On Sunday, the Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns put on a show that clearly set NFL football back about 50 years. That the Browns escaped with a 6-3 victory was due less to their own superiority than to the Bills proving their utter incompetency.
In most cases, when you hold the opposing quarterback to a 2-for-17 stat line, you're going to win the game. But these are the Bills we're talking about, and they countered with an extraordinary stat line of their own. 13-11-9. As in 13 penalties, 11 on the offense, nine of them being of the false start variety.
Bear in mind, this wasn't due to crowd noise making things difficult for the Bills offense to hear itself. No, this game was in the confines of Ralph Wilson Stadium, the Bills own home field. So, what was the excuse for this performance?
Coach Dick Jauron stated that the Bills were trying to run a hurry-up offense, and the pace might have "confused" the team's young, inexperienced group of offensive linemen. Really, Dick? If that's truly the case, why not an adjustment to a more conventional attack, giving the inexperienced players an opportunity to settle down and play better? Perhaps an inability on the part of the head coach to make such an adjustment is a better explanation.
Worse yet was the Bills final possession of the game. The Bills get the benefit of a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty, putting them a mere 30 yards outside viable field goal range, with time for QB Trent Edwards to defy odds and successfully maneuver the ball down the field for a potential game tying kick. However, this would've required Edwards to actually attack the Brown's defense.
What was Edwards' preferred method of attacking the Browns defense to get the ball into field goal range? A four-yard pass. Needing 30 yards of field, with less than a minute to play, Edwards chooses a four-yard pass. Further proof of the Bills incompetence.
There will be those who would blame Roscoe Parrish for failing to keep his eyes on a bouncing punt, mishandling the ball, allowing the Browns to fall on his fumble and subsequently kick the game winning field goal. A bad play on Parrish's part, certainly. But the reality is that it never should've gotten to that point.
The hard reality for the Bills is this: Incompetency reigns in this organization, from the top right on down, and it has resulted in an atmosphere where players realize that critical errors are going to be tolerated, with no fear of reprisal or of losing their jobs. Examine this year alone for just a moment.
The Bills had an offensive tackle in Jason Peters who is regarded as one of the best young players in the game at his position. Either Ralph Wilson, or marketing man Russ Brandon, who masquerades as the Bills GM, decide they don't wish to pay Peters the going rate. Ignoring the fact that the man who will replace him, Langston Walker, has already failed once at the position miserably, they choose to trade Peters, getting a late first round draft choice for him.
On Draft Day, with the number eleven pick, the Bills pick Aaron Maybin out of Penn State. Never mind the fact that Penn State has a dismal record lately with players like Maybin, or that Maybin is a classic 'tweener who some scouts say will have a very difficult time adapting his talents to the pro game. Or the fact that the Bills clearly lack the coaching acumen to bring out the best in a player like Maybin. There were far better choices to be made in that position.
What better choices? Well, for starters, they could've traded down five to seven spots. A GM with average acumen would've done that. Too bad what the Bills have as a GM is someone whose true expertise is in the area of marketing rather than in evaluation of player personnel. But Michael Jenkins was available to the Bills at No. 11 and would almost certainly have helped the defensive backfield.
Other players who were available, and could've still been there when the Bills traded down were Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews and Rey Maualuga, USC's fine trio of linebackers. Or, if they would've preferred an area of desperate need, OT Phil Loadholt, currently a starter with the Vikings could've been had, even with a move down of ten spots.
Of course, to get the best out of players, the key is good coaching. Unfortunately, along with the GM position being manned by an incompetent, the head coaching spot is as well. Going into this week's game, the Bills were trailing the Rams by one in number of penalties, & were first in the league in yards penalized. Most of these penalties were identical to this weeks, in that they would be classified as mental mistakes, usually committed by an undisciplined team. That description fits this Bills team perfectly.
On rare occasions, leadership among the players can overcome some of these obstacles. Regrettably, for the Bills, what passes for leadership on the offensive side of the ball is Trent Edwards, a quarterback who lacks the courage to overcome his own mistakes. In trying to play error-free football, Edwards plays passively, without any aggression at all. This was evident in yesterday's four yard pass when one of about 12 to 15 yards was necessary.
On the rare occasion when Edwards does try to be bold, if he should throw an interception, that will be the end of any downfield attempts for the day and perhaps for next week as well. Unlike the great ones, who throw a pick and shrug it off to resume attacking at the next opportunity, when Edwards throws an interception, he reverts to dump-off passes which move the offense at a snail's pace if at all, never gaining enough yards to make up for one dropped ball, which results in an inevitable punt by the Bills.
Surely, Edwards needs better protection from what passes as an offensive line in Buffalo. The huge question there is, knowing how sub-par this unit is, how could the Bills allow Jason Peters to go unsigned, and eventually be traded to Philadelphia? Must have something to do with the tremendous ability to evaluate personnel of the general manager.
With this year's edition of the Bills clearly doomed to a fate somewhere along the lines of 4-12, one can only hope for next year. However, any high hopes for that would have to be predicated on some dramatic changes. I have a few suggestions.
Ralph Wilson needs to kick Russ Brandon back upstairs into a marketing-only role. He also needs to kick Dick Jauron to the curb.
Place a call to Floyd Reese, currently acting as a consultant in New England. As a GM, Mr. Reese rebuilt the Tennessee Titans not once, but twice. Do not give up trying to persuade him to resume being an active GM until he takes on the role in Buffalo.
Once that is done, give him a blank check for Bill Cowher. Instruct him to bring Cowher to Buffalo to rebuild this once-proud franchise, and to disregard the cost. Tell Cowher he is free to bring in any coaches he should choose, along with any scouting personnel he values. Advise him that he and Reese will have joint province over who to draft, as well as whom they would bring in as free agents. Tell them that there are no players currently on the roster who are indispensable, and that any who they feel are not on board with what they intend to accomplish are to be summarily dismissed.
There are no guarantees that this would result in an immediate turnaround for the Bills. But, if nothing else, Bills fans would most likely not have to sit through games where the offense spends four quarters shooting itself in the foot with undisciplined play resulting in nine false start penalties. Not to mention the fact that there would be reason for having real hope for the future. As it stands now, the only hope Bills fans have is for a high first round pick next year that hopefully won't be wasted.