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Howard Simon's Blog

Posts from October 2012


Brandon says lease deal not imminent
According to a published report, a new lease deal for the Buffalo Bills is imminent but Bills CEO Russ Brandon told WGR that isn't the case.
 
According to a story in the Niagara Falls Reporter, New York State, Erie County and the Bills have reached agreement on a deal that will be in the 8-10 year range and it could be announced in 7 to 10 days.
 
During his weekly segment on WGR, Brandon said "there is nothing imminent at all" but they are having very productive talks. Brandon added they are making progress but declined to give any timetable for an agreement.
 
Brandon also said the Bills considered the idea of a new stadium and explored the concept of a complete retrofit, like Kansas City and Green Bay, before determining renovations to Ralph Wilson Stadium was the best way to proceed.
 
If the Bills opted for a new facility or a complete retrofit, Brandon said most of the cost would be passed along to the consumer and that ticket prices would  double or triple.
 
You can listen to the entire interview with Brandon including his comments on the long term viability of Ralph Wilson Stadium as well the evaluation of Buddy Nix and Chan Gailey.
 




 
Andre Ware says Mario Williams disappears at times
 
I’m going out on a limb here and will predict you won’t see many “We miss you Mario” signs in the stands at Reliant Stadium on Sunday when the Bills face the Houston Texans.
 
The team that drafted Williams first overall in 2006 decided to let him leave via free agency after last season and they haven’t looked back.  Houston has the AFC’s best record at 6-1 and they have the leading candidate for NFL Defensive Player of the Year in J.J. Watt.
 
In the meantime, Williams initial season with the Bills has been a disappointment through the first seven games.  Williams has 3.5 sacks with those coming in wins over Cleveland and Arizona.  He’s been a non factor for the most part in the other five games.  Perhaps it was due to an injured left wrist which was repaired with an arthroscopic procedure last week.
 
Andre Ware watched Williams play for Houston in his role as Texans radio analyst.  The 1989 Heisman Trophy winner was a guest on the WGR Morning Show on Tuesday and said he’s not surprised at what’s happening with Williams this season.
 
“When he was here in Houston he had flashes that he was going to be a fantastic player, a great player” Ware said.   “His numbers here at one point, they were really off the charts. Then you would have a lot of the moments that you’re going through in Buffalo where there’s always an injury here or there and he would actually just disappear in games sometimes and you’d wonder what the future was going to hold.”
 
If Williams has the talent but disappears at times, one would think his work ethic and/or lack of passion for the game would be the problem. “Mario’s the type of player, the bigger the game gets, that’s when he’s going to show up” Ware told WGR.  “When he’s criticized and challenged even by Bob McNair (Texans owner) at one point, that’s when he’s going to show up. Then when that stuff kind of dissolves a little bit then he may disappear for a while and that’s what you have in Mario Williams.”

The ascension of Watt has made the departure of Williams a non story in Houston.  Watt leads the league with 9.5 sacks while also recording 7.5 tackles for loss and 9 disrupted passes(6 defensed, 3 tipped).

Ware says the second year pro out of the University of Wisconsin is already playing at an elite level.  “I think everything about this guy makes him special. Forget about what you see on the field, he’s just a solid human being who plays the game with passion and that’s all the time” Ware said.  “His motor is always running. You talk about all the physical traits he has at 6-5, about 295, the vertical jump and the quickness.  For a guy his size, he just shouldn’t be able to do the things that he does with that body. He’s just phenomenal and the guy is something that, having been around the game for a long time, I’ve never seen before.”
Here’s the entire interview with Andre Ware:
 
 
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Wondering about Gailey's Future
Amidst the optimism and high expectations as Bills training camp opened back in July, players were wearing T-shirts with a picture of Head Coach Chan Gailey on it. Under Gailey’s face was the phrase “YES WE CHAN”.
 
But a 3-4 start has included blowout losses to the New York Jets, New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers as well as horrendous play from the defense and a regression in Ryan Fitzpatrick’s game.
 
You can now add Gailey to the list of issues thanks to some questionable play calling in the last two games, roster decisions that haven’t worked out and some of his philosophies.
 
One wonders if we are about to see updated T-shirts from disgruntled fans with Gailey’s picture  and the phrase “NO THEY CHAN’T”.
 
Let’s take a look at the big picture first. Gailey, in year number three, is 13-26.  His .333 winning percentage is the sixth worst in franchise history among coaches who worked at least a full season’s worth of games.
 
Harvey Johnson   (.080)  26 games
Jim Ringo               (.130)  23 games
Hank Bullough     (.190)  21 games
John Rauch            (.250) 28 games
Kay Stephenson   (.277) 36 games
Chan Gailey           (.333) 39 games
 
Now let’s compare Gailey to his recent predecessors after the 39 game mark:
 
Gregg Williams     15-24
Dick Jauron            19-20
Chan Gailey            13-26
 
Mike Mularkey left after 32 games.
 
Under Gailey’s leadership, the Bills are 8-11 at home(including the Toronto games), 5-15 on the road and just 2-12 against AFC East competition.  Through the first two seasons, the Bills were 2-12 against teams that made the playoffs and 8-10 against non playoff teams.
 
When the Bills lose, they have a tendency to get blown out. 12 of the 26 losses have come by 20 points or more including three of the four this season.
 
Gailey was hired in part to resuscitate what had been a lifeless offense and develop a quarterback.  The grades are mixed since the offense is better but as far as the quarterback goes, it looks like the Bills still don’t have an answer at the critical position.
 
In Gailey’s first season(2010), the Bills were 28th in scoring, 18th in rushing and 24th in passing. In 2011 the offense exploded out of the gate, slumped in the second half of the season but still jumped to 14th in scoring, 13th in rushing and 15th in passing.
 
As far as this season goes, scoring is slightly better(2 more points a game on the average), the running game has taken another giant step(4th in the NFL) but the passing game has plummeted, dropping to 30th in yards per game.
 
