Buffalo Bills Progress Report: Where Do Things Stand Headed into Week 8?
The Buffalo Bills' season is far from over.
In this mediocre division, and this mediocre conference for that matter, the Bills are alive at 3-4. Why, though, does it feel like they're hanging on by a thread?
Perhaps it's the way they've lost: an embarrassment in the season opener against the Jets, a blown 14-point third-quarter lead to the Patriots, a 45-3 drubbing by the 49ers and allowing the Titans to pick up the game-winning score with less than two minutes to go after Buffalo was in prime position to win.
Perhaps it's the fact that the teams they've beat have a combined record of 6-14, with only one winning team (the slumping 4-3 Arizona Cardinals) among them.
Let's lay out the progress report and see if we can make heads or tails of this Buffalo Bills team.
The Bills have the bye week to lick their wounds, and perhaps no unit is happier about that than the offensive line. They've been without Cordy Glenn, Kraig Urbik and Chad Rinehart for a couple of weeks now. The first two are currently listed as questionable for the post-bye-week game against the Texans, while Rinehart is listed as "out indefinitely."
Fred Jackson/C.J. Spiller: The Bills' two backs carried the ball a combined 21 times for 141 yards, and caught a combined 14 passes for 81 yards and a touchdown. That's a whopping 35 touches totaling 222 yards of offense, or 58.1 percent of Buffalo's total yardage on the day.
Donald Jones: Perhaps one of the sneakiest surprises of the season has been Jones, who has already surpassed his yardage and touchdown totals from last season.
On his current pace, he'll finish with around 46 receptions, 550 yards and six or seven touchdowns. Those are highly respectable numbers for a No. 2 receiver, something the Bills supposedly lacked headed into the season, and looked like a pipe dream following an injury to David Nelson in Week 1.
Justin Rogers: According to ProFootballFocus.com, Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck completed 7-of-8 balls against Rogers for 68 yards and a touchdown. Give some of that blame to the pass rush, which pressured Hasselbeck on just 11 of his 35 dropbacks and brought him down just twice.
Still, on a day where Hasselbeck completed 22 passes, nearly one-third of his completions and his lone touchdown toss came in Rogers' neighborhood.
Everyone involved in run defense: Spread the blame for the league's worst run defense however you like, but there's no denying a large portion of the blame goes to a defensive line that has utterly failed to get off blocks. That has, in turn, made it more difficult for the linebackers to make tackles in open space because, well, there's been no open space.
It's a team effort, to be sure, and even the coaching staff bears some blame.
Stats to Build On
That's the Bills' rushing yards per attempt, which currently ranks third in the NFL.
This makes it even more puzzling as to why the Bills were calling pass plays with a six-point lead and under four minutes to go in the fourth quarter. Yes, the Bills had thrown the ball very effectively against the Titans to that point, but with an effective running game like what the Bills have, why not put the ball in the hands of the most reliable players on offense in the most important situation?
With a mistake-prone and inaccurate quarterback, and two backs like Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller to hand off to, the Bills have been wise to run the ball as much as they have (12th-most rush attempts in the league); they need to trust the running game to get it done in key situations.
That's Ryan Fitzpatrick's touchdown percentage, which is the second-highest percentage of any starting quarterback, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com.
But as we've learned with Fitzpatrick, you take the good with the bad.
So his high touchdown percentage is the good. The bad? He has the third-highest interception percentage of any starting quarterback in the NFL.
Either that touchdown percentage is going to have to get higher (chances are slim) or the interception percentage a lot lower if the Bills offense is going to carry the load for the second-worst defense in the league.
Stats to Improve On
Broken record syndrome commence!
The Bills have the league's worst run defense on a per-carry basis, giving up an average of 5.95 yards per carry to opposing backs. Not only is that this year's worst run defense through seven games, but it is the worst run defense through seven games since the NFL-AFL merger.
Poor gap discipline, a defensive line that is getting next to no penetration, a group of below-average linebackers and a vanilla defensive scheme are all to blame for the deficiencies against the run. I guess, on a positive note, it couldn't get much worse. On the other hand, it doesn't look like it's going to get better anytime soon.
That's the Bills defensive average on third downs, which is the worst in the NFL. according to TeamRankings.com.
The Bills gave up the second-highest conversion percentage on third down this week, allowing the Titans to convert 64.29 percent of their third downs.
Their inability to get off the field in key situations opens them up to long drives, which the Titans were able to put together at various points in the game: the Titans didn't see a single third down on their eight-play, 77-yard drive to start the game; a 14-play, 80-yard touchdown drive saw them convert four third downs; an eight-play, 32-yard drive saw them convert another two third downs.
But the biggest play of the game wasn't a third down, but a 4th-and-9 from the Bills' 11-yard line, which resulted in the go-ahead touchdown that gave the Titans the win.
Brett Davis-US PRESSWIRE
Headed into the bye week, the Bills have a lot of figuring out to do both on offense and defense.
How do they minimize the mistakes for Ryan Fitzpatrick? Can they possibly take even more steps to ensuring he throws as few interceptions as possible, or is it ingrained in his DNA?
How many wins will the Bills finish with in 2012?
What about the defense? Can they finally fix what ails them against the run? Will the defensive line mesh as a unit and begin generating a consistent pass rush?
These are the questions that will determine the direction of the Bills for the rest of this season and, pending the final conclusion in 2012, seasons to come.
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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