5 Questions Left Unanswered for Buffalo Bills After Week 1
Like Clark Griswold’s 250 strands of dark lights in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation disappointing.
It was a letdown. A balloon of optimism deflated. Not only a punch to the stomach but a subsequent knee to the nose.
But it’s over.
While the Bills didn’t start the year as we all would have hoped, there’s no reason to dwell on it. The next step is learning from that loss and applying those lessons to Week 2’s matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Buffalo did actually have some bright spots from last week (see: Spiller, C.J.), even though it might be hard to believe. But the fact is, there are still some problems this team needs to resolve in order to impress the home crowd at the Ralph.
Here are five questions that were left unanswered after Week 1, and which hopefully the team can figure out in Week 2.
Where’s the Pass Rush?
After spending millions and millions of dollars this offseason to beef up the pass rush, the Bills have to be disappointed with tallying zero sacks against the Jets in Week 1.
Newly acquired Mario Williams and Mark Anderson were virtually nonexistent last week, which put a painfully humble end to all the hype surrounding the defensive line leading up the opener.
It just goes to show that talent on paper means nothing without proper preparation and sound execution.
Despite Super Mario’s comments regarding the non-calls and the poor job the replacement referees did (via Mike Mazzeo of ESPN.com), something has to give. He—and his teammates—are too good to perform like they did against a Jets offense that struggled mightily in the preseason.
Moving forward, defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt needs to step up his play-calling, and head coach Chan Gailey needs to get his unit better prepared.
The secondary’s play didn’t help the defensive linemen, but with this kind of front four, there’s no excuse for not creating pressure. Kansas City comes to town in Week 2, and the only way to begin the healing is to produce results.
Look for a better effort from the front four against the Chiefs and, yes, a few sacks.
Can the Cornerbacks Step up?
Along with the defensive line, Buffalo’s secondary was supposed to be an improved unit in 2012. The team spent the 10th overall pick in the NFL draft on cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who by all indications appears to be a future star at the position.
But he’ll have to play better than he did in his NFL debut to get there.
Gilmore had an excellent offseason and has all the tangibles and intangibles to succeed in the NFL. While he shined in preseason play, he didn’t look nearly as sharp in his first real action. The rookie bit on pump fakes and displayed loose coverage downfield.
He certainly wasn’t horrible, and he’ll improve with time and experience, hopefully beginning next week.
Meanwhile, neither Aaron Williams nor Leodis McKelvin impressed versus the Jets, either. Buffalo yielded pass plays of 33, 25 and 21 yards, giving up three passing touchdowns and 266 passing yards without much of a challenge.
Even worse, the Jets were 10-of-14 converting on third downs (71 percent). Though that doesn’t only apply to the secondary, Buffalo’s pass defense will need to rectify its problems in order to get off the field.
Part of the solution again comes down to putting pressure on the quarterback. But Buffalo’s corners need to play more physically and tighten up the coverage. With so much youth at the position, a veteran like Terrence McGee also needs to be a vocal leader and help set the standard.
Will FitzMagic Ever Return?
The big question surrounding Bills starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick this offseason was which version we would see this season: the 2011 first-half version...or the 2011 second-half version?
Evidently, Fitz carried over some of his bad habits from last year into 2012. A couple of poor throws and poor decisions had him looking at an awful stat line at the end of the first half.
More importantly, his mistakes contributed to his team trailing big early on.
New quarterbacks coach David Lee had reportedly been working with Fitz on his mechanics and decision-making during the offseason, and it appeared that those efforts were paying dividends during camp.
But Fitz got off to a slow start in the opener. He’ll now need to step up without star running back Fred Jackson, who is out at least three weeks with a knee injury (via the Bills’ official website) and slot receiver David Nelson, who is out for the year with a torn ACL (via Adam Schefter on Twitter).
Gailey’s spread offense is built around Fitz’s quick throws and smart decision-making, yet defenses are starting to adapt. By pressing receivers at the line of scrimmage and pressuring Fitz, routes aren’t developing in time and Fitz is forcing throws.
It's only one game, but Fitzpatrick needs to turn things around promptly in order to convince fans and the organization that he can be the quarterback to guide the Bills back to the postseason.
Which Wide Receivers Will Rise to the Occasion?
In a somewhat surprising roster move prior to the start of the regular season, the Bills decided to keep just five wide receivers on the final 53-man roster: Stevie Johnson, Donald Jones, David Nelson, T.J. Graham and Brad Smith (who was designated to be listed as a quarterback).
Ruvell Martin was later re-signed after the team placed rookie corner Ron Brooks on injured reserve. But now David Nelson is out for the season, and Martin is primarily a special teams contributor.
After being a healthy scratch in Week 1, rookie T.J. Graham will have to learn the ropes—and quickly. He’ll likely line up outside with Donald Jones shifting into the slot.
Jones is actually a good fit inside due to his athleticism, and he’s expected to see an increase in targets. Meanwhile, Graham can hopefully pose a deep threat on the outside with his tremendous speed.
Also, don’t be surprised to see H-back Dorin Dickerson featured more in the offense sooner than later. He has impressive speed and is very good at catching the ball out of the backfield. His versatility was the primary reason he made the team, so now Gailey will have to put it to good use.
Regardless, for a spread offense, this group is stretching a bit thin. Fans might be missing Derek Hagan (who signed with Oakland after the Bills released him) and calling for Marcus Easley to be promoted from the practice squad in no time.
What Is Brad Smith’s Role?
Speaking of receivers, Brad Smith’s role still remains unclear.
He was supposed to be the team’s third quarterback, serving as a utility-type player who can play multiple positions. However, due to the Bills’ messy backup quarterback position, the team was forced to keep Tyler Thigpen, since newly acquired Tarvaris Jackson isn’t yet prepared to handle the offense.
As a result, Buffalo now has four quarterbacks (including Smith). Buffalo may need to start using him in a more traditional receiver role due to David Nelson’s injury. And he’s proven he can contribute at wideout in the past.
But if the Bills are intent on keeping him in a Wildcat role, they then need to utilize the formation from time to time. The Jets gave Tim Tebow eight direct snaps in Week 1, and they even got him on the field for the very first play. Tebow didn't do much in the box score, but evidently his deployment helped keep Buffalo's defense on it's heals.
If the Bills want to use Smith to confuse defenses and create mismatches, they have to at least utilize him. It will be up to Chan Gailey to figure out how to best do that.
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