill. It will be interesting to see how the Bills handle the warm temperaturs of Miami in November; the average high in Buffalo on November 13 is 48 degrees, while in Miami it is 82. I’m taking the Bills anyway, in a closer game. Final Score: Bills 17, Dolphins 14.
DISCLAIMER: I’m really not a big fan or the Dolphins…if the Bills were an expansion team I’d still take them in both Miami games.

Week 12: Jets- It’s difficult to pick this game given that the Jets still haven’t named Michael Vick or Geno Smith their starter. Based on Vick’s injury history I’m going to say Smith will get the nod for this contest. If that’s the case, it’s good news for the Bills. Smith struggled mightily here last year; while I don’t see him going 8-23 with three picks again, an (hopefully) improved Bills run defense and a front seven that’s still very strong means I don’t see him throwing for 250 either. Final Score: Bills 23, Jets 14.

Week 13: Browns- The annual Bills-Browns game could be very interesting this year. Cleveland has a strong defense, and Brian Hoyer gave them NFL caliber quarterback play last year before being lost for the season. The potential for a rookie quarterback starting for Cleveland makes thise tough. Based on my predictions the Bills would enter this game at (a very generous) 8-3, primed for a letdown. Final Score: Browns 24, Bills 21.

Week 14: At Broncos- The Broncos still have Peyton Manning, last I looked, and Wes Welker is good for about 13 catches and 105 yards with a few touchdowns every time he plays the Bills. Final Score: Broncos 38, Bills 20

Week 15: Packers- Niagara Falls’ own James Starks returns to Western New York, sadly he also brings Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, and Randall Cobb. The Bills can find solace in the fact that Green Bay’s offensive line isn’t stellar, and if the weather does its part to help neutralize Rodgers, they could have a shot. Final Score: Packers 27, Bills 21.

Week 16: At Raiders- The Bills haven’t played in Oakland since 2005. Assuming the Raiders aren’t starting a rookie under center, the Bills will face either Matt McGloin or Matt Schaub, while Trent Edwards holds a clipboard.

The Bills make a trip to Oakland for the first time since 2005.

Run defense could carry more weight than usual if the duo of Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden are healthy and can channel a little magic from 2010. Final Score: Bills 23, Raiders 17.

Week 17: At Patroits- With the division likely sewn up the Pats could potentially give the Bills a late Christmas gift and rest some starters. Once you remember Bill Belichick still coaches New England that thought quickly goes away, especially if the Bills get a win in Orchard Park. Final Score: Pats 30, Bills 24.

It is highly unlikely that I’m correct on even half of these, but if I manage to go 16 for 16 it would put the Bills in an interesting spot. The team would (hypothetically) finish at 9-7, right in the thick of the AFC playoff picture (remember, San Diego got in at 9-7). It would also be the team’s first winning season since 2004. The Bills would also post a 4-2 mark in the AFC East, which would be the first time the Bills finish with a winning record in the division since 2007. They would also be 8-4 in the AFC, which would help the cause in terms of playoff tiebreakers.

While the likelihood of this season playing out in this fashion is very slim, I’m looking forward to the afternoon of September 7th, and I can’t wait to star the tailgate at the Ralph the next weekend. Go Bills.

Deskchair Quarterback – Bills vs. Chiefs

There isn’t too much to say about the Buffalo Bills’ 41-7 win over the Kansas City Chiefs. The Bills dominated every facet of the game on their way to the most convincing Bills win since the 2003 opener.

Ryan Fitzpatrick was efficient under center and made some serious throws on his way to a four touchdown performance. Just think, he is 26 touchdowns away from Jerry Sullivan strolling down Hertel in his underwear.

Scott Chandler looked like Pete Metzelaars while hauling in a pair of TDs. For the first time it looks as if the Bills have a valuable target at TE since Jay Riemersma left for Pittsburgh. The receiving corps didn’t miss Lee Evans as David Nelson proved to be an excellent slot compliment to Steve Johnson. Nelson’s size creates mismatch problems all over the field, I see him continuing to grow and sharing a similar skillset to Aaron Hernandez in New England. Continue reading

Bills make the right move with Morrison

News broke on Wednesday evening that the Bills had come to terms with inside linebacker Kirk Morrison. It is reportedly a one-year deal for the man who was replaced by Paul Pozluszny in Jacksonville.

