8 Decisions Doug Marrone Must Make for the Buffalo Bills This Offseason
Doug Marrone and the Buffalo Bills—an exquisite pairing.
Reports are indicating (h/t Adam Schefter) that the Bills hired Marrone from Syracuse early Sunday morning after an exhaustive interview process in which they talked to four other candidates.
Here are the eight most critical things Buffalo's new head coach will have to do to return the Bills to relevance in the NFL.
Draft the Right Quarterback
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Although much will happen before Buffalo gets a chance to draft its franchise quarterback—hiring of coordinators, free-agency moves, etc.—finding the correct signal-caller is of the utmost importance for Doug Marrone.
Inconsistency and perpetual instability at the quarterback position have plagued Buffalo since Jim Kelly retired.
Coaches are critical in the ultra-complex NFL, but if you don't have a quarterback, in all likelihood, your team will fail.
Look around the league.
Forget the coaches for a second.
A team's general success has become nearly an exact correlation to play of its the quarterback.
I could go on, but you get the picture.
Marrone needs to comprehensively examine the 2013 quarterback class and find the right quarterback to draft, whether it's his college QB Ryan Nassib or not.
Hire an Aggressive Defensive Coordinator
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In 2012, per Football Outsiders, the Bills allowed the highest percentage of touchdowns per drive in the NFL.
Dave Wannstedt's outdated, vanilla 4-3 scheme was easy for offenses to predict and rarely utilized the blitz.
I communicated with ProFootballFocus on Twitter, and they pulled this statistic pertaining to the percentage in which Buffalo blitzed this year:
@christrapasso 17.8%. Very low. League average is 31.4%— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) January 6, 2013
Marrone's defensive back coach at Syracuse was Donnie Henderson, a former NFL defensive coordinator, so he's a guy who may be considered.
Also, Gary Gibbs, the man who was the defensive coordinator in New Orleans with Marrone, is a possibility.
Regardless of who it is, the next Buffalo defensive coordinator must be willing to implement a more progressive 4-3 defensive scheme that plays to the strengths of the personnel on the roster.
(Stephon Gilmore needs to be put in a position in which he can be the man-to-man press corner he was in college.)
Hire an Innovative Offensive Coordinator
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Marrone is an offensive mind, but he hasn't called the plays at Syracuse since 2010.
His CEO-style of managing the team likely appealed to the Bills front office after Chan Gailey solely focused on the offense and was seemingly overwhelmed with all the responsibilities that come with being a head man in the NFL.
Although Gailey did improve Buffalo's attack from where it was during the Dick Jauron era, the former Georgia Tech coach did not tailor the system to the talent he acquired.
Ryan Fitzpatrick threw the ball far too often, and C.J. Spiller was epically neglected.
The next offensive coordinator needs to be innovative with his system and make sure the best players get the ball most often.
Current New Orleans Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael is an option, as he was the quarterbacks coach when Marrone was directly under Sean Payton from 2006 to 2008.
Find an Impactful Linebacker
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The Buffalo Bills currently have one of the least impactful linebacker corps in the NFL.
Nick Barnett proved to be well past his prime on the weak side, both in coverage and against the run, and Kelvin Sheppard and Nigel Bradham, though possessing potential, have yet to make major marks as professionals.
The team must move on from Barnett, who'll be 32 in May.
A player like the instinctive and ultra athletic Arthur Brown from Kansas State would be a great find early in the draft. He's in the new-age mold of outside linebackers Lavonte David and Bobby Wagner—two rookies who shined in 2012.
Typically, linebackers are aided or hindered by the talent next to them.
With an impressive coverage and blitz linebacker on the roster, Sheppard and Bradham would have a terrific opportunity to develop into fine players.
Then again, Manti Te'o manning that middle linebacker spot wouldn't be so bad, either.
Get the Ball to C.J. Spiller
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As alluded to in a previous slide, the next Bills' head coach and offensive coordinator must get the ball to the team's best players frequently.
Buffalo's most effective player is clearly C.J. Spiller.
Frankly, he's one of the most dynamic runners in the entire league.
Per ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required), Spiller's "Elusiveness Rating" (a metric that attempts to measure the impact of a runner disregarding the blocking in front of him) was 94.6 in 2012.
To put that into perspective, Adrian Peterson's was 72.0.
Find Quality Wide Receiver Depth
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A quarterback can change everything, but any signal-caller can drastically benefit from quality receivers.
Stevie Johnson has proven to be a capable chain-mover, and although he hasn't been a game-breaker by the traditional definition, three straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons is quite the feat.
However, the rest of the wideout grouping is rather underwhelming.
The 6'5'' David Nelson will return next season from a torn knee ligament, but guys like Donald Jones, Brad Smith and Ruvell Martin don't necessarily strike fear into any defense.
T.J. Graham wasn't horrible in his rookie campaign, but there is plenty about his game that needs to be developed.
Whether its through free agency or in the draft, Marrone needs to add more inherently talented receivers to the Bills roster.
Keep Jairus Byrd and Andy Levitre in Buffalo
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Both Jairus Byrd and Andy Levitre are impending free agents in 2013.
Both need to be franchised or re-signed this offseason.
Byrd does it all on the back end of the Bills secondary, doubling as a ball-hawking centerfielder and a surprisingly stout run stopper.
He finished 2012 with 76 tackles, five interceptions, four forced fumbles and six passes defended.
The safety is a prime franchise tag candidate.
As for Levitre, he's the team's most versatile and reliable offensive linemen, having started every game in his four-year career.
The Oregon State alum isn't a perennial All-Pro, but he plays at a borderline Pro Bowl-level at the critical left guard spot.
A Levitre contract extension should be a top priority for Marrone and the Bills front office.
Manage the Game
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For the last six years—from Dick Jauron to Chan Gailey—Bills fans have endured horrible in-game coaching.
Ill-advised timeouts, conservative fourth-down decisions and head-scratching play calls have doomed Buffalo and made it exceedingly difficult to win on Sundays.
On game day, Marrone must trust his coordinators to do their jobs. Also, he has to make sure that proper adjustments are made and that he manages the clock correctly.