Disaster. Debacle. Mess.
Whichever word you want to use to describe the "new-look" Buffalo Bills, I would venture a guess that it was synonymous with the aforementioned ones.
Sunday's 45-3 thrashing at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers was the latest in a series of embarrassing performances by a Bills squad that was supposed to take a step toward ending their 12-year playoff drought this season. For the second week in a row, Buffalo looked like a team playing without any passion, which is an area of concern for Bills fans.
The NFL is a "what have you done for me lately" league, and the results from the last two weekends have overshadowed the fact that the Bills do have two notches in the win column, as well they should. And while the losses to the Patriots and the Niners aren't exactly unexpected for Bills fans, the complete lack of competitiveness in the team in those two games is a breaking point for some.
After the game on Sunday, one of my buddies texted me and asked if I thought the Bills were the worst team in the NFL. My initial gut reaction was an immediate no, but as I played over the first five weeks in my head, they are certainly in that discussion.
The first question that begs asking is: Are the Bills really this bad, or are they just underachieving?
I think it's a mixture of the two options. Buffalo upgraded their defensive line in a major way with the additions of Mario Williams and Mark Anderson. They also got back Pro Bowler Kyle Williams, who missed a good chunk of the 2011 season due to injury.
However, the front line has been inconsistent at best. Mario Williams and Anderson haven't made the difference in the pass rush that they were supposed to, but I'm not going to fault them just yet. We'll get to that in a bit.
Marcel Dareus has played fairly well, but he's consistently seeing double-teams up the middle and hasn't been able to shed off many blockers the last two weeks. Kyle Williams leads the team in sacks with 3.5 and has been the one line player to show up all five weeks this year. With as physically demanding as the rest of the line is, offenses are specifically game-planning for Kyle Williams rather than Mario Williams in the blocking schemes.
The real issue for the Bills' 31st-ranked defense is the back half of their front seven. Re-watching game tape from the last two Sundays, Mario Williams has been dropping back into coverage more and more to help the linebackers. Essentially, that eliminates another threat at getting to the quarterback for a team that can't get to the quarterback.
Arthur Moats and Kelvin Sheppard have been downright terrible in almost every aspect of the game. Moats is stuck between a rock and a hard place, because I don't believe that he's being used correctly in Dave Wannstedt's defense. The James Madison product is a pure pass-rusher, but he's only blitzed a handful of times over the first few games, as Wannstedt has decided to try to get pressure with only three or four rushers.
Sheppard was supposed to be the answer at the middle linebacker position, but he has been caught out of position too many times during the first five games. If you watch the best middle backers in the game, they are always in a position to make a play if a running back makes it through the first line of defense. Sheppard is getting drawn out of position, which has led to opposing offenses gashing the team up the middle for big runs. The two 3rd-and-long plays by the Niners in the first half Sunday are a good depiction of that.
The secondary hasn't been much better.
Rookie Stephon Gilmore is still a work in progress. I believe he'll succeed more when he's placed in a better position to do so—which Wannstedt hasn't done a very good job of for any of his defensive players.
Aaron Williams hasn't turned the corner, either, and the embarrassing touchdown he gave up to Kyle Williams on a simple curl route shows that. I do believe that the two starters will get better as the season progresses and the defensive front finds some consistency. If that doesn't happen then the Bills will finish among the bottom five defenses.
Offensively, the Bills have been able to find success at times and none at others. Coming into the season, we knew that Fitzpatrick was going to be the common denominator for whether the Bills had a winning season or not. Thus far into the season, he's been exactly that.
Injuries on the offensive line haven't helped much, but Fitzpatrick has been sacked only four times in five weeks. That is among the fewest given up in the NFL. He's had plenty of time to throw the ball, but he hasn't delivered results.
Looking at a box score can give you misrepresented stats for the beleaguered Bills quarterback. He was leading the NFL in touchdown passes entering last weekend before throwing up an absolute dud against San Francisco. However, many of those touchdowns—five, to be exact—have come in "garbage time" when the team was down big in their three losses.
On the flip side, Fitzpatrick is near the top in interceptions thrown, a statistical mountain that no signal-caller wants to be at the top of.
The Bills quarterback will wow you with a haymaker touchdown and then on the next possession, overthrow or underthrow every one of his receivers. The inconsistency is maddening, but it should be expected by fans of the team.
After Week 1, I wrote an article about Fitzpatrick and why the Bills need to replace him as soon as possible. Readers responded, saying to give him more time and that he was still working through his mechanics. I'm sorry, readers, but time has been had. The Bills have won exactly five games out of 17 played since Fitz signed his big-money deal, with little sign of improvement.
I won't place the full blame on Fitzpatrick, because it's not only his fault, but if the Bills want to be taken seriously as a competitor, it will be time to move on from their bad investment next offseason. There are only so many times a quarterback can miss wide-open receivers before the boo birds start hailing down.
We've discussed where the Bills have been, but where are they going? Are they really the worst team in the NFL?
I'm not ready to drop them to that low of a place just yet, but they aren't much better than the Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars or Cleveland Browns at the moment. The Bills have feasted on teams they have more talent than but have been blown out by teams with more complete talent.
The inconsistencies of this team need to be fixed or they will once again be looking at a top-10 pick in the 2013 draft come next April.
If I were being honest, though, I'm not so sure that would be a bad thing.