Buffalo Bills State of the Union: Where Does the Team Stand Headed into Week 5?
They have been equal parts imposing and—in their own words—embarrassing this season.
So what do we make of one of the most bipolar teams in the NFL?
Let's take a look at some of the key components to the Bills season thus far in our first-quarter State of the Union.
The Good, The Bad, The Quarterback
If it feels like Ryan Fitzpatrick has been very up-and-down this season, it's because he has been.
The Bills were hoping that they would get the Fitzpatrick that chucked his way to a 97.8 passer rating in the first seven games of the 2011 season, and clunked his way to a 66.5 passer rating in the final nine games.
We have seen glimpses of both Fitzpatricks—"good Fitzpatrick" and "bad Fitzpatrick"—at different points this season, and even over the course of a game.
Who says Fitzpatrick can't throw accurately deep?
But still, is that any excuse to throw all the way across the field after rolling to the left?
Good Fitz-Bad Fitz. Same as it ever was.
Bills Offense Functioning Without a Deep Threat
Stevie Johnson is a solid pass-catcher, but the team lacked a deep threat, and that was a focal point of the offseason discussion.
Through four games, Ryan Fitzpatrick has accumulated 14 passes of 20-plus yards, according to NFL.com. That being said, Fitzpatrick currently ranks 18th in passes traveling 15 or more yards in the air, according to Advanced NFL Stats.
We know Fitzpatrick is an inconsistent deep passer. The Bills know it, too. According to Pro Football Focus, Fitzpatrick has completed 22 of 51 passes (43.1 percent) that have traveled 10 or more yards in the air.
Less than 10 yards, Fitzpatrick has completed 50 of 70 passes (71.4 percent).
The Bills have accumulated a lot of their passing yards through yards after the catch. It's not necessarily a bad thing—some of the best offenses in the league function largely off their ability to create YAC (see Packers, Patriots).
These tendencies help explain why the Bills may have taken their need for a "deep threat" a bit less seriously than the general population thought they should.
Embarrassment of Riches on DL is an Embarrassment
It's what you tell yourself before you go on a date with a pretty girl. It's what LeBron James tells himself before sinking a game-winning jump shot.
On this pace, the Bills will finish with 40 sacks this season, which would be a huge improvement over the 29 sacks they recorded last year. That being said, this front four has not delivered what Buffalo natives thought they were getting with those two giant contracts.
Joe Buscaglia of WGR 550 Sportsradio pulls back the green curtain on Williams' struggles against the Patriots, pointing out that the Patriots left him one-on-one on 25 of 29 drop-backs.
Just look at this pocket for Brady.
Every dog has his day, and although Williams and Anderson are both in the doghouse, their day came in the Dawg Pound, where they both finally got on the stat sheet for the season.
Kyle Williams has been the dominant force of the defensive line thus far, racking up 3.5 sacks to lead the team in that category. His seven hurries are nearly as many as Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, and while that's an impressive mark for a nose tackle, it's an embarrassing indication of the futility of the Bills high-priced, free-agent acquisitions.
Mario Williams may be wasted money at this point, but the struggles of the defense are not entirely on him or the pass rush.
Second-Guessing the Secondary
With the selection of cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Ron Brooks this year, as well as Aaron Williams last year, the Bills have done quite a bit to overhaul their secondary.
The results, thus far, are spotty at best.
The Bills currently rank in the 20s in nearly every passing category, and they have given up 16 pass plays of 20 yards or more, currently tied for sixth-most in the league.
The pass defense should improve if the pass rush ever hits stride, but it just goes to show you that it's rarely ever about one specific player or unit, but rather how the entire unit works together.
The Bills record says they are an average team, but it's more accurate to say they are as good at times as they are bad at other times.
On offense, the Bills must stick with the ground game and continue to work the short and intermediate parts of the field in the passing game.
How many wins will the Bills finish with this season?
On defense, the pass rush needs to begin doing what it was brought in to do—erm, rush the passer—and as a result, the secondary should reciprocate that production, if performances against the Chiefs and Browns are any indication.
If the Bills are able to do those things, they'll find that their season will look a lot more like it did in those two contests than it did in two embarrassing divisional losses.
If they're unable to, it could be another long season in western New York.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand.
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