Morrison is no slouch, he has amassed over 100 tackles in five of his six pro seasons. The only year he failed to eclipse 100 was last season with the Jaguars. While Morrison’s main experience has come in a 4-3 look, I don’t expect him to struggle much with the Bills.

Most of the reports out cite Reggie Torbor’s uncertain injury status as the reason for signing Morrison. I would like the cite the fact that Torbor has looked incredibly slow in the preseason and seemed unable to cover in space, an issue Bills’ linebackers had last year as well. Morrison should help in that regard while adding some serious experience to the depth chart at inside linebacker. Continue reading

The new kickoff rule will ruin the NFL

Trying to watch an NFL game on TV is quite a chore. You get about 20 minutes of real game action and then three hours of a running clock, walking to the huddle, TV timeouts and constant replays.

The new kickoff rule will add to the dullness of the production that is passed off as a competitive sport.

I understand why the lowers that be decided to move kickoffs to the 35. It practically eliminates the risk of injury for the coverage and return teams, thus making the game exponentially safer. However, this safety is achieved by eliminating any chance of a return at any given time.

Any kicker in the NFL can reach the goal line or even get the ball three yards into the end zone. Move that kicker up five yards and there is no chance of the return man carrying the ball out from seven yards deep. The logic is sound in this case. By not going the returner a chance to carry the ball out there is no risk for 20 MPH collisions between 230 pound men. Therefore there is no chance for gruesome collisions that result in devastating injuries that change the lives of these young men (see Kevin Everett). It makes perfect sense to me, however it is going to kill the on field product.

With the idiotic commercial policy the NFL follows the fan at home (and in the stadium) has the pleasure of watching a touchdown, then a commercial, then a touchback followed by another commercial. If you’re a Bills fan this is followed by a three-and-out and yet another commercial. Sounds riveting.

The NFL needs to find a happy medium here. While player safety should be of the utmost concern, the fans may start to slowly walk away. For a league with an exciting product, the NFL is trying awfully hard to make their games last as long as Major League Baseball.

Deskchair Quarterback – Bills vs. Broncos

Collectively the 86 players on the Buffalo Bills roster got lumped up by the Denver Broncos tonight. However, the 24-10 score is largely irrelevant to me considering this was just an exhibition game.

Terrence McGee had a nice pick to close the first half.

The most concerning issue is that the starting offense failed to score a touchdown for the second-straight week in a row. I can’t find the stats to back me up, but I’m fairly certain that is a streak that dates back to 2010. Again, it is just the preseason so it is all meaningless. Still, the fact that the starting offense is so pathetic is somewhat concerning.

Ryan Fitzpatrick has looked very much like a seventh-round draft pick in his limited time. Most of that can be attributed to the fact that Demetrius Bell is the worst tackle in football. Even on the plays that he didn’t get run by or pushed into the backfield, Bell was very average. Kraig Urbik still looked bad, particularly on that screen to C.J. Spiller in the first quarter. Chad Rinehart looked good, as did Andy Levitre. Both players will be adequate for the Bills’ needs inside. Unfortunately it appears as if the offensive line, as a whole, will prevent the offense from being successful or even mediocre. Continue reading

Next steps for the Bills

With the two most recent roster moves by the Buffalo Bills, there are a few spots remaining under the current roster limit of 90. Chris Brown of points out that the roster can stay at 90 players until August 30.

I would assume the roster will not stay at 90 (or 87 in this case) up until that date. The staff will need to pare down the roster to only include the players they really want to keep a keen eye on for the final regular season games. I fully expect to see more players released in the next few days, probably after the game against Denver.

That being said, the Bills have the opportunity to sign some help for their offensive line. Right now the group of five that is atop the depth chart stinks. They flat-out stink. Eric Wood and Andy Levitre are the only two quality players they have out there. The jury is still out on Erik Pears, but he can’t support Craig Urbik – neither can Wood. Same goes for Demetrius Bell on the left side. He is a turnstile over there. In the bright side there is help out there if the Bills are willing to sign the players.

Among the remaining free agents; Leonard Davis, Nick Kaczur, Bryant McKinnie, Max Starks and Jon Stinchcomb are all relatively attractive options. Starks reminds me too much of Cornell Green ann Davis is way past his prime. I would rule out those two. Stinchcomb has some injury issues and I feel like McKinnie could be a total flake (being from The U and all). Kaczur and McKinnie would be the two tackles I would consider. Both are capable NFL tackles who have seen plenty of success. They would bring much more stability to the Bills’ line and offer Ryan Fitzpatrick much more pass protection. They wouldn’t help in shoring up the perceived weakest spot, right guard, but I feel like Chad Rinehart or Geoff Hangartner offer better skill argue position. Not to mention a more stable tackle on the right or left side makes the entire line better.

