Buffalo Bills State of the Union: Where Does the Team Stand Headed into Week 10?
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Fitting for the Buffalo Bills, in the same year as the presidential campaign which was all about jobs, the Bills are trying to prove themselves worthy of a second term, if you will.
The Bills' 2012 campaign was forecast with big potential for a team that has been short on talent, hype and, most importantly, wins.
The Bills haven't made noise in the AFC East for years, but the offseason crescendo built up to the Week 1 showdown against the Jets, where the loudest noise was the thud of the Bills falling flat on their face.
It's been an up-and-down season since then, to say the least, with the team going above and below .500 several times already in the first half of the season. Now, at 3-5, the Bills have no choice but to swing that needle above-average if they want to avoid an offseason with heads rolling left and right.
Here is a recap of the Bills season to date.
C.J. Spiller: Yep, Spiller's going to be a predominant theme in this article. Get used to it.
Spiller currently leads the league in yards per carry with 7.2, but that's not all. Over the past four weeks, 18 of Spiller's 37 carries (48.6 percent) went for five yards or more. Twenty-five of the 37 carries (67.6 percent) went for at least three yards. Only seven of his carries (18.9 percent) went for no gain or for a loss.
I'll keep this short because we'll get to Spiller plenty more later on.
Jairus Byrd: Because without a pair of interceptions in the fourth quarter and overtime against the Cardinals, the Bills could very well be 0-4 in the second quarter of the season and staring at a 2-6 record at the midway mark.
Byrd grades out as the third-best safety in the league this season, according to ProFootballFocus.com. The website also considers him to be the best cover safety in the NFL. He currently accounts for half of the Bills' total interceptions.
Chan Gailey: Why so harsh? Well, why has C.J. Spiller only had more than 10 carries in four of Buffalo's eight games? How you can have a running back as talented as Spiller, who leads the league in yards per carry with a whopping 7.2 and not find a way to get him more carries than that is beyond me.
Of course, there are other ways to get backs involved than just in the running game, and the Bills have at least tried to get him the ball more in the passing game over the past few weeks, but there are other reasons why Gailey is on the stock-down list.
It's not just about the overall balance, which hasn't been that great, but several times this season, the Bills have gotten away from the running game at the worst possible times and in close games where it wasn't necessary.
There are a lot of things standing in the Bills way in their quest for the playoffs. Gailey seems to be one of them.
The secondary: Not only are the Bills horribly injured on the back end, with cornerback Terrence McGee on injured reserve and Aaron Williams questionable for Sunday's game against the Patriots, even those who are healthy have largely underachieved.
The Bills have spent a good deal of draft picks on guys like Williams, Leodis McKelvin, Ron Brooks and Stephon Gilmore, but the returns on those picks are minimal thus far. The Bills have just six interceptions. They give up 7.8 yards per reception and a 96.9 passer rating on defense.
Ryan Fitzpatrick: Three stock downs? Hoo-boy.
Fitzpatrick is completing a high percentage of his throws (65.6 percent in the past four games), but efficiency in that aspect hasn't been enough. He averages 6.5 yards per pass attempt this year and didn't once cross that threshold over the past four games. He has failed to throw a touchdown pass in three of the past four games.
The Bills lack any explosive threat in the passing game that could properly complement their dynamic running game.
Wild inconsistency doesn't begin to describe Fitzpatrick, whose stat line over the course of his career looks like a heart attack and has probably induced its fair share of heart attacks for Bills fans over the years.
"Listen, we have said from Day 1 that we want to draft a good young quarterback," Nix said, according to Associated Press. "I don't want to leave here without a franchise guy for the future in place. I have not said that before, but I'm saying it now because it's fact."
When the general manager questions whether the quarterback of the future is in place, your job probably isn't very safe. That, combined with erratic performance from Fitzpatrick, should have the Amish Rifle feeling less than comfortable about his job security going forward.
Highlight of the Quarter
How could this be anything but the interception by Jairus Byrd that helped seal the win for the Bills over the Cardinals?
Quarterback John Skelton telegraphed this throw, and Byrd made a very good read and an even better play on the ball with a very athletic diving interception.
Byrd has become a ballhawk for the Bills secondary in his four-year NFL career, picking off 16 passes. He has already matched his interception total from all of last year in just the first eight games.
Lowlight of the Quarter
It would simply be too easy to go with the 83-yard touchdown run given up to Titans running back Chris Johnson, so let's go with the fourth-quarter interception thrown by Ryan Fitzpatrick in that same game.
Fitzpatrick had no business even trying to complete this pass, with wide receiver Stevie Johnson completely covered.
Nursing a six-point lead in the fourth quarter was not exactly the best time to call such a play, either, which is why we circle back to the arguments made about Chan Gailey earlier in this article.
Three Steps to Second-Half Success
1. Give the ball to C.J. Spiller more: How underutilized is Spiller? Consider this: Among backs with at least 25 percent of the team's rushing attempts, he ranks No. 1 in ProFootballFocus.com's "elusive rating," which takes into account yards after contact and missed tackles. Set the filter to 50 percent and his name vanishes into digital air.
Same goes for breakaway percentage at 48.4 percent, where he ranks second with backs over 25 percent of their team's carries.
So what should all this tell you? Probably something along the lines of Spiller getting more than 36.3 percent of the team's total carries.
OK, I promise; no more C.J. Spiller talk.
2. Find a way to minimize Ryan Fitzpatrick's mistakes: The Bills currently have the fourth-most total turnovers in the NFL at 18, and half of them are interceptions by Ryan Fitzpatrick. He currently ranks fifth in touchdown percentage, getting it into the end zone on 5.9 percent of all of his throws. He has the sixth-highest interception percentage among starting quarterbacks, though, at 3.5.
The scary thing is, the Bills have already done almost everything they possibly can in that regard (except that one thing that I promised I wasn't going to mention again).
They have almost completely eliminated the deep pass from their offense, going with short and intermediate throws religiously. Fitzpatrick throws downfield on just 8.9 percent of his drop-backs, the fourth-lowest percentage of starting quarterbacks.
The fact that it's been so difficult for the Bills to minimize his mistakes gives you all the indication you need as to why the general manager doesn't think he's the quarterback of the future.
3. Figure out the run defense: The Bills are no longer on as historic of a pace as they were headed into their game against the Texans, but they are still the league's worst run defense on a per-carry basis, yielding 5.7 yards a crack.
According to ProFootballFocus.com, both Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams ranked out among the top 10 most productive pass-rushing defensive tackles in the NFL, but Dareus grades out as the worst run-defending defensive tackle in the NFL. According to the website, linebackers Kelvin Sheppard and Nigel Bradham also both rank out poorly in run defense, among the 15 worst 4-3 linebackers against the run.
From increased effort to more sound technique and fundamentals to play-calling, there's plenty of work to be done for this unit.
At 3-5, the Bills aren't mathematically out of the playoff hunt yet, but to get there would be defying the odds in a big way.
As we examined with the Jets yesterday, teams that are 3-5 or worse midway through the season make the playoffs just 2.8 percent of the time since 1990 (seven times out of 247).
How many wins will the Bills finish with this season?
Fortunately for Buffalo, seven of the team's next eight games look very winnable (minus this week's road contest against the Patriots). Unfortunately for Buffalo, they haven't even proven themselves capable of winning all of their winnable games (losses to the Jets and Titans).
Getting the ball to Spiller won't be enough to earn the team the record it needs to make the playoffs. It will take a lot of mistake-free football from what has been a mistake-laden team in the first half of this season.
Barring another drastic change in trajectory, the Bills look headed for another long offseason.
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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