Gailey tried to make his offense work with Trent Edwards but quickly realized that was a mistake.  Ironically, Fitzpatrick is now exhibiting perhaps the worst part of Edwards game, a reluctance to throw down field.
 
Currently Fiztpatrick is on pace to throw for about 550 fewer yards than last season although oddly enough, he’s also on pace to throw for ten more touchdowns than he did last season.
 
Gailey has decided the Bills offense will sink or swim with Fitzpatrick at the helm.  You may or may not find fault with that plan but you can definitely blame Gailey(and General Manager Buddy Nix) for not having a legitimate Plan B, if Plan A failed.
 
The Bills have four quarterbacks on he roster but three of them essentially can’t play. Gailey and company took a flyer on Vince Young and while he didn’t look that great in the pre-season, he decision to cut Young was a head scratcher since it gave the backup job to Tyler Thigpen who the Bills clearly don’t want on the field(and for good reason).
 
Buffalo then traded a seventh round draft pick for Tarvaris Jackson but he does the same thing on game day that you and I do, watch the game as a spectator.  Brad Smith is the fourth quarterback but he isn’t an option outside of the occasional wildcat play and a very small body of work shows he shouldn’t be throwing. More on that in a moment.
 
Some of Gailey’s recent decisions and his philosophies have brought a greater focus on his performance.
 
As unbelievable as it may seem, this years defense might actually be worse than last year’s.  Gailey’s first Defensive Coordinator, George Edwards, was fired after last season and now Dave Wannstedt is under fire for the unit’s  continued failures.
 
Gailey has given Wannstedt complete control and despite the troubles on that side of the ball, Gailey says he has no plans to get involved.  The Head Coach is responsible for the entire team, offense, defense and special teams.  He needs to find out what the problems are and help come up with a solution rather than just step aside and say “Dave can handle it”.
 
Don’t expect any staff changes as a way to fix the mess.  During a recent interview on WGR, Gailey said he doesn’t believe in making in season staff moves, saying “its not the right way to do business”.
 
Gailey’s play calling has come under scrutiny the last two games. We really didn’t have to analyze it much over the first five games because they weren’t close but the last two have come down to the end.
 
Gailey has drawn the ire of many fans after deciding against going for a two point conversion with a 33-28 lead in the Tennessee game and calling for a Brad Smith pass out of the wildcat with a 16-13 lead late in the game at Arizona.  It was intercepted. The pass attempt by Smith was his first of the season and only his second as a Bill.  The other pass was picked off as well.
 
In regards to the two point try, Gailey said he didn’t like to consider those until 10 or 11 minutes are left in the fourth quarter.  The Bills took the five point lead with five seconds left in the third quarter.
 
 
 
In both games, Gailey has gone mostly conservative on his play calls at the tail end of the both the second and fourth quarters. 
 
Gailey has also said he’s not a fan of 50+ yard field goal attempts but they aren’t the daunting challenge they used to be and Rian Lindell is thought to have a strong enough leg to make them.  Its possible Gailey became “less of a fan” after watching Lindell go 2-5 from that distance in 2010.  Lindell has not attempted a single field goal from 50 or beyond since that season.  Which would beg the question, if Lindell’s leg isn’t strong enough any more why not get a new field goal kicker?
 
John Potter has a powerful leg but he isn’t accurate enough to kick field goals. Gailey kept Potter on the roster though as a kickoff specialist.  Potter was very successful at getting touchbacks during he pre-season but his touch back rate in the regular season is only 50% and Potter was inactive for the last game.  The Bills are one of only three teams that have two place kickers on the roster.
 
Gailey decided to make an in season change at punter, releasing veteran Brian Moorman for Shawn Powell who was with the team in camp.  Powell’s net yardage(38) is only slightly better than Moorman’s(35).  Powell’s lone punt against Tennessee traveled a mere 22 yards and almost landed in the stands behind the Bills bench.  He also had a bad punt late in the game at Arizona.
 
Personally I like Gailey and you have to give him credit for making the Bills offense better than it was before he got here.  But Gailey has really made me wonder about his future based on many of the things I’ve seen over the last two games.  If the Bills don’t start playing better defense and win their fare share of games over the second half of the season, those “YES WE CHAN” shirts will be pa
 




 
Mark Pysyk Adjusting to Pro Hockey
The NHL lockout prevented Mark Pysyk from working alongside the Buffalo Sabres during the pre-season but despite that disappointment, Pysyk is making the most out of his first season as a pro while playing for the Rochester Americans.

Selected 23rd overall by Buffalo in the 2010 draft, the defenseman has played in all five of the Amerks games heading into Tuesday’s contest with Hamilton at the First Niagara Center. He has one goal and two assists and is minus two.

Pysyk has made the jump from juniors and the Western Hockey league and as is the case with most players, that transition has been eye opening. “Just the first time you go into a corner with a guy that’s five years older than you, it’s a little bit of a different experience” Pysyk said during an interview on WGR.

 “You have to wrap your mind around the fact that every one is one step away from the NHL so everybody is going to be a good player. Each day goes by and I get a little bit more comfortable playing here, playing with men as opposed to kids.”

The 20 year old Edmonton native is playing under the watchful eye of Amerks Head Coach Ron Rolston who said Pysyk has not looked out of place at all, going back to the first day of camp. “He’s been really good. Mark has been really steady” Rolston told WGR.

“ He still has a lot to learn but he’s been very good positionally. He makes great decisions with the puck, everything’s on the tape. He’s one of those guys that just has a knack for stealing pucks and pick pocketing pucks defensively.”

Pysyk had a very successful junior career in Edmonton.  He was captain of the Oil Kings last season and helped them earn a spot in the Memorial Cup, the championship of Canadian Junior Hockey. Pysyk went on to play for Team Canada in the 2012 World Junior Championship.

But he’s already learned that some of the plays a defenseman can get away with in juniors, just don’t work at the professional level. “Guys are so skilled and if you give them any room, they can make a play around you and it’s in the back of your net” Pysyk said. “ In junior if you have a good stick it usually stops most of the plays but here guys just saucer over it and make the play through you so you’ve got to be a lot more physical in the defensive zone.”
 
