End of the Season Thoughts: Buffalo Bills

David Duprey/Asscociated Press

By: Breanna Jacobs
The Buffalo Bills shocked football fans everywhere by starting the 2011 season off 5-2. The team broke their 15 game losing streak to the New England Patriots and had a few incredible come-from-behind victories. Under head coach Chan Gailey, the Bills looked like they were a new and improved team; early on in the season they led the AFC East and there was chatter of a long overdue play-off berth.
However, as the season went on, the chances of making it to the play-offs became dismal. The Bills lost seven games in a row and finished the season 6-10. Although unimpressive, their record was an improvement on their 4-12 record in 2010.
The rough end to the season (a 49-21 loss to the Patriots) has left many questioning what went wrong, and where the Bills are headed in the future. So, we’ll start with what went wrong:
1. Injuries
The Bills finished the season with a total of 17 players on Injured Reserve. There were four different starting centers and three different starting kickers over the course of the season. The Bills also went through various offensive line combinations after losing OL Eric Wood. But perhaps the biggest loss on offense was RB Fred Jackson, who was one of the top RBs in the NFL when he suffered a season-ending knee injury. The loss of Jackson temporarily halted the running game of the Bills. On defense, the Bills lost NT Kyle Williams and LB Shawne Merriman, two of the strongest and most efficient defensive players on the roster. With such a high injury count, it was difficult for the Bills to put together a string of wins.
2. Ryan Fitzpatrick
Although he is, without a doubt, the quarterback of the future in Buffalo, “Fitzpanic,” as a friend so affectionately calls it, started to set in mid-season. After signing a $59 million contract extension when the Bills were hot, it was expected that Fitzpatrick would continue to come out with guns blazing but, instead, he began to look tentative in the pocket, reminding this Bills fan, at some times, of a certain Trent Edwards. Fitzpatrick began throwing errant passes, often times missing his receivers altogether. And while he showed a spark of the quarterback that was toward the end of the season, he often times looked skittish. He has the vote of confidence with Gailey, and it can be imagined that it was hard to play successfully when the offensive line he was playing behind was constantly changing. Fitzpatrick has a promising future with Buffalo, as long as he loses the “Fitzpanic” and regains the “Fitzmagic.”
3. Penalties
While they used to be one of the least penalized teams in the NFL, this season, the Bills racked up penalties this season like it was nobody’s business. Many of the Buffalo players are young and inexperienced, but it is important that they play disciplined football. While penalties are inevitable, they can certainly be avoided, especially penalties such as Excessive Celebration (yes, Stevie Johnson, I’m talking about you).
Although the Bills’ season did not go as planned, there are a number of bright spots for the future:
1. Defense
This season, the Bills played phenomenal defense; they were aggressive and disciplined and capitalized on turnover opportunities. Many veteran players, such as S George Wilson, DE/LB Spencer Johnson and LB Nick Barnett, really stepped up this season, making big plays and an even bigger impact on the team. Rookie defensive players also impressed. First round draft pick Marcell Dareus (DE) proved why he was a first round pick, showing himself as a powerful defensive force. Former Texas Longhorn Aaron Williams (CB) also showed his play making ability. Although he missed time early in the season after suffering an injury in training camp, Williams came in looking great. He shows a great deal of athletic ability and I believe he’ll be an absolute star for the Bills in the future.
2. The Run Game
When they lost Jackson to a knee injury, the Bills showed perhaps one of the best run games in the NFL. Jackson is a powerful runner and his ability to power over defenders earned him extra yardage. Without Jackson, the Bills turned to C.J. Spiller. Although he doesn’t possess the same size as Jackson, Spiller is an agile runner with gazelle-like speed, which also gives him the ability to evade defenders. Earning his first 100-yard rushing game at home against the Denver Broncos, Spiller proved that he is a valuable part of the Bills offense. In a league that has increasingly become all about the passing game, the Bills could have one of the most dominant run games in the NFL, as long as they are able to use both Jackson and Spiller effectively and in some sort of tandem.
3. Chan Gailey
In his second year as head coach of the Buffalo Bills, Gailey has shown his leadership abilities. Gailey, who also calls the offense, challenges this team to play like professionals, a sentiment that often motivates his team and encourages them to play better football. And while the past two seasons did not end as Gailey would have liked, he knows what needs to be done to improve the team and get them to where they want to be. I look forward to what Gailey will do in his third season, because I have no doubt that he is the man to lead this team to success.

