The answer is yes, absolutely. Now for the question. If you told me(before the season began) that the Bills would be 3-1 at the quarter pole, would I take it? Granted many of us were thinking 4-0 and that Cincinnati loss left a rather bitter taste in our mouths but if you look at the big picture, you have to be happy. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any problems but in a season where I wanted to see evidence the Bills were going in the right direction, I have seen that over the first 4 games. At this point last season the Bills were still looking for their 1st win and I was spending Saturdays watching the best quarterbacks in college football.
The performance of the offense has been eye opening to say the least. Last season you could tell the offense had improved under the guidance of new Head Coach Chan Gailey but the numbers weren’t there to back it up. Now those numbers leap off the stat page. A Bills franchise that has usually resided in the bottom 10 in most of the key statistical categories since the 21st century began, is now among the league’s best. Buffalo ranks 4th in scoring, 5th in rushing yards per game, 9th in total yards, 5th in 1st downs per game and 2nd in red zone/TD percentage. But the surprises don’t end there. The offensive line, thought to be a disaster area going into the season, has performed well in both run blocking and pass protection. The Bills have given up the 2nd fewest number of sacks per pass play in the league. Their season sack total projects out to 12 at this point, a far cry from the 34 hung on them last season. No, they didn’t all come in the 2 games Trent Edwards started, it just seems that way.
The offense was kept in check for the first time this season, in the loss to the Bengals so we will see if that was just a blip on the radar or perhaps the Bills were playing way above their heads. The next 4 games will see Buffalo face defenses that currently rank: 16th, 5th, 18th and 8th. Ryan Fitzpatrick has given you reasons to believe the Bills aren’t crazy for offering him a “franchise” quarterback contract. Fred Jackson has you hoping the Bills give him a sizeable extension as well. The receiving corps doesn’t seem to be negatively affected by the trade of Lee Evans and the Bills found a tight end who can make plays in Scott Chandler.
As I mentioned earlier, there are still some things that might make you lose sleep at night. Welcome to the portion of the column devoted to the defense. I used the term “worlds better” when talking about the defense recently. When all is said and done I think they will be, but right now the numbers and evidence don’t back that up. In fact, I received quite the pre Halloween scare this past Sunday when the 2011 Bills dressed up as the 2010 defense for the 2nd half in Cincinnati. The inability to close out a game, a running back putting up big numbers, a tight end gashing them for key plays, the lack of a pass rush were all issues that re-appeared.
There have been improvements though. The Bills have gone from 28th to 16th in points allowed per game. They are giving up an average of 40 fewer rushing yards a game and they have been ball hawks. The Bills already have 8 interceptions, 3 shy of their total for all of last season. In fact, Buffalo leads the league in percentage of passes picked off. Hard to believe when you look at a secondary that has also been burned for numerous big plays via the passing game. Granted the lack of a pass rush has made life tougher on the DB’s. The Bills are on pace for just 16 sacks. That would be 11 less than last season when they ended up with 27. The easy answer is for the Bills to blitz more but with a shaky secondary that might lead to more negatives than positives for Defensive Coordinator George Edwards. Clearly the strength of this team if the offense and it appears the 2011 Bills will go as far as that unit takes them(playoffs?) but the defense will be asked to win some games over the next 13 weeks or at the very least, finish a game the offense put them in position to win. Hopefully all of the work the front office put into the defense through free agency and the draft will pay off at that point