Buffalo Bills Need More Than Just Luck To Turn Things Around

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Buffalo Bills Need More Than Just Luck To Turn Things Around
G.M. Buddy Nix stands behind Coach Chan Gailey despite the team's early season struggles.

The Bills have been cellar dwellers in the NFL for the better part of the past decade, but this season has been the low point in recent Bills history. Or has it?

The Bills reached the midway point of their season still winless, yet fans don’t seem to be calling for coach Chan Gailey’s head the way they adamantly did so with previous coach Dick Jauron, who did manage to keep the Bills hovering around .500.

The Bills have lost each of their past three games, two of which went to overtime, by three points apiece against two teams (Ravens and Chiefs) who would be in the playoffs if the season were to end today, and one on the cusp of playoff status (the Bears).

Releasing Trent Edwards and making the switch to Ryan Fitzpatrick has given the Bills offense a much needed shot in the arm, dramatically increasing the ability of the offense to convert third downs and put points on the board.

Since Fitzpatrick’s first start in Week 3, the offense’s yards per game has skyrocketed from 176.0 yds/g to 347.5 yds/g in addition to an increase of 13.7 points per game (8.5 to 22.2).

Steve Johnson has blossomed in his third year in the league, as receivers are wont to do, replacing and even improving upon the production of Terrell Owens.

And Roscoe Parrish was finally starting to make the offensive impact the team had hoped for when they selected him in the second round of the 2005 Draft until he broke his wrist in last week’s game versus the Bears and was forced onto IR.

WR Steve Johnson has been a pleasant surprise this season, amassing 44 catches for 591 yards and 6 TDs through the first 9 games of the season. The former 7th round pick out of Kentucky caught a TD in 5 straight games earlier this year, including two against the Jaguars.

However, untimely turnovers and a porous run defense have left the team still searching for their first win of the season. The Bills have to be one of the most competitive winless teams in recent memory, but that’s like being proud over having the highest failing grade on your anatomy mid-term.

The point is that failing is still failing, and something has to be done to change the defeatist culture. Progress has been made in recent weeks, but there is still a lot of work to be done in order for the Bills to return to the playoffs for the first time since the last millennium.

The first place to look is the focal point of every team: the quarterback position. As well as Fitzpatrick has played, it’s hard to say he is the long term answer at quarterback.

He probably is good enough to lead a team to the playoffs, but is he good enough to lead a team to the Super Bowl? It’s hard to say anything is impossible, but it’s highly improbable to have a journeyman QB lead that drastic of a turnaround.

Buffalo needs a face for their franchise, a mature young passer in the vein of Matt Ryan who demands the respect of veterans and rookies alike and sets the tone with a relentless work ethic and passion for the game.

While there are some promising young signal-callers in the college ranks, Andrew Luck stands a head above the rest. Just a red shirt sophomore, Luck has led Stanford to 16 wins over the past two seasons and currently has them at No. 6 in the BCS standings.

He has helped to re-establish the Cardinals as a national contender and has become the consensus No. 1 prospect, surpassing the erratic Jake Locker.

The son of former Houston Oiler quarterback and current West Virginia A.D. Oliver Luck, Andrew has football in his blood. His stats may not be the best in the nation, but excelling in Jim Harbaugh’s pro style offense has shown his capability to not only run an NFL offense, but also to take control of one.

While questions surround Locker, Cam Newton and Ryan Mallett, Luck seems to have no knocks against him. Ralph Wilson has made it clear that quarterback is the team’s top priority this offseason, but G.M. Buddy Nix recently said that quarterback is not the problem.

It leads one to question what direction the Bills will go in the months ahead, but if the Bills do end up with the first pick in the draft and Luck decides to declare, it will be awfully hard to say no to a potential franchise quarterback—someone the Bills have desperately looked for since Jim Kelly’s retirement.

Quarterback may not be the biggest need at the moment, but an elite one can make up for a lot of other weak spots. Look at Ryan’s rookie season, in which he led a reeling Falcons team dealing with the fallout of the Michael Vick dog fighting scandal to an 11-5 season and a playoff berth just one year after finishing 4-12.