25 Responses to "End of the Season Thoughts: Buffalo Bills"

  1. Kyle Soppe   January 2, 2012 at 9:08 am

    I’m thinkin the Bills over performed early in the season and under performed late in the year. While I thought they were a bad team, the second half of the season they looked like a team that should have a top 3 pick. Fitzpatrick is gunna be there, and Fred Jackson/CJ Spiller is an above average duo. What will they do with Stevie? Feels like a guy who wants out

  2. redsoxfan   January 2, 2012 at 9:14 am

    glad it’s over! conditioning? vitamin D? they need something more…

  3. Rey   January 2, 2012 at 9:15 am

    Great rundown, Breanna, and with you on most of these points. I don’t get to watch the Bills much down here in NC, but caught a few games. First off – I am seriously worried about Fitzpatrick. I like the guy, really do. But you brought it up – he reminded me of Trent Edwards a little. Great start then completely fizzles out. What did teams do to make him panic all of the sudden? Composure is kind of a biggie for an NFL QB, you know? I just wonder if Fitzpatrick, like Edwards, is going to make the Bills pass up on potentially better QBs hoping he pans out.

    With you 100% on Spiller and Jackson. I got to watch CJ Spiller a whole lot at Clemson, and he is explosive as a receiver out of the backfield as well. I can see him taking on a Darren Sproles role and having Jackson taking more of the carries. But obviously yo have a between-the-tackles and outside-the-tackles attack and if used, can be very effective.

    I hope Gailey sticks around for a while. Love his no nonsense approach, especially with benching Stevie Johnson.

  4. Casey   January 2, 2012 at 9:20 am

    Likewise on Gailey’s benching of Johnson. Happy to see the no-nonsense approach. Scary how Fitzpatrick’s struggles started AFTER he signed a contract. I think it was Smitty who mentioned it earlier this season, but the Bills might have gotten out of the gate quickly because other teams struggled with the short training camps.

  5. Smitty   January 2, 2012 at 10:11 am

    Great rundown Breanna.

    There has been some speculation that Fitzpatrick got hurt in the Redskins game and has played through it. It could certainly explain the happy feet and not being as accurate.

    But like Casey said the lack of training camp may have helped the Bills and it certainly hurt the Eagles.

    Injuries were a big part for the Bills demise this year. Sure injuries happen in the NFL and every team goes through them. But the Bills had major injuries ( Fred Jackson, Kyle Williams ) in key injuries and were not deep enough to keep them competitive. I personally think that is what separates the contenders from the pretenders in the NFL. Teams that have guys who can either play multiple positions or be 2 deep at key positions – allows teams to contend all year. A perfect example (Homer Alert) is the New England Patriots. The Patriots have lost 3 safeties this year and now have WR Julian Edelman playing safety. Okay their defense hasn’t been good this year, but my point is about having interchangeable parts. Pats have them, Bills didn’t.

    I think the Bills need to upgrade their wide receiver corp. Stevie Johson is a good #2 receiver. They need a #1 receiver or that very strong running game will be ineffective.

    I think Chan Gailey is the right man for the job. Loved that he bench Steve Johnson after that TD celebration. Grow up Stevie. I hope Bills fans are done calling C.J. Spiller a bust.

    In the end I think they might be starting to turn the corner in Buffalo – which as Pats fan, I don’t like.

    Quick question for everyone. If RG III is available at the #10 pick – do the Bills take him??

  6. Rey   January 2, 2012 at 10:27 am

    Smitty – I say you take RG3 at 10 without a doubt. Rookies are inexpensive now, so I think you have to put some heat on Fitzpatrick. If Fitz was injured, then obviously they have nothing behind him they feel confident in. Bills haven’t taken a QB high in years, decades? They’ve gone defense past few years I think so I’d like to see them go with a QB and WR with their first two picks.

  7. Breanna   January 2, 2012 at 10:56 am

    Good points by everyone here.

    I think as far as the draft, they have to go with defense or offensive line first. I do think they’ll try to get a QB in later rounds, and if RG3 is still around, he’d be a great grab.

    As far as Fitzpatrick, I think many of his struggles were because of the constantly shifting offensive line. But I also call it,” the curse of the contract.” Signing a huge contract extension like that puts a lot of pressure on a guy to perform well, and I think that might have been in his head. It’s just like NNamdi Asomugha for the Eagles; he signed a huge contract and has been relatively unproductive this season. I think, in Fitz’s case, they should have waited until the end of the season to extend his contract.

