Buffalo Bills' Biggest Concerns Heading into the Regular Season
The Buffalo Bills have been one of the most hyped teams heading into 2012 largely because of their active and aggressive offseason moves.
However, Bills fans are cautiously optimistic about the upcoming season because they know all too well what happens when they get excited about Bills' success. No one can blame Bills fans for wanting to see before they believe because they've been conned into believing in the team before.
In 2004 and 2011, the Bills started out hot before ultimately missing the postseason because of a horrendous second half.
While fans remain hopeful that this will be the season that the team turns the corner and breaks a pitiful 12-year playoff drought, the fact remains that there are glaring concerns that need to be addressed for it all to come together.
Consistency at Quarterback
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Buffalo Bills starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is a lightning rod in conversation among Bills fans these days. His eye-popping contract over-zealously given out by the Bills' front office after a 5-2 start before their prompt demise has Bills fans over-analyzing his every move.
Fair or not, Fitzpatrick has the weight of the Bills' success on his shoulders because of that whopping contract.
The quarterback has shown flashes of "greatness" during his tenure as the Bills' starter. He has also shown why many fans have been pleading with the decision makers to take a signal-caller high in the draft.
Blame last season on whatever you'd like; broken ribs, other teams figuring out the offense, Fitzpatrick not being the right guy for the job. The 2012 season is one with new opportunity for Fitzpatrick to get his doubters on his side.
He will likely never play up to the value of his contract, but don't think for a minute that Fitzpatrick can't lead this team to a playoff berth in 2012.
If the Bills want to sniff the postseason, they'll need every ounce of good play that Fitzpatrick has in his body.
The Bills Need to Find a Playmaker Opposite Stevie Johnson
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There is no denying that the Buffalo Bills have quite a few good options when it comes to offensive play-making. Stevie Johnson has proven over the past two seasons that he is slowly growing up and becoming a top wide receiver in the NFL.
Johnson doesn't wow you with speed or agility, but the guy knows how to work coverage as evidenced by his two games facing Darelle Revis in 2011.
Their two-headed running attack is also full of potential. Fred Jackson is one of the more unheralded running backs in the league and looks to be fully healed from the broken leg he suffered last season. Jackson was a standout in the Bills offense in 2011 as a decisive runner that succeeds running between the tackles for tough yardage.
C.J. Spiller, the former ninth overall draft pick, is still attempting to prove his high selection worthy. After a forgettable rookie season, Spiller shined once he took over for the injured Jackson. The split of carries is something that will still be worked out, but between the inside running of Jackson and outside ability of Spiller, their ceiling is high.
The problem for the Bills is that they need a second receiving threat other than their running backs and Johnson. Whether that will be tight end Scott Chandler or wide receivers Donald Jones and T.J. Graham is something Chan Gailey and his staff need to figure out soon.
Jones will be the likely starter opposite Johnson to start the year, but that doesn't necessarily solve the problem. He has been inconsistent at best when it comes to catching the ball and staying on the field. Graham is still learning the pro game, but he could be an answer to this dilemma once Gailey figures out how to use him.
Don't think I forgot about David Nelson either. Nelson is the best red-zone target the Bills have outside of Chandler. He is also the guy locked into the slot position in three-wide sets. Nelson isn't going to light the world on fire, but he has reliable hands. The Bills need more than Nelson can provide, though.
They need a playmaker.
Solidifying the Linebacker Position
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The publicized defensive line of the Buffalo Bills is going to turn heads in 2012. The linebacking corps, on the other hand, is still a giant question mark. The Bills are hoping that the upgrades to the line and the secondary can overshadow the blatant hole in the middle of their defense.
Second-year player Kelvin Sheppard, a LSU standout, was supposed to be one of the answers for the Bills' linebacker problems. The team has been looking for an answer ever since London Fletcher left the team six years ago and Sheppard was thought to be a part of that equation. He has played very well at times and then looked completely lost at other times.
This preseason, fans have seen more of the latter, which would spell bad news up the middle. Giving Kirk Morrison reps in the middle after he lost the outside spot to Arthur Moats shows how desperate they are for an answer.
Nick Barnett manned one of the two middle spots last year in George Edwards' 3-4 hybrid defense. He has moved outside in 2012, a position he played when he was successful in Green Bay. Barnett is a better fit in that spot than Sheppard and Morrison, so moving him back inside isn't an option for defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt.
Arthur Moats has been a bit of a revelation for Buffalo after a poor showing in his sophomore season. He looked up the spot opposite of Barnett quickly in camp after coming in as the second-string player in that spot. His motor and ability to get to the quarterback is going to be a big part of the Bills' defensive schemes.
The Bills are going to have to decide whether they want to ride out the storm with Sheppard as the defensive quarterback on the field or move Morrison into that spot until Sheppard is ready. Depending on how the waiver process shakes out, the Bills could also see what is available on the open market to fill the position.