The 6-1, 186 pound Pysyk(pronounced PESS-ick) is also getting regular time on the Amerks power play.
 
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Stomach Turning Defense
One of the greatest defensive players in the history of the Buffalo Bills franchise and one of the best ever when you combine heart, leadership and on field performances were both on hand for Sunday’s game at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
 
Bruce Smith and Darryl Talley had to be physically ill watching the 2012 version of the Bills defense once again get gashed by its opponent.  But this wasn’t the New England Patriots or San Francisco 49ers, it was the Tennessee Titans who nearly doubled their season scoring average and nearly tripled their season rushing average.
 
The Titans scored touchdowns on their first three drives of the game. The Bills defense then rallied in the second half and came up with some key stops while the offense put the team back in front 34-28 entering the fourth quarter.
 
But the defense folded in the end, giving up a game winning, 52 yard touchdown drive. It was capped off by a fourth and nine Matt Hasselback 15 yard TD pass to Nate Washington who beat Justin Rogers.  George Wilson could have played the role of hero just two plays prior but couldn’t hold on to an interception.
 
The Bills run defense came into the game ranked last in the NFL and they certainly solidified their grasp on that dubious distinction.  The Titans, who averaged just 70 yards rushing a game in their first six contests, rolled up 197 against the porous Bills defense. 
 
Chris Johnson, as he did last year against the Bills, came back to life as he ran for 195 yards and two touchdowns(his first scores of the season). In three career games against Buffalo, Johnson has now totaled 480 yards rushing and six touchdowns.
 
Over the last four games against New England, San Francisco, Arizona and Tennessee, the Bills have given up an average of 228 yards rushing a game.  But don’t waste time sending your resume to Chan Gailey.  When asked if he was considering any changes to the coaching staff during the bye week, Gailey replied with a one word answer, “no”.
 
Tennessee had a total of one rushing touchdown all season. They had four against the Bills.  This marked the fifth time in seven games the Bills opponent topped its season rushing yards per game average.
 
The Bills offense put the team in position to enter the bye week at 4-3 and tied for first in the AFC East.  C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson combined for 141 yards rushing on 21 carries.
 
Ryan Fitzpatrick had his best game of the season up until he threw a critical fourth quarter interception.  Fitzpatrick ended up 27-35 for 225 yards and three TD’s. He hadn’t thrown any in the last two games.
 
Special teams even did their part as Brad Smith returned a kick 89 yards for a score, his first return TD since joining the Bills last season.
 
When the defense gave up a touchdown, the Bills answered back, until their final possession.  After Tennessee’s five TD’s, Buffalo came back with a TD drive by the offense twice, the Brad Smith return and a Rian Lindell field goal.
 
The only time they came up empty after the Titans put points up on the board was the final possession which ended on a Fitzpatrick incomplete pass on 4th down.
 
Not to single out one guy because there were many culprits in this game but Mario Williams was invisible…again.
 
Chan Gailey left himself open for second guessing for a second consecutive game. 
 
There are some who believe he should have gone for a two point conversion after the Bills scored a touchdown to pull within 28-26 with 7:52 left in the 3rd quarter.
 
I didn’t have a problem going for the extra point because a failed two point conversion meant the next Tennessee touchdown(that’s when and not if) would have given them a nine point lead.
 
I think Gailey should have gone for two when the Bills took the lead at 34-28 with five seconds left in the 3rd quarter but Gailey said he doesn’t like to try two point conversions until about 10 or 11 minutes are left in the fourth quarter.
 
This loss hurts a lot.  If you were still holding out hope for a playoff run, at the very least because the AFC is awful, this was a game the Bills really had to have.
 
 The loss drops them to 3-4 going into the bye week with likely losses at Houston and New England to come in the first two games out of the bye.
 
Playoff teams usually win their home games but the Bills are now 1-2 at Ralph Wilson Stadium.  This was an AFC loss which could hurt when it comes to tie breakers, should the Bills even be in that position.
 
It hurts from a mental standpoint as well. The Bills could have built off the victory in Arizona and taken some momentum down to Texas in two weeks.
 
Instead the Bills seem like they’re headed for a 13th straight non-playoff season. Gailey drops to 13-26 as Bills Head Coach, a record that is seven games worse than Dick Jauron’s at the same point.
 
And after a number of off season moves aimed at improving the defense, that unit remains the Bills achilles heel and is still multiple players and a coordinator away from resembling a competent group.
 
 
 




 
Bills-Titans preview
I had to dust off the old time football handbook for this week's preview. Its time to talk about run and stop the run for Sunday's matchup between the 3-3 Buffalo Bills and 2-4 Tennessee Titans at a sold out Ralph Wilson Stadium.

The Bills have actually run the ball more often than I anticipated this season(48% of the time) but its time to dole out a heavy helping of C.J. Spiller. We've spent so much time talking about the deficiencies in the Bills passing game(more on that later) but despite the loss of two starting offensive linemen to injuries, the ground game remains strong and potent. 

Forget about the rotation with Fred Jackson, who rushed back early from a knee injury to help the team because Spiller went down. Jackson sure doesn't look 100% while Spiller seemed to be back in top form during last week's win at Arizona.  He averaged 7.3 yards per carry but was only handed the ball 12 times. Jackson had 16 carries and averaged 3.3 yards. For goodness sake, just give Spiller the ball, 20 or 25 or even 30 times if he's gashing the Titans run defense(ranked only 24th in the NFL).

As to the stop the run portion of the game plan, I have to tell you I'm worried.  The Bills run defense looked much improved over the first three games of the season but has reverted to 2011 form over the last three games.  Buffalo gave up an average of only 100 yards a game against the Jets, Chiefs and Browns.  But Dave Wannstedt's group has been gored to the tune of 246 yards a game on the average by the Patriots, 49ers and Cardinals.  

New England's rushing yards total against the Bills was 95 yards above their season average while San Francisco's was 135 above their average and Arizona was 99 more than their average through the first five games.

