Buffalo Bills Progress Report: Where Do Things Stand Headed into Week 7?
The Buffalo Bills are far from the league's worst team, but they are far from the trendy surprise playoff team we heard about all offseason.
At this point, though, they're still in the thick of the race along with six other .500 teams in the AFC.
That's especially true since the Bills play in the parity-filled AFC East, with three other 3-3 teams to its name.
After a gut-check win over the Arizona Cardinals, the Bills' confidence level could be on the rise, but will their playoff chances rise along with it? Here's a look at where the Bills stand headed into Week 7.
Along with a missed field goal by Cardinals kicker Jay Feely at the end of regulation, Jairus Byrd's interceptions in the fourth quarter and overtime may have saved Bills head coach Chan Gailey's job.
The safety position is a strength for the Bills defense, and Byrd's ball skills are among the best in Buffalo's secondary (though, at this point, that's not saying a whole lot).
The high-priced sack master couldn't possibly avenge five weeks worth of struggles in one game against the Arizona Cardinals bad offensive tackles, but he got off to a good start with a two-sack game.
His performance against the Cardinals accounts for 57.1 percent of his sack production to this point in the season.
There were several questionable decisions in the game against the Cardinals—throwing the ball 16 times in the fourth quarter and overtime, while running the ball eight times, even though the running game was working brilliantly and the Bills know they have an inaccurate quarterback.
The decision to have wide receiver Brad Smith launch a 36-yard pass into the end zone with four minutes to go and a three-point lead was dubious, to say the least. Needless risks like that aren't going to help his team win games.
Even if it had worked, I doubt anyone would have been calling him a genius for it.
To Donald Jones in triple coverage. To Donald Jones in triple coverage.
I don't care if your name is Brad Smith and you only play quarterback once a season. That's never a good decision, especially when one of the three men covering him is Cardinals' cornerback Patrick Peterson, whose notorious ball skills have been on display this season (three interceptions, eight passes defensed).
It may not always be pretty—Bills fans might like it to be pretty just once this season, to help ease the nerves—but there's no "pretty" category in a win-loss record. The Bills have built an identity for themselves, they just need to maximize it.
A running game as dominant as the one fielded by the Bills can lead to huge gains for the offense. They've done well at balancing things out at times.
If the Bills defensive line truly has turned a corner and will now consistently get after the quarterback, their defense might finally realize its potential.
The Bills have proven that they can scrap their way to a win if need be, even if they don't inspire a lot of confidence along the way.
The flaws have already been exposed in this team.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is not an accurate quarterback, and has never been consistent from week to week.
The defensive line has feasted on lesser foes, but has been stonewalled by the better ones. The secondary remains a work in progress, and will never realize full potential in Dave Wannstedt's system without consistent output from the front four.
The Bills are predictable on both offense and defense, and if they get in any kind of hole, they can be easy to beat.
Stats to Build On
The Bills yards per rush attempt on offense, which currently ranks third in the NFL.
C.J. Spiller has been the man most responsible for this gaudy digit, with the third-year back averaging 7.6 yards per carry on 60 attempts. Feeding him the ball seems like a good idea, so why did he only get six carries in the second half, when the Bills had a lead and were trying to hold onto it?
The running game has been so effective, in fact, that the Bills should probably consider running more than they throw it. The run-pass split was dead even at 33 apiece this week, and a case could be made for that trend to continue, especially since Fitzpatrick doesn't appear to be getting any more accurate anytime soon.
The Bills sack percentage allowed thus far in 2012, which currently ranks third in the NFL.
Once again, this is attributed to multiple factors, including the heavy dose of short and intermediate passes (that are almost too heavy at times) and solid protection from the offensive line.
According to Pro Football Focus, Fitzpatrick is the third-least pressured quarterback in the NFL, feeling the heat on just 22.8 percent of his drop-backs.
Stats to Improve On
The Bills yards per rush attempt allowed on defense, which currently ranks 32nd in the NFL.
This is a continuing trend; the Bills finished last year yielding 4.8 YPA, which ranked 27th in the NFL. It seems like no matter what the Bills do, they will concede big yards on the ground.
Whether it's a 3-4 or a 4-3, homegrown defensive linemen or high-priced free agents and first-round picks, the Bills run defense seems to struggle.
The Bills turnovers on offense this year, which currently ranks 30th in the NFL.
Their nine interceptions and six lost fumbles are both the sixth-most of any team.
Six of their turnovers came in one game against the Patriots, but the Bills have at least two turnovers in four games this year. They are 1-3 in those games.
If the Bills want to be a winning team this year, ball security has to improve dramatically.
It's been a roller coaster season already for the Bills, but at 3-3, they are in lockstep with the rest of the AFC East.
While two of Buffalo's wins came against the struggling Chiefs and Browns, this week's win over the previously 4-1 Cardinals on the road indicates this team might just have the toughness it takes to compete.
How many wins will the Bills finish with in 2012?
They get a softball down the middle with a home game against the 2-4 Titans before the bye, and at that point, they begin a grueling stretch that has them traveling to both the Houston Texans and New England Patriots before hosting the Miami Dolphins.
There's still a few weeks before that begins, and a bye week for them to get healthy and self-scout. The Bills could enter their bye week with a winning record, though, and after the way this season has gone, that has to be seen as a victory on some level.
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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