    And Stevie Johnson, well, I say it’s time to get rid of him. I agree that he’s not a #1 receiver. Even if they do re-sign him, there’s no way he’ll get the money he’s asking for. Yes, he’s had 1,000 receiving yards in the past two seasons, which is all fine and dandy, but he drops about the same number of passes he catches. And I admired Gailey’s decision to bench him yesterday after his excessive celebration penalty. They’ve told him many times to stop doing things like that, and the guy just doesn’t seem to learn.

    They have productive receivers in David Nelson and even Brad Smith (once he’s healthy again). Also, Donald Jones will be coming back off of injury next season, and I think he may be the answer to the #1 receiver question.

  8. Mark Houser   January 2, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    The things I saw that I disagree with. The defense. Was awful. No pass rush what so ever. And the corners weren’t nearly good enough to handle man coverage. Our safeys are excellent. Our CB’s are trash (Williams has shown promise) our OLB are probably the worst in the league. Merriman probably won’t even be back next year and if he is we are just wasting a roster spot. I like our inside backers though. The D Line will be fine once Kyle Williams comes back. We created turnovers to start but looked what happened when they didn’t get the bounces. We got killed.

    I want George Edwards fired. Now. I wouldn’t mind promoting Wanny and running the 4-3 either. In the draft I want either a CB or OLB(DE if we swith to 4-3).

    Now about the offense. I still have faith in Fitzy I know he worked behind a make shift line, and no name wide receivers but he just doesn’t make smart throws most of the time. His deep ball is non existant. Wouldn’t be surprised to see his contract voided in March. Gailey needs to give up calling plays. He is way too predictable and he gives up on the run way too early. Hell I wouldn’t care if he was fired either.

    The Bills still need help. Mainly on defense. Another Wide Out would do wonders as well. Oh and we BETTER re sign Stevie.

  9. Breanna   January 2, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    I actually think the defense was great compared to past years. I do agree that the pass rush needs A LOT of work and I think that’s a personnel problem; they need to get some aggressive defenders in there.

    I don’t think firing George Edwards is the answer. I think he’s done a good job with the defense, and I think once everyone is back healthy, he’ll again be able to call a successful defense.

    And, well, you know my thoughts on Stevie Johnson. I think there’s better guys than him.

  10. Breanna   January 2, 2012 at 3:40 pm

    Or maybe I’m wrong about George Edwards…haha

    It was just announced that he was fired by the Bills and they have given Dave Wannstedt the job.

  11. Mark Houser   January 2, 2012 at 3:53 pm

    Haha just like I said(: and look at the receiving corp without stevie. It’s terrible. We already need another wide out, losing stevie adds yet another hole

  12. Smitty   January 2, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    Any chance the Bills bring Bill Polian back? He was just fired by the Indianapolis Colts.

    I don’t think Stevie Johnson should go, I just think he is better suited as a #2 wide receiver. Nor should they pay him #1 wide receiver money and I don’t think they will.

    Part of Chan Gailey being predictable on offense has a lot to do with the pieces he is working with. A receiver corp that was mediocre, an offensive line that is young and inexperienced. Their offense became predictable because he was forced to live and die by the short pass routes.

    As for the pass rush – the pass rush was there in the first couple of weeks when players were healthy. Merriman and Williams allowed them to pressure the QB and I think that was part of the turnovers the defense caused. But with injuries and lack of depth, that ability to pressure the QB stopped.

    It is a big offseason for the Bills. I am interested to see what they do..

  13. mark houser   January 2, 2012 at 5:03 pm

    Honestly the only time I even saw a mild pass rush was against Washington when they had 3 linemen out. Even with Merriman we were terrible. We have weapons. Stevie is at least a top 20 wr and by all accounts that’s a number 1 wr. Is 8mil a little much? Yes but if we can pay Chris Kelsay aka “air hugger” 6million then we can pony up and over pay a bit to keep our own, it’s about time we spend money, we are something like 30mil below the cap FLOOR.

  14. Breanna   January 2, 2012 at 7:35 pm

    The reasons the Bills stay so far below the cap is because they don’t need to pay big money to get talented players. Buffalo has always been a humble team and staying below the cap helps them prevent greed.

    However, when they’ve got a good player, they pay him what he’s worth. For example, Aaron Schobel. He was making millions of dollars when he retired but it was because he was PRODUCTIVE.

    Yes, Stevie Johnson has 2 season with 1,000 receiving yards, but I’m still not sold. He drops more passes than he catches and he continually exhibits idiotic behavior. If they do keep him, there’s going to have to be some major on the field behavioral changes. There’s no way they’ll pay him what he’s asking for because he’s not a number 1 receiver and no smart organization would pay that much for a number 2 guy.