Perhaps this isn't the best time to face a running back like Chris Johnson but the Titans back doesn't appear to be anywhere near the player he was back in 2009 when he put together a 2,000 yard season. In four of the Titans six games, Johnson has been held to under 25 yards.  He did look much better in Tennessee's upset win over Pittsburgh on October 11th, gaining 91 yards. Still, the Titans will come to Western New York ranked dead last in the NFL, averaging just 70 rushing yards a game.

Johnson has fared well against the Bills, rushing for 132 yards and two touchdowns during a Tennessee win in his magical 2009 season.  Johnson bettered that individual effort by totaling 153 yards and two TD's when the Titans knocked off the Bills at RWS last season.

The Bills will need a strong run defense to help out their offense and they'll need a big game from Spiller to help out their struggling quarterback.  In a season where the Bills brought in a quarterbacks coach to correct Ryan Fitzpatrick's mechanics, his game continues to go backwards.  He's gone from a quarterback who was inconsistent on the deep ball but could get by with the short to intermediate passes to a quarterback who has no vertical passing game and is now spotty when it comes to those short and intermediate routes.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, the Harvard grad is 4-17(23%) on passes of 20 yards or more this season. That places him 30th in the NFL in that category.  He has almost as many interceptions(3) from those distances as he does completions(4).

His confidence has taken a major hit and Fitzpatrick is beginning to show some Trent Edwards tendencies. According to Pro FootballFocus.com, of the 153 passing yards Fitzpatrick recorded in the win at Arizona, 114 of them came after the catch.  That means in "real completion yards" if you will, the distance from the line of scrimmage to the spot where the catch was actually made, his 18 completions traveled a total of 39 yards.

In addition, the chemistry between number one qb and number one wide receiver seems to be suffering.  The frustration is clearly building for Stevie Johnson who is getting open but can't do much when the pass is off target.  It could be worse, the Bills might not even be attempting to throw the ball to their best receiving option but Johnson has to be wondering about Fitzpatrick's abilities at this point. According to the official NFL Game Books, Johnson has been the target on 31% of Fitzpatrick's passes this season, more than any other Bill.  Scott Chandler is second at 17% and Donald Jones is third at 14%. But Fitzpatrick is completing just 47% of those passes to Johnson.

The last few weeks got me thinking about a new quarterback handling the offense next season despite the large financial commitment the team made to Fitzpatrick. If the Bills decide to cut ties, they should do it this off season. Fitzpatrick is due a $3 million roster bonus in March of 2013 and another $3 million in March of 2014.  His base salary for next season(which is guaranteed if he is on the opening day roster) is $4.25 million so the Bills are on the hook for over 7$ million next year.  This after paying him about $21 million for 2011 and 2012.

If you go by the stats, Fitzpatrick would seem to have the chance for a good day against Tennessee. The Titans have the 3rd worst pass defense in the league(292 yards a game) and have recorded the 3rd fewest sacks(8). Opposing quarterbacks have completed an amazing 71% of their passes with 13 touchdowns and only four interceptions. A young group of linebackers who struggle in coverage combined with a scheme that has the safeties play extremely deep to prevent getting burned by big plays, has allowed teams to exploit the middle of the field and roll up the yards.  It'll be interesting to see if the Titans have their safeties come up more since Fitzpatrick hasn't shown the ability to hit on the deep ball.

In defense of the pass defense, Tennessee has faced quite the gauntlet of quarterbacks as my colleague Jeremy White astutely pointed out this week. The Titans have gone up against Tom Brady, Phillip Rivers, Mathew Stafford(and Sean Hill since Stafford was injured in that game), Matt Schaub, Christian Ponder and Ben Roethlisberger. I'm guessing no other team has faced that kind of quality qb in every game.

Here are some other nuggets which might give you reason for optimism on Sunday. The Titans are 0-3 on the road this season, losing by 28 points to SanDiego, 24 to Houston and 23 to Minnesota. They've given up more points than any other team in the league(204) and their "best" game of the season was holding Pittsburgh to 23.

Apparently Coach Mike Munchak isn't the most inspirational guy in the locker room. Tennessee has been outscored 58-19 in the first quarter and 48-14 in the third quarter.

Join WGR on game day as our coverage begins at 7:00 with "Breakfast with the Bills". Jeremy White will broadcast from the field house starting at 8:00 as he brings you Bills Game Day. I'm on the air at 10:00 with Countdown to Kickoff. Turn down the TV sound and listen to John Murphy, Mark Kelso and Joe Buscaglia for the call of the game. Talk about it on the post game show with Schopp and The Bulldog and wrap the day up from 6-8pm on the Overtime show with Sal Capaccio.
 




