Buffalo Bills Progress Report: Where the Team Stands Headed into Week 11
The nails are being hammered slowly into the Buffalo Bills' coffin.
I said "the season is far from over" at 3-4. I said "the Bills aren't mathematically out of the playoff hunt yet" at 3-5.
But 3-6? That's a whole new cup of Joe, and one that tastes like the dirt that Chan Gailey said we shouldn't kick on them at 0-1. Since 1990, three out of 91 teams to start 3-6 have made the playoffs, or around 3.3 percent. That's down from the 4.6 percent of teams (seven out of 151) that have made the playoffs at a 3-5 record.
The percentage of teams that make the playoffs at 3-7? Zero.
If they want to avoid that peril, there are a lot of improvements they'll have to make, and in a hurry. Even if they lose this week, they have to continue to improve to build toward the future.
Here's a progress report of where things stand to this point.
Primary Talking Point
Go ahead. Rail against the offense. Ryan Fitzpatrick isn't a good deep passer and limits what the offense can do. Chan Gailey's refusal to utilize C.J. Spiller to the fullest extent possible is mind-numbing.
But admit it, the defense is the bigger disappointment.
Fitzpatrick's been wildly inconsistent, but his 87.5 passer rating is in the top half of starting NFL quarterbacks. Spiller's 7.3 yards per carry is the best among all running backs. The Bills convert 42.1 percent of third downs, the 10th-best average in the league. They rank in the top half of the league in scoring.
Feed me all those stats in the preseason, and I'd have told you this is a 5-4, maybe even a 6-3 football team.
But a drastically underwhelming defense has been the bugaboo for the Bills. They've given up more points than any team, have given up more yards than any team except one and have the worst run defense in the league in more metrics than I can count on one hand, including a league-worst 5.5 yards per carry and the worst run defense in Football Outsiders' DVOA.
Their pass rush is wildly inconsistent as likely to get three or four sacks (three games) as one or zero (five), and they give up the league's sixth-highest passer rating at 96.8, and fifth-worst in Cold Hard Football Facts' defensive real quarterback rating. Their pass defense ranks 30th in Football Outsiders' DVOA, as well.
For a defense that was expected to make such drastic improvement with a new coordinator and a star-studded lineup, this season has been a big disappointment on the defensive side of the ball.
Meanwhile, WGR 550 SportsRadio reports that defensive end Mark Anderson had another procedure on his knee and will miss two to three more weeks.
Chan Gailey: The final play call gets some criticism, but at least this week, it was only one questionable play call instead of a questionable game plan. A week after only handing the ball to his backs 12 times, the Bills put the ball in the hands of their best playmakers 25 times on handoffs and another eight times in the passing game.
To be fair, the 14 penalties called against Buffalo are not a sign of good coaching, but at least we know Gailey is capable of learning from mistakes.
Mario Williams: Williams didn't log a sack against the Patriots, but his play has drastically improved since having wrist surgery. He has been responsible for eight defensive stops over the past two weeks, according to ProFootballFocus.com, which is 40 percent of his total on the season.
T.J. Graham: Graham ran the wrong route on the final offensive play of the game, an interception by Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. The receiver doesn't take the full blame, as was previously believed, because wide receiver Stevie Johnson came out and said it's not a route he has practiced running.
Fred Jackson: The running back fumbled the ball at the one-yard line, costing the Bills an opportunity at a touchdown drive. He won't have a chance to redeem himself this week, as he'll miss the game with the aforementioned concussion.
Stats to Build On
That's the Bills' average on a per-carry basis this year, which is currently the second-highest average in the league. Football Outsiders has them ranked sixth in rushing DVOA, which adjusts performances based on opponents.
C.J. Spiller remains the Bills' best playmaker on offense, and getting him the ball is imperative. If his league-leading 7.3 yards per carry isn't enough of an indicator (an average which actually went up after facing the Patriots' third-ranked run defense), I'm lost.
That's the percentage of deep passes (traveling 20 or more yards) Fitzpatrick has thrown this year, according to ProFootballFocus.com. He throws deep less than any quarterback except Ryan Tannehill, Alex Smith, Kevin Kolb, Robert Griffin III and Christian Ponder. They only threw four deep passes against the Patriots.
The Bills have players capable of stretching the field, but their quarterback isn't very good at throwing deep. His accuracy percentage on deep throws (18.5 percent) is lower than any other quarterback in the NFL. The Bills scored 31 points on the Patriots this way, and although success against the Patriots defense is not the measure of a good offense, it's at least proof that their style can be effective.
Stats to Improve On
That is Buffalo's passer rating differential, according to Cold Hard Football Facts, which puts them at 23rd in the league. When you're trying to find out exactly why a team is performing as badly as it is, this is usually a good indicator to look at, as it has a high correlation to winning and losing football games.
It simply takes the defensive passer rating and subtracts it from the offense's passer rating.
I've hammered the point home about giving the ball to C.J. Spiller, but the best teams in the NFL are the ones that win the battle of the skies with an efficient attack and a potent defense, and the Bills have failed to do that on a consistent basis this year.
That's Buffalo's percentage of conversions allowed on third downs this year. That's the worst average in the league.
Looking deeper, the Bills have given up conversion on 36 of 89 third downs via pass and 18 of 25 via run. They are the worst team in the league by nearly 10 percentage points on third downs against the run.
They put themselves in favorable yards-to-go situations on third downs, averaging a distance of 7.58 yards to go on third down for the seventh-best average in the league. However, their average of 6.68 yards gained on third downs is the fifth-highest in the league.
The Bills may have given their fanbase a little heartburn, but with a quick turnaround, they could soon wash the sour taste of stomach acid out of Buffalo's collective mouths.
The Dolphins looked a lot more threatening when they had won three games in a row than they have on their two-game losing streak to the Colts and Titans. Their top-10 defense has allowed 60 points in the past two games (with one touchdown coming off a pick-six by Tennessee).
A game against an AFC East opponent normally doesn't bode well for Fitzpatrick, and this week is no different. He is 4-14 against the AFC East, 0-3 this year, and has lost three straight to the Dolphins. He threw two touchdowns against five interceptions in two games last year while accumulating a STATS passer rating.
Both teams are flawed, but both have an opportunity—for the Dolphins, the opportunity to get their sluggish ground game (3.8 yards per carry, 27th in the NFL) going against a bad run defense, and for the Bills, to improve on their league-worst 5.5 yards per carry average against a team that struggles to run the ball.
But as usual, this game could come down to which team is more efficient through the air. Will we see the careful and conservative Tannehill who didn't throw an interception for three straight games? Which version of Fitzpatrick takes the field? Those are likely the biggest factors in which team wins.
Going forward, the Bills face a much softer schedule.
It looks like the Bills could still end up with just enough wins to just miss out on a top-five pick once again.
How many wins will the Bills finish with in 2012?
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 via team press releases.
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