Posted Under: 2010, General / Analysis, Offseason, Stephen Verman
Written by Stephen Verman, this will be the first in a series of articles breaking down each of the teams in the AFC East, looking at their strengths and weaknesses, and the tasks that lie ahead for each team in the offseason.
2009 record: 6-10
2009 record vs. Patriots: 0-2
Last season the Patriots won two close games against the Bills, continuing their streak of 13 straight victories. While this is an impressive statistic, the Bills should in no way be underestimated this season. The Patriots aura of invincibility is gone, and the Bills will be looking to gain a foothold in this suddenly dangerous division.
The Bills strengths and weaknesses on defense are obvious. Their secondary was vastly improved last year, but they cannot stop the run. Buffalo ranked 2nd in the league against the pass last season with only 2,948 total passing yards allowed. They were second in the NFL with 28 interceptions. That’s 18 more than they had in 2008. Rookie Jarius Byrd finished tied for first in the NFL with 9 interceptions, including an astounding 7 picks in as string of 4 games. Buffalo also tied for second in the league with only 14 passing TDs allowed.
Only The Chiefs and Buccaneers had a worse run defense than the Bills. Buffalo allowed a staggering 4.7 yard average per run, and an average of 156.3 rushing yards per game. The Bills have a new coach in Chan Gailey, and are switching to a 3-4 defense, so perhaps this will help solve the problem against the run. However, their best defensive line player, 32-year old DE Aaron Schobel, will likely have to transition to outside linebacker in this scheme, taking him out of his comfort zone. It remains to be seen if they can maintain their positive momentum through the transition.
If the 3-4 defense allows the Bills to generate more pressure on the quarterback, and the secondary continues to improve, they will be very difficult to throw against. Inside linebacker Paul Posluszny has emerged as a potential playmaker with 111 tackles, 3 interceptions and 3 forced fumbles in 2009. The problem is Buffalo does not yet have the defensive line players on the roster to successfully stop the run, and until they do, teams will continue to exploit this weakness.
The Bills have some good players on offense, but nobody elite. Fred Jackson has emerged as a running back willing to work hard for yardage, and seems well suited to playing in Buffalo. Last season he had 1,062 rushing yards with a 4.5 yard average per carry. Jackson is both quick and powerful, and runs with an aggressive style. He frequently picks up extra yards after contact, and is difficult to stop for no gain. He is also adept at catching passes out of the backfield, and had the second most receptions on the team.
If the Bills were able to balance Jackson’s production with an adequate passing game they would have a decent offense, but neither Trent Edwards nor Ryan Fitzpatrick have been very consistent. Both have played well at times, but neither has shown they are the long-term answer at the position. Part of the problem is the offensive line, which struggled in 2009, allowing 46 sacks (tied for 4th most in the NFL). The O-line is even more of a concern this offseason with the retirement of starting right tackle Brad Butler at the age of 26.
Terrell Owens is a free agent and unlikely to re-sign. The Bills’ receiving corps is already thin, and while Lee Evans is fast, he cannot carry the load himself. A tight end and another quality receiver would go a long way toward improving their offense, but until they have a quarterback they trust to lead the franchise, the Bills will have to hope their defense is enough to keep them competitive.
Home games: Miami, New England, N.Y. Jets, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Detroit, Jacksonville
Away games: Miami, New England, N.Y. Jets, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Green Bay, Minnesota, Kansas City
2010 record prediction: 6-10 (last in AFC East)
The Bills have a good number of winnable home games next season, but will likely struggle against a tough road schedule.