  15. Mark Houser   January 2, 2012 at 7:40 pm

    Drops more than he catches? So what you’re saying is he had 77 drops? And they don’t need to pay to get talented players? Look at all the guys that have left over the years. And look at the one year we did sign two big name guys in Takeo Spikes and Troy Vincent….turned right into a top 5 defense. But what you’re saying is completely false. We do need to pay because obviously what we’re doing isn’t working. 1999. That’s all that needs to be said.

  16. Dan Slizzle   January 2, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    at buffalo not needing to spend money..

    we wouldn’t have barnett if detroit had offered him a contract of any measure..

    we havent made the playoffs in 12 years. we don’t have the pleasure of picking and choosing..

    pay stevie the 7.5 mil a year he wants.

    dont ever hire a senile coach like chan again.

    croak ralph.

    we will start seeing the sun after these steos,

  17. Dan Slizzle   January 2, 2012 at 8:20 pm

    p.s. stevie has the 2nd highest selling bills jersey next to jim kelly. of all time… not just this year.

    he must be doing something right, his “idiotic” behavior is just as idiotic as any other player.. after Aaron Hernandez caught a pass yesterday and did the hip thrust towards the bills sideline did belichick kick him out? no.. because it is silly. these are professionals who have been working to get to that level for their whole life.. except jason pierre paul, he started his senior year. but every coach tells the kids.. celebrate once u get to the nfl. now because hitler, or i meant to say goodell is in charge the league is disgusting.

  18. Rey   January 2, 2012 at 9:19 pm

    Stevie Johnson is really the second leading jersey for the Bills all time? That’s sad. I always saw Bruce Smith’s #78 a lot. I’d personally sport an Andre Reed #83 if I had a choice. Or, honestly, a #14 Frank Reich.

  19. Smitty   January 2, 2012 at 9:47 pm

    Personally, I would have thought that Thurman Thomas’ jersey would have been up there.

    I thought Nick Barnett was with the Green Bay Packers, and he wasn’t offered a contract after a couple of injury filled seasons.

    Dan, I think the difference between Stevie Johnson and Aaron Hernandez, was that Johnson’s actions were pre-meditated. He knowingly wrote something on his shirt underneath his jersey which is a no-no in the NFL. He put himself before the team and I can understand/respect why Gailey sat him down.

  20. Dan Slizzle   January 2, 2012 at 10:13 pm

    smitty, you are correct about Barnett playing for the Packers.. when they released him however he intended to sign with Detroit.. instead they signed Stephen Tulloch and never looked back.

    and being a season ticket holder, you will always see those jersey’s.

    stevie is more of a representation of the new age bills.

    and im alright with it being premeditated.. he was under the impression it wasn’t a penalty to alter your very own t shirt.. considering he did it in Cincy last year. he was fined but the team was not penalized.

  21. Mark Houser   January 2, 2012 at 10:13 pm

    Fun fact. Last time Stevie did the t shirt thing against Cinci, he didn’t get flagged. Just fined. So I can see where he’s coming from. “I won’t cost my team if I do this. I didn’t get penalized DURING THE GAME for it.”

  22. Smitty   January 2, 2012 at 10:46 pm

    Thanks guys, I wasn’t aware that Johnson did it last year. I was just going on the announcers stating that it was an automatic 15 yard penalty. It seemed like they were aware it was a 15 yard penatly, but Johnson didn’t. Hopefully Johnson can learn from it.

    I think he is a good wide receiver, just not a #1 receiver. But like you said, that may be the type of receiver the Bills can draw.

  23. Breanna   January 3, 2012 at 1:13 am

    The reason that Johnson was benched was because Gailey informed the team before the game that if they pulled anything like that, they would automatically be benched. Gailey did not want to do it, but he wasn’t going to go back on what he had told the entire team.

    Also, if Johnson has shown the shirt when he was on the sideline, it wouldn’t have been a penalty. But, there has been rule changes, and those types of things are no longer allowed in the end zone. Although it is beyond belief that he gets flagged for that while some guys practically Charleston across the end zone and don’t get any type of excessive celebration penalty.

    Bottom line is that he shouldn’t have done it and Gailey stuck with what he said he would do. Just because their pros doesn’t mean they don’t need to be taught a lesson once in a while. In fact, a pro should know NOT to do something like that because it ultimately winds up hurting his team.

  24. Mark Houser   January 3, 2012 at 5:10 pm

    All I’m saying is losing Steve Johnson will just set back the team that much more.

  25. Breanna   January 5, 2012 at 11:45 pm

    Well, let’s just agree to disagree on this one.

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