 
Angry in victory
A strange thing happened on Sunday, moments after Rian Lindell’s field goal gave the Bills an overtime victory against the Arizona Cardinals. I was angry with the Bills. I don’t ever recall  feeling that way after a win. I’ve been there many times after a loss but never after a win.
For the first time in his tenure as Head Coach of the Buffalo Bills, Chan Gailey had drawn my ire. I won’t leave out Ryan Fitzpatrick either, who remains consistently inconsistent when it comes to throwing the football.
There were too many times where Gailey’s play calling left me scratching my head and some of it may have been influenced by Fitzpatrick’s struggles.
Approaching the end of the first half, the Bills got the ball at their own 20 yard line with just 54 seconds left and no timeouts.  Gailey called three short pass plays which gained 8, 4 and 7 yards. When Fitzpatrick spiked the ball after the third completion, the Bills had only moved to their own 39 yard line and there were just 11 seconds left in the half.  Fitzpatrick was sacked(on a 3 man rush) on the next play and the second quarter came to an end.
Now let’s move on to the fourth quarter. With the game tied at 16 thanks to Jay Feely’s career best 61 yard field goal, the Bills have the ball at their own 20 with 1:09 remaining.  Fitzpatrick is sacked on first down putting the Bills in a 2nd and 16 hole and Gailey plays it safe the next two plays with Fred Jackson running up the middle for a total of nine yards.
The problem I have is that Arizona had their full complement of time outs when the series began so they stopped the clock after each Bills play.  That three and out took a grand total of 19 seconds off the clock, leaving the Cards plenty of time to get downfield and give Feely a chance to win the game with a 38 yard field goal attempt.
Next stop is overtime. The Bills get the ball and get a big break on a pass interference call on the Cards which allows the drive to continue.  A 17 yard run by C.J. Spiller gives Buffalo a first down at the Arizona 35 yard line.  Gailey then proceeds to call three pass plays for a quarterback who is 25th in completion percentage and whose 56% completion rate in this game was lower than his season average which is 58%.
A safety blitz throws off the play on first down and a T.J Graham drop kills second down. On third and ten, Fitzpatrick has a wide open Fred Jackson at the Arizona 30 yard line with plenty of room to run after the catch. It is an easy first down and at the very least, would give Lindell a very makeable field goal attempt.  But Fitzpatrick made a terrible throw and missed Jackson, badly.
Gailey decided to punt at which point I let loose with a stream of obscenities. I know the new overtime rules figured into the decision and Gailey felt he could take advantage of a rusty John Skelton who was now quarterbacking the Cards but to me that was coaching not to lose instead of coaching to win. 
Even if Lindell makes it, Arizona still gets the ball with a chance to tie the game and extend overtime or win it outright but Gailey had a chance to put his team in front and instead gave the ball back to Arizona and gave them a chance to win.
I saved the best one for last.  The Brad Smith pass out of the wildcat.  To me this is another example of an NFL coach outsmarting himself.  They probably felt the Cards were not expecting that and why would they given the fact that Smith hasn’t thrown a pass all season. In fact, he’d only thrown one pass as a Bill(it was picked off).
Your team is leading 16-13 in a game it really needs, so they can stop a serious amount of bleeding. You are moving the ball(from your 41 yard line to the 36 of the Cards) and there’s only four minutes left in the game.  If there was a moment for a conservative play call, that would have been it but Gailey opts to have a guy who hasn’t thrown a pass all season put it in the air? And a deep ball too?
One quick point on the decision not to have Lindell try the 53 yard field goal.  It got me thinking, maybe the Bills think Lindell can’t hit it from that distance although Gailey told us on Monday that Lindell hit one from 50 in warm ups. Gailey said he’s not a big fan of 50+ yard field goal attempts.
Is it because he doesn’t like it or because Lindell can’t hit it? In 2010(Gailey’s first season as Bills coach), Lindell tried five field goal attempts of 50+ yards but hit only two.  Last year there were no attempts from that range and there have been none this season as well.
It wouldn’t be a Monday recap without documenting a handful of throws to open receivers that were missed by Fitzpatrick. I already made reference to the worst one, in terms of when it happened and the potential effect on the outcome of the game, when he missed Jackson on a short pass in overtime.
In the first quarter, Fitzpatrick threw behind Stevie Johnson on a slant. In the second quarter, again Johnson was open but Fitzpatrick’s pass sailed over his head. On the very next play, Fitzpatrick once again threw behind his number one target.
In the third quarter, he moved around the pocket to avoid the rush and saw an open Scott Chandler but the pass went down towards Chandler’s feet.
Fitzpatrick is now making me think of his two predecessors at the position. He has the inaccuracy of J.P. Losman and the inability to throw downfield as  demonstrated by Trent Edwards.
The good news is the Bills did win the football game but there’s a big picture here and this was a day where I lost faith in the Head Coach and was further convinced Fitzpatrick’s days should be numbered, as in the end of the season should be the end of his Bills career.
 




 
Bills-Cards Preview
Are you familiar with the phrase “the unstoppable force meets the immovable object”? I’m going to tweak it a bit to describe Sunday’s matchup between the Buffalo Bills and Arizona Cardinals.  The game will feature a force that hasn’t stopped anyone lately, the Bills defense, against an object that hasn’t been moving much, the Cardinals offense.
 
The Bills defense is at or near the bottom in most of the NFL rankings after five weeks but the same can be said for the Cards offense.  Arizona has yet to reach the 300 yard mark in a game but the way the Bills defense has played the last two games, they could give that up in the first half.
 
Dave Wannstedt’s group has been “historically bad” during blowout losses to the New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers.  They’ve given up 97 points(7 rushing touchdowns, 6 passing TD’s and 2 field goals) and 1,201 yards.
 
Buffalo has yielded 558 yards on the ground and an unsightly 7.15 yards per carry. The run defense has been absolutely gashed at times as the Pats and Niners combined for 19 runs of 10 or more yards. They totaled 332 yards on those 19 “big plays” which comes to an average of 17 yards a carry.
 
The pass defense has been just as horrible, giving up 643 yards and a 67% completion rate. They have yielded 6 touchdowns through the air without recording an interception and the supposed much improved pass rush has produced just one sack.
 
There have been nine big pass plays, which are plays that produce 20 or more yards.
 
The second half has been incredibly painful to watch as the Bills have been outscored 73-14.
 
As far as NFL rankings, the Bills are 31st in the 32 team league in points allowed, 30th against the run, 24th versus the pass, 30th in first downs allowed per game and 30th in 3rd down efficiency.
 
Good news Bills fans. The defense has a chance to build back some confidence because the Cards offense has had more than its share of issues.
 
They’ve been a one dimensional unit due to an inability to run the ball and injuries to their two best backs, Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams should only make matters worse.  Arizona averages just 63 yards rushing a game which is the 2nd worst total in the league.
 
Their running back options on Sunday include: LaRod Stephens-Howling who has missed the last two games with a hip flexor and has 12 carries for a net of 1 yard.  Next up are William Powell and Alfonso Smith who have yet to register a carry this season. With Wells and Williams sidelined, the Cards leading rusher right now is actually their quarterback, Kevin Kolb with 34 yards.
 
Since they are one dimensional, it puts added pressure on Kolb and the passing game.  They have an elite wide receiver in Larry Fitzgerald and a promising young wideout in Andre Roberts as well as tight end Rob Housler who is 6-5 and runs a 4.5 forty.
 
