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Just be fundamentally sound, baby

What is Sean McDermott's measure of success in 2017, and if Bills achieve it, will it matter?

Mike Schopp
September 07, 2017 - 9:05 am
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Here we go!

But where are we going?

A new Bills season arrives Sunday. Another new head coach -- an incredible 10th since the Bills' last playoff game in 1999 -- and general manager mark the occasion. So does a halftime ceremony that will honor members of a 1990s Bills team for approximately the 400th time.

Head man Sean McDermott has been both careful and consistent in laying out, at least publicly, what his goals for the 2017 Bills are. He talks about discipline, character, competitiveness, professionalism. Goals he stays away from include wins and the playoffs.

Makes sense. The betting line this summer on the Bills' win total has been around six, and if a coach sets up a season as a successful one and falls short, there's egg on his face. (See: Rex Ryan and "we're goin' ".) 

McDermott has repeated that he's willing and ready to consider certain of this season's achievements other than wins successes.

Here are my two questions:

Will we notice them when they happen?

Will they really mean anything?

Here's McDermott, from Wednesday: "When our fans turn the TV on or when they see us in the stadium ... they see a team that plays hard. They see a team that plays fundamentally sound. They see a team that plays as a team and plays together. That’s what, to me, a fan base can get behind. Quite honestly, they’re invested in this football team and we’re invested in them. At the end of the day, the love that our players have for one another needs to show up on that football field and that what connects, in my opinion, a team to the fan base."

This is close enough to a mission statement that I'll use it at the expense of other similar remarks and take his points one by one.

"They see a team that plays hard." Ah, this old friend. Good teams get credit for playing hard, bad teams get blamed for rolling over. If McDermott after games says the Bills played hard -- WHICH YOU KNOW HE WILL DO CONSTANTLY NO MATTER IF HE THINKS IT'S TRUE -- some percentage of fans will believe him and leave it at that. Will the rest of us notice if the Bills are playing hard, beyond what's evident in the final score? Probably not.

"They see a team that plays fundamentally sound." If there were one play in pro football that to me defines "fundamentally sound" it's downing a punt at the 1-yard line. Analyst Brian Baldinger last week held up an example of Tampa Bay doing that as "smart football", as if, what, any football player pro or otherwise wouldn't know to try to do that? (Can't wait for the next six months of this kind of hard-core analysis, ya know? Insert audio of linemen grunting.)

If the Bills do things like down punts inside the 5 their coach, I predict, will be champing at the bit to give them credit for it, and I'll be over here folding my game-probability charts into paper airplanes.

Is it better to down punts at the 5 then let them roll into the end zone? Yes. Does it matter much? Give me a break.

I assume there will be games this year that the Bills will lose without having taken too many penalties, and after those games McDermott will be quick with the stat. Understand, however, that there's no important correlation between penalties taken and losses. Oakland ran away with the highest penalties total in the league last year and went 12-4. Seattle led the league in 2013 and 2014, and in both years went to the Super Bowl. In 2014 the Bills were second and had one of two winning seasons they've pulled off this century.

Do not -- repeat, do not -- accept a reduction in penalties from the Rex teams as an important indicator that the Bills are set up for success.

"They see a team that plays as a team and plays together." I'm pretty sure the Bills will get requisite credit for this as long there are no spats between players in the public eye. And you know if it happens privately the Bills will do everything in their power to keep it a secret. Plays as a team? 

It doesn't mean flea-flickers and double reverses just so all the players can touch the ball.

"Plays as a team." Sounds good, doesn't mean anything.

"(Some stuff about being invested in the fan base and how players truly loving each other is what fans love and want the most.)"

No they're not, and no it isn't.

No one wants to hear McDermott do what Rex Ryan did and talk up the Bills as a contender. We pay attention, and we've been through a lot.

He has to say something though. And these goals make sense in terms of what football coaches tend to stress. They're also, appropriately enough and lucky for the Bills, vague and unmeasurable. 

I'm not here to give the Bills credit for loving each other and playing fundamentally soundly any more than I was here to give the Sabres credit three years ago for (supposedly) being tough on the walls. 

There is room here for a new, higher Bills standard of competitiveness and professionalism, both on and off the field.

If they find their way to a great quarterback next year then maybe we'll have something.

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