That’s not to guarantee or even suggest Luck would have such an immediate effect on the Bills, but it just goes to show how much of a difference a capable quarterback can make.

If Luck doesn’t declare, though, the Bills would be wise to take the best player available, not the best quarterback available.

The Bills defense obviously could use some help, which could be provided in the form of DL DaQuan Bowers of Clemson, DT Nick Fairley of Auburn or CB Patrick Peterson of LSU.

Bowers, a premier recruit coming out of high school, has taken a big step in his junior year, showing the immense talent he has always possessed. Through 9 games, he currently has 47 tackles, with 17 for a loss and 13 sacks.

A 6’4”, 280 lb. beast, Bowers could infuse some pass rushing ability the team thought they would get out of Aaron Maybin, who now has more games as an inactive to his name than he does career sacks.

Bowers’ progress can’t compare to the quantum leap made by Fairley, though. The JUCO transfer has quietly dominated the SEC, as Cam Newton garners much of the national press.

Facing constant double teams, Fairley has totaled 7.5 sacks and 18 TFL, second and fifth respectively in the SEC. Bowers and Fairley are two of the four finalists for the Lombardi Trophy as the nation’s best lineman.

The Bills defense has struggled mightily this year, particularly against the run. Through Week 10, they rank 26th in the league in yards allowed per game and are last in the league in rush defense, allowing opponents to run for an average of 166.9 yards per game, 23 more yards per game than any other team in the league.

Peterson has drawn rave reviews from NFL scouts, too. Blessed with a rare combination of size and speed (6’2”, 220 lbs, 4.4 40), Peterson is said to be the best cornerback prospect since Champ Bailey.

He is a proven commodity in the SEC, and it would be a shock to see him drop out of the top 10 or even five come this April.

I would like to throw in an offensive tackle to consider in the first round since it may be the Bills' biggest need, but there just doesn't appear to be a tackle worth taking at the top of the draft.

Conventional wisdom says to trade down and accumulate more picks, but it’s rare to find a team willing to not only give up the picks required to move up that high, but to take on the contract that goes with being one of the first picks in the draft.

Considering how much the defense has struggled to put pressure on the passer and stop the run, there’s just as much need on defense as there is on the offensive side of the ball.

Although quarterback is the most important position on the field, it makes more sense to take a better defensive player than to reach on a quarterback just because you think it needs to be addressed.

The best teams in the league (Baltimore, Pittsburgh, New England) perennially take the best player available instead of strictly selecting the position they need the most.

What do you think the Bills should do with next year's first round pick?

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The Bills have struggled so much with their first pick in the last decade or so that it would make a lot of sense to go a little against the grain and not just take a quarterback with the first pick because that’s what everyone does.

Getting a player like Ndamukong Suh who can step in immediately and make an impact can be a much better move than taking a quarterback who may or may not pan out.

It’s not that I’m opposed to taking a quarterback, obviously; it’s just that I think taking any QB other than Luck at the top of the draft would be a reach, especially with all the help that’s needed on defense.

If I were Buddy Nix, Andrew Luck would be my first pick, no questions asked. First-round underclassmen quarterbacks don’t tend to have great success, but Luck appears to have everything it takes to buck that trend.

If he decides to return to Stanford, I would take a defensive impact player in the first and look for an offensive tackle in the second or trade back into the first if the opportunity is right.

I would strongly consider looking at inside backer in the middle rounds, as well as adding depth on both lines. Paul Posluszny is very solid, but with his injury history and the overall ineptitude of the run defense, much of which comes through the middle, it’s hard to say that help couldn’t be had, especially with two middle backers playing in the 3-4 defense.

Kyle Williams is the only player in the front seven who’s really making plays with consistency, so it’s hard to argue against selecting someone at any of those positions.

It’s undeniable that there are a lot of holes on this team, yet truthfully no team in the NFL is that far off. Drafting a couple of true impact players, especially a franchise quarterback like Luck, could be enough to rescue the Bills from obscurity and give them a chance at that elusive championship.

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