The 5 Biggest Early Season Storylines for the Buffalo Bills
What’s the deal?
While the coaches and players are convinced that they're more of the good Bills than the bad Bills, fans are anxious to find out the real answer, which will be determined by wins and losses in the coming weeks.
After two games, there are a handful of early season storylines that are dominating Buffalo headlines. And ultimately, they all lead up to one overarching goal: If the Bills want to reach the postseason for the first time since 1999, they’ll have to build on their most recent victory.
Here are five of the biggest storylines so far of the regular season for Buffalo.
Week 1 Disaster to Week 2 Rebound
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After all the hype in the offseason, the Bills absolutely laid an egg in a Week 1 loss against the New York Jets.
It was a bitter pill to swallow. The Jets were atrocious in the offseason, while the Bills were a popular sleeper pick to sneak into the playoffs this year. Losing to a division rival in ugly, ugly fashion wasn’t exactly the way Buffalo hoped to kick off 2012.
The Bills trailed early, and they trailed big. They couldn’t get a pass rush. Ryan Fitzpatrick was noticeably off. Fred Jackson got hurt. David Nelson tore his ACL. And the secondary struggled.
Yep. It was all bad.
The biggest question, however, was how Buffalo would respond to all this adversity. Mario Williams, who recorded just one tackle in his debut with his new team, didn’t get off to a great start in that regard. He was a popular target for criticism after complaining about the replacement referees following the loss.
But the players knew there was time for a turnaround, and head coach Chan Gailey insisted that he didn’t "think the sky was falling" on the Bills.
And the Bills made good on that promise in Week 2 by dominating the Chiefs at home.
So while the Week 1 disaster was extremely disappointing, the way Buffalo rebounded in Week 2 was a huge sign for positive growth. It shows that there is leadership, maturity and motivation in the locker room. More importantly, it confirms what we all thought before the season: The Bills can compete when they play their game.
They’ll keep their feet on the gas in Week 3 as they take on the Browns in Cleveland.
The Emergence of C.J. Spiller
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There’s no denying that losing Fred Jackson to a knee injury hurts the team as a whole. However, enough can’t be said about the emergence of C.J. Spiller.
Spiller the Thriller has looked flat-out amazing through the first two weeks of the season. He’s carried the rock 29 times for 292 yards (10.1 yards per carry) and three touchdowns. If that weren’t good enough, the 25-year-old has added five catches for 72 yards.
So it’s understandable why Spiller is all the buzz, and not only in fantasy football circles but also in NFL circles altogether.
While his numbers are great, perhaps what’s more promising is the way he’s adapted to the offense. Spiller is showing impressive patience and confidence every time he takes a handoff, and his vision is evident by the way he chooses his holes and hits them with a purpose.
Chan Gailey clearly featured him in Week 2, as he saw 18 touches before being yanked for the final quarter of the game in a blowout.
It’s unclear what exactly will happen once Freddy J returns, but that concern is secondary. For now, Spiller has proven that he is more than capable of handling running back duties. Even more, he’s shown in convincing fashion that he is every bit the playmaker the Bills thought he was coming out of Clemson.
Ryan Fitzpatrick’s Struggles
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Though it was a small one, Ryan Fitzpatrick took a step in the right direction from Week 1 to Week 2. He threw no interceptions and managed the game well behind a strong run game.
But his accuracy is still a bit off, which was evident on a couple of missed throws against the Chiefs, and he’s been better before in making decisions with the football.
So what’s the problem?
Over the offseason, one of the big storylines was how new quarterbacks coach David Lee was working with Fitz on his mechanics. The well-respected QB guru was reportedly helping Fitz with his footwork and throwing motion, which was expected to help sharpen some of this throws.
While neither Fitz nor the Bills have seen all the dividends from that hard work just yet, his accuracy hasn’t been the only concern thus far (though it has been one). He’s made a couple of questionable decisions, and he's hesitated on a few open looks—particularly a wide-open Scott Chandler last week early in the game on third down.
Clearly, Fitz is not at his best right now. But that doesn’t mean he can’t get there.
Losing David Nelson will affect the spread offense, and Fitz is going to have to adapt. Both Chandler and Donald Jones should see more targets, but don’t be surprised to see Gailey slow the pace and stick to the run game until Fitz can get his feet fully under him.
In fact, doing so may help Fitz become more efficient. With such a strong running game, there’s no reason not to utilize it to help control the clock and create more open looks for the Harvard grad.
A Young Secondary in Limbo
Ed Mulholland-US PRESSWIRE
Rookie cornerback Stephon Gilmore looked like a superstar throughout the offseason. But in the first game that counted, he looked more like an ordinary rookie.
Gilmore bit on pump fakes from Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, and he left too much space between himself and his man downfield. As a result, the 10th-overall draft pick from this offseason didn’t impress like many expected him to.
But Gilmore wasn’t the only concern. Leodis McKelvin also failed to impress against the Jets, and his performance earned him a demotion in Week 2. That move proved to be beneficial, as a healthy Justin Rogers looked great in the slot, and McKelvin excelled on special teams.
A lot is going on in the Bills secondary right now. Outside of Gilmore and McKelvin, veteran Terrence McGee is working hard to get back to top form. Aaron Williams, in his second season, is still growing. And rookie Ron Brooks, who impressed in preseason action, is on injured reserve.
There’s good news regarding Brooks, however. According to Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com, the team identified him as its candidate for the injured-reserve exception, which means he “can be recalled to the active roster once healthy again.” His return will be a welcomed one, and with Rogers now back in action, hopefully the secondary can continue to improve.
Things looked better in Week 2. They should look even better against the Browns in Week 3.
Red-Zone Touchdown Efficiency
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Though there have only been two games, the Bills are the only team in the league to be 100 percent in red-zone touchdown efficiency thus far (per Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com at the 3:30 mark). Going five for five in scoring touchdowns in the red zone is a huge under-the-radar stat that the team certainly hopes to build around.
Consistently getting seven points instead of three (or zero) inside the 20 hasn’t necessarily been the Bills bread-and-butter the past few years. That they’re off to a good start doing so in 2012 is a good sign.
It means the Bills aren’t turning the ball over in crucial spots; they’re sustaining drives; they’re calling the right plays, and they’re making good decisions close to the goal line.
Tight end Scott Chandler (who already has two touchdowns) and a superb running game have been major factors in this regard, and those trends will surely continue in the coming weeks. And by capitalizing on red-zone opportunities, the Bills actually rank second in the AFC and fourth in the NFL in total points scored.
If Buffalo can continue to take advantage of scoring opportunities, the offense should have no trouble keeping up with the higher-scoring teams around the league.
And as long as the defense can step up like it's capable of, that means this team can win some games.