But the offensive line has been a wreck as far as pass protection. Kolb has been sacked 22 times this season(the most of any quarterback) and 17 of those sacks have come in the last two games.
 
Left tackle D’anthony Batiste is a guard playing tackle and hadn’t started since 2007. Right tackle Bobby Massie is a rookie and gave up 4.5 sacks to Miami’s Cameron Wake two weeks ago.
 
According to Pro Football Focus.com, Batiste and right guard Adam Snyder are the two lowest rated players at their respective positions in the NFL. Kolb has taken a pounding and many times doesn’t have enough time to stand in the pocket to let deep routes develop.  One on play in last week’s loss at St. Louis, the Rams rushed only three guys and they still got through for a sack.
 
The Bills pass rush, which has been non existent in their three losses but was a big factor in the two wins, should have a field day against the Cards line.
 
Overall, Arizona’s offense is ranked 24th in points, 31st in rushing, 25th in passing, 31st in passing average and 26th in 3rd down efficiency.
 
The Bills decision to cut punter Brian Moorman and replace him with Shawn Powell will be tested in this game.  One of the reasons Moorman was released  reportedly was his difficulty with directional punting.  It showed in the Cleveland when the Bills didn’t want Browns return man Josh Cribbs to touch the ball at all.
 
Expect Powell to do everything in his power to keep punts away from Patrick Peterson. As a rookie last season, Peterson tied an NFL record with 4 punt returns for a touchdown and they weren’t cheapies.  The scores came from 89, 82,99 and 80 yards. This season Peterson is averaging 9.8 yards on 19 returns with a long of 26 and only two fair catches.
 
Now to the big picture for the Bills.  We might want to put this one in the must win column when it comes to their hopes of making the playoffs. I’m not expecting the Bills to win at Houston(November 4) or New England(November 11) so they need to win Sunday and next week at home over Tennessee to be 4-5 going into the supposed soft portion of the schedule.
 
However a 3-6 record wouldn’t necessarily mean the Bills are toast because 9-7 might get you a wildcard spot in the AFC, which is  being dominated by their NFC brethren.  Only 5 of the 16 AFC teams have a winning record going into week six.
 
You should also take into account those final seven games of the season don’t appear as soft as they were when the schedule came out.  Miami, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, St. Louis, Seattle and the Jets are a combined 15-19. 
 
It looked like the AFC East caught a big break with the NFC West as their crossover division this season but the West is best at this point with a 4-0 record. San Francisco beat the Bills and the Jets(by a combined 79-3) while Arizona has knocked off New England(by 2 points) and Miami(by 3 in overtime).
 
WGR will have you covered on Sunday beginning at 11:00 with Jeremy White and Bills Game Day. Make sure you turn down the TV sound and listen to John Murphy, Mark Kelso and Joe Buscaglia for all of the action.
 
 




 
Bills QB of the Future?
Its that time of the year again for Bills fans.  Time to pay close attention to the top college quarterbacks in the nation each weekend so you can have an opinion on who the Bills should draft come April.

You might have done that the last three years and much to your chagrin, the only quarterback drafted was Levi Brown in the 7th round in 20010.

The way Ryan Fitzpatrick has played this season leads me to believe the Bills brain trust will finally realize he isn’t the answer and its time to make drafting a quarterback the number one priority.

With that thought in mind, I spent last Saturday night watching Geno Smith from West Virginia and while it wasn’t love at first sight as was the case the first time I watched Andrew Luck, I came away intrigued and very impressed, the same way I felt about Robert Griffin III.

Smith led the Mountaineers to a wild 48-45 victory at 11th ranked Texas in West Virginia’s first ever Big 12 road game. He completed 25 of 35 for 268 yards and threw for four touchdowns.

Among the things that impressed me about the 6-3, 214 pound Smith was his poise.  As I mentioned, the Mountaineers have taken a big step up in class going from the Big East to the Big 12 this season and playing in Austin in front of a record crowd of more than 101,000 screaming Longhorns fans is a difficult challenge. But Smith was unflappable.

He showed a strong command of the offense, solid leadership skills, and the ability to make all of the throws while hitting on some big passes in pressure situations and overcoming adversity, created by himself.

Smith had what could have been two very costly fumbles, one coming around his own five yard line which set up a Texas touchdown and another inside the WVU 20 yard line(although Texas missed a field goal attempt after that turnover).

The Miami, Florida native bounced back from those and continually had an answer on a night when the Longhorns defense sacked him four times and knocked him down on numerous other passes. He ran the no huddle with success but also showed he can operate under center and put points up on the board either way.

On the opening series of the game, Smith put together a 5 play, 54 yard touchdown drive that saw him go 4for 4 and included a key third down completion as he took a big hit.
I like the fact that Smith closed the first half(field goal) and opened the second half(touchdown) with scoring drives.

Down 31-27, Smith led a touchdown drive to put the Mountaineers up 34-31. Texas scored to regain the lead and Smith answered with another TD drive to put WVU back out in front 41-38. On those back to back TD drives, Smith completed 9 of his 10 passes including the 2 scores.
With his team hanging onto that three point lead and with just 5 ½ minutes left, the senior QB guided the offense  on an 8 play, 76 yard drive that took four minutes and ended up in a game sealing touchdown.

Expect to hear more about Smith, who has 31 starts since taking over at the beginning of his sophomore season in Morgantown.

Todd McShay from Scouts Inc. just leap frogged him from 17 to 2 on his list of the top prospects in the 2013 draft. That jump put him in front of USC’s Matt Barkley for the  honor of top qb  in McShay’s opinion.

Check out what ESPN’s Mel Kiper thinks of Smith and compare Smith’s strengths to Fitzpatrick’s weaknesses.  Kiper said Smith is accurate, has exceptional ball placement and hits his receivers in stride to allow them to create more yards. All three of those attributes are nowhere to be found from the Bills qb these days.