The unfortunate part of this situation is the likelihood of the Bills to stand pat. They will sing a chorus of how happy they are with their prospects and about their ability to develop. Sadly, all that will result in are sacks and a poor running game.

Deskchair Quarterback – Bills vs. Bears

In an attempt to bring a fresh look at each Bills game this season, I’ll try to use this space to offer some analysis and a breakdown of the team’s effort from the last game.

The Bills’ first effort of the preseason ended up as I expected, although there were some high and low points that surely stood out to everyone. Aside from the fact that the NFL preseason is a complete waste of time, the exhibition schedule always catches my eye because I enjoy seeing some of the young talent carve a niche on the roster. For example, Antonio Coleman really stood out as an effective OLB last year and was – and still is – far more effective that Aaron Maybin at the same position.

Saturday night showed me a few things. The most glaring issue is that the Bills’ offense has the potential to be REALLY bad this season. Even before the idiotic trade of Lee Evans, I felt like this would be a down year for the offense. After watching on Saturday I feel like my fears are all but confirmed.

The Bills have no tackles. They have some big guys who are listed as tackles, but they’re not very good at the position. If this team tries to play 16 games with Demetrius Bell, Erik Pears and Ed Wang as the top three bookends, Ryan Fitzpatrick will die. This was the second biggest need for the Bills to address this off season and they failed to do so.

It seems as if this will be a season full of three-and-out, sacks and clogged running lanes.

On the bright side, C.J. Spiller appears to have improved patience and additional duties in the passing game. His rushing numbers didn’t reflect his play, another indication of the porous line, but he looked much better after seeing a handful of plays. Brad Smith also looks like a wise acquisition as he is a true run/pass threat out of the wildcat. Josh Nesbitt was equally impressive in that scheme, it would be cool if they could utilize him as a two-way guy (safety and QB) but there is no need for two wildcat quarterbacks.

Defensively it would seem as if the Bills had adopted the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. Marcel Dareus was beyond disruptive and Shawne Merriman was scary good coming off the edge.

The secondary is still good, the Bills are crazy deep at corner and it will only help if Terrence McGee is going to be healthy all year. The safeties are a little average for my liking. I suppose the organization is hoping Da’Norris Searcy comes along fast and is able to start at strong safety. If that is the case there should be no worries, if Bryan Scott is playing all the time it could get ugly.

The special teams didn’t look good, but there are no set responsibilities yet in the system. There are still guys adjusting to kick coverage who have never done it before. I will say that Bruce DeHaven’s crew was pretty average last season and the results on Saturday didn’t inspire much faith. After years of Bobby April’s brilliance, I worry about the mediocrity of this new system.

The second and third preseason games are always the most entertaining for fans and also offer the most insight as to which players are really going to stick around. The next two Saturdays will tell a whole lot more in regards to what kind of team the Bills will have this season.

Lee Evans traded to Baltimore

Adam Schefter of ESPN reported that the Bills have traded Lee Evans to the Baltimore Ravens for a 4th round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.

This is a major move for the Bills as they are trading away one of their most lethal offensive threats, well at least on paper. Evans hasn’t been the same threat since J.P. Losman was removed as the starting quarterback. Since then Evans has seen his number dwindle -blast year he recorded a career-low 37 receptions.

That is pretty much the end of the reasons why it made sense to trade him. Frankly, he is a highly paid decoy. He doesn’t do much other than run a mean nine route, but he freeze up plenty of coverage for Stevie Johnson.

Now Johnson and David Nelson become the top receiving threats for the Bills as they hope that Marcus Easley and, San Diego castoff, Buster Davis can produce. All of that for a fourth round pick next season.

The main need for the Buffalo Bills is to fill their holes at tackle. They continue to ignore that need and the years pile up since the last time they had a true duo of NFL tackles (Howard Ballard and Will Wolford by my count). Instead Nix opted to remove a veteran talent for a draft lick that will turn into a guy like Dwayne Wright, Shawn Nelson, or Ko Simpson. Forgive me for not jumping out of my chair for this trade.

It seems like the Bills are turning into the Cleveland Indians from Major League, just get enough players to fill the roster and play the games. No need to worry about winning in these parts I guess.