Perhaps the front runner for the Heisman Trophy right now, Smith’s numbers are eye popping:   81% completion rate, 1,996 passing yards, 24 touchdowns and no interceptions.  That’s right he has yet to throw a pick this season. In fact Smith hasn’t had a pass picked off in his last 259 throws going back to last season’s Orange Bowl game.

However, you should consider that he hasn’t faced the cream of the crop when it comes to opposing defenses.  West Virginia’s four FBS opponents this season(they also played FCS member James Madison) include:Texas(ranked 74th in total yards/game), Marshall(105th) , and Baylor(120th and dead last). But Smith did beat Maryland which has the 7th best defense in the country.

He’s known for his work ethic too.  After a 70-63 win over Baylor where he threw for more than 600 yards and 8 TD’s, Smith’s idea of “celebrating” the school’s first ever Big 12 win, was to head back to the football building and start watching video of Texas, their next opponent.
Mountaineers Coach Dana Holgorsen says Smith’s goal in life and his focus in life is to learn as much about football as he possibly can.  He also says Smith is the “most competitive guy” he’s ever been around.

West Virginia plays at Texas Tech on Saturday at 3:30 and its part of regional coverage on ESPN.
 
 




 
Rock Bottom for Bills....Again
I was struggling while trying to figure out how to start this column and I thought taking the dog out for a walk and getting some fresh air might help get the writing juices flowing.
 
As I passed my wife on the way out of the house, she looked at me and said “This team will be the death of you. You look old.”  It was that kind of day.
 
We’ve seen way too many of these days over the last decade plus. It’s hard to say whether this one was worse or about the same but it felt worse to me.
 
This despite the fact that I fully anticipated a blow out loss in San Francisco(34-10 and not 45-3) and one of those games where I’d be staring at the screen in the second half, wondering when it would be over so I can go on with my life.
 
At one point in the fourth quarter, I was wondering if this is rock bottom? Then I realized we’ve asked that same question so many times over the years and we thought each time it was rock bottom, only to be proven wrong.
 
The crazy thing is that amidst the carnage that is the last two games(97 points and 1201 yards given up), the Bills still have a chance to be 4-3 going into the bye. Yes, you can now email me suggesting I seek professional help.
 
Believe it or not, the next two games(at Arizona and home for Tennessee) are games the Bills can win.  Its still possible the Bills will be 4-5 heading into the final seven games of the season and the “soft” part of schedule. That would be exactly where many fans thought they’d be after nine games.
 
But its how they’ve looked in their three defeats that has Bills fans sick to their stomach.  Buffalo has been outscored 145-59 in those losses to the Jets, Patriots and 49ers. 
 
They looked outclassed by what now appears to be a bad Jets team in the opener. They suffered a colossal collapse at the hands of Tom Brady and company last week and just when you thought that was rock bottom, they made  Alex Smith look like Brady.
 
The 2012 Bills defense now has a place in the Bills record book. The 621 yards given up on Sunday is the single largest single game total in franchise history.  It sure felt like the defense folded up its tent in the second half.
 
 At the very least, the group exhibited an alarming trait that first reared its ugly head in the pre-season game with Pittsburgh. When the going gets tough, the defense gets flustered and comes apart at the seams.
 
Think about the Steelers TD drive right before halftime. Even Chan Gailey admitted that night his team was flustered.  They looked that way in the first half at Met Life Stadium as Mark Sanchez produced a Brady-like performance. The wheels came off in the second half last week when the Pats scored touchdowns on six straight drives and Sunday’s game speaks for itself.
 
For the first time since 1961, the 49ers had a 300 yard passer, a 100 yard rusher and two 100 yard receivers in the same game.
 
Its hard to believe but the defense appears to be worse than last year’s group which was one of the worst in the history of the franchise. 
 
I thought fans were jumping the gun when they were calling for the firing of Dave Wannstedt after just four games as Defensive Coordinator but his group sure looks lost and totally demoralized.
 
I would point out that Mario Williams was a non factor, again(which he was) but Williams had plenty of company on Sunday.  There was little if any pass rush from the front four, the linebackers don’t make enough plays and the secondary is getting beaten more than the Washington Generals in their all time series with the Harlem Globetrotters.
 
The lack of pass rush is making the struggles of the secondary even more noticeable. The Bills can’t cover anybody.  Niners receivers and tight end Vernon Davis were wide open numerous times in the game. Even Randy Moss caught a ball.  Buffalo gave up five pass plays of 20 yards or longer. Alex Smith threw for 303 yards which is well above his season average of 197.
 
The run defense looked like swiss cheese for the second straight week.  San Francisco had 11 big play runs which are runs that gain ten or more yards. The Bills have given up 558 yards rushing in the last two games.
 
 
The pathetic play of the defense against the three toughest opponents to this point of the schedule far outweighs the issues on offense.  Actually its just one issue. The quarterback is bad.
 
But I knew I was hoping more than believing in Ryan Fitzpatrick. I think there’s talent on defense but Fitzpatrick is who he is, an inconsistent quarterback who isn’t good enough to win games on his own.
 
The Bills would have probably lost any way and perhaps in a rout but as was the case with the New England game, Fitzpatrick missed on plays when the game wasn’t a lost cause.
 
In the first quarter, on the Bills first possession, he sailed a ball over Stevie Johnson’s head on third and seven. I will point out that Erik Pears was being shoved back into him so perhaps he altered the throw to get it over the pass rush.
 
On the Bills next possession with SF up 3-0, Fitzpatrick overthrew Johnson who had a step on his man inside the 49ers five yard line. If the throw is on target it would have been a touchdown.
 
In the second quarter, he threw slightly behind Donald Jones on a slant route inside the SF five yard line.  Jones did get his hands on it and I won’t fight you if you tell me a receiver should make that play but it shouldn’t be too much to ask the QB to put it in the right spot either. If he does it is first and goal inside the five at the very least, if not a touchdown to put the Bills up 7-3. They ended up getting a field goal to tie the game at 3.  In retrospect, that was your high point of the day Bills fans.
 
Still in the second quarter with SF up 10-3, he missed CJ Spiller deep down the left sideline. Spiller cleanly beat 49ers LB Novorro Bowman but Fitzpatrick overthrew the speedy running back and the ball landed out of bounds. It would have been a big gain into SF territory.
 
In the third quarter with the Bills trailing 24-3 and at the SF 20 yard line, Fitzpatrick threw an awful ball that almost made me throw up my halftime dinner of pizza and wings. He wanted Donald Jones in the end zone but winged the ball with his weight on his back foot. He never stepped into the throw and it was a duck, falling into the waiting hands of Niners DB Chris Culliver.
 
Quick question. Why did the Bills cut Vince Young to keep Tyler Thigpen who they won’t even consider bringing in when the offense can’t get out of its own way?
 And why would they trade for Tarvaris Jackson and then proceed to continually make him inactive on game day?
 
After the implosion against the Patriots, I was wondering if it might have a lingering effect on the team.  Now I’m wondering if they’re completely shell shocked and whether or not we’re about to witness an avalanche of losses and in season coaching changes.
 
Maybe it’s a good thing the Bills opted to stay on the west coast this week and practice in Arizona.  That way they won’t have to hear what’s being said about them back home.
 
 
 




 
Rush to Judgement on Defense?
Last season as the Buffalo Bills defense was getting gashed by opposing offenses, cries rang out from Bills Nation. “Fire George Edwards” implored the fans. “Promote Dave Wannstedt” they strongly suggested.
 
Ask and you shall receive.  In the off season the Bills did just that, giving Edwards, a relatively inexperienced Defensive Coordinator, his walking papers and giving the job to the more than qualified Wannstedt.
 
But moments after last week’s colossal collapse by the defense to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, fans calling WGR’s post game show were asking for Wannstedt’s head on a platter. The honeymoon lasted about as long as Kim Kardashian’s marriage to Kris Humphries.
 
It would be ridiculous, in my opinion, to can Wannstedt after just four games on the job as DC but that doesn’t mean you can’t question some of his strategies and wonder whether or not the 2012 Bills defense will be better than the 2011 unit that finished near the bottom of the NFL in most of the key statistical categories.
 
In fact, if you grade out Wannstedt’s  game plans through the first four games, he’d be failing since two of the four didn’t work very well. 
 
In the opener against the Jets, the Bills  had no answer to the short drop, quick release passing philosophy utilized by Mark Sanchez. In addition, the secondary was way too soft, giving Jets receivers too much cushion throughout the game and making it easy for Sanchez(who completed 70% of his passes that day but has completed a pathetic 43% since) to find his targets.
 
Last Sunday the Bills opted for a mostly no blitz/ use the nickel personnel, approach to defending Brady.  I don’t have a problem with that because Brady is a surgeon when it comes to slicing up blitzes and the Bills were supposed to have a front four that can generate pressure on its own.
 
But it wasn’t working and the Pats to their credit, decided to run the ball against the “little people” as Brady called the grouping. Even though the Bills were giving up big running plays as often as Barack Obama and Mitt Romney basically call each other a liar, Wannstedt stayed with the nickel package and opted against blitzing. You needed to change things up.  You gave up six straight touchdowns so how could it have been worse?
 
The defense was much better against Kansas City and Cleveland as the front four dominated their matchup with the opposing offensive line. They combined for nine sacks, got consistent pressure which led to turnovers and plugged holes so the Chiefs and Browns could never get their running game going.
 
At the quarter pole, the defense looks like I thought it would.  It features an improved front four but at this point, lacks playmakers in the linebacking corps and suffers at times from an inexperienced but talented group of cornerbacks.
 
The top three corners are a rookie(Stephon Gilmore) and two second year players(Aaron Williams and Justin Rogers) and the group has had its ups and downs through the first quarter of the season.  They need to come up with more big plays for starters.  Gilmore and Williams have combined for 11 passes defended thus far but neither has come up with an interception.  As a group, the corners have combined for just one interception and it came from Leodis Mckelvin who played himself down the depth chart.
 
Despite the improvement up front from last years group of linemen, Mario Williams has been the biggest disappointment on the team from an individual standpoint. The big ticket free agent signing has been on the field for 82% of the defensive snaps but has managed only 1.5 sacks.  That means he is on pace for 6 sacks, which would be Williams’ lowest total in a full season since his rookie year(2006- 4.5 sacks).
 
Williams hasn’t exactly faced a slew of pro bowl right tackles either.  But maybe he is constantly going up against double and triple teams?  That was far from the case  in last week’s game as WGR’s Joe Buscaglia pointed out after going back and reviewing the tape.
 
Out of 29 drop back passes by Brady, Williams faced true 1 on 1 blocking 25 times. He was chipped three times and double teamed just once. Yet against an opponent the Bills probably were thinking about the most when debating whether or not to open the vault and pursue Williams, he had no sacks and only two QB hurries.
 
We shouldn’t forget about Mark Anderson either.  Granted he cost one fifth of what Williams price tag was but the right defensive end has but one sack while being on the field for 71% of the plays.
 
In case you were wondering, here’s how this year’s defense compares to last year’s in some of the key categories:
 
                                     2011             2012
pts/game                      25                  29
rush yds/game          139                137
pass yds/game           232                269
3rd down %                  39%              44%
sacks                              29                  40*
compl. %                      63%              61%
takeaways                   31                   32*
big runs/10+yds        64                  60*
big passes/20+yds    48                  64*
*The Bills are on pace for these numbers projecting out current stat over 16 games*
 
Right now it looks like the defense will get some help from the schedule. 6 of the remaining 11 opponents the Bills will face, have an offense ranked in the bottom 11 of the league when it comes to points per game and total yards per game.
 
Only two opposing offenses are in the top half in terms of points scored. New England is first and Houston is second.  The Bills face the Texans and Pats in back to back road games.
 
Only three teams are in the top ten in yards. New England is first and the Miami Dolphins are 9th.
 
 
 
 




 
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