In the NFL, when a good team loses a game to a bad team, it can be shrugged off as just a loss. When a good team loses two games in a row to bad teams, questions of how good the team really is, arise. We’re halfway through the football season, and the Buffalo Bills are stumbling. The Bills of week nine are not the Bills of week four.
After flying out of the gates with a four-game win streak, the Bills appeared to be a team to be reckoned with. The defense, which was reprehensible last season, made the necessary plays; special teams remained a force, both in return games and on coverage units; the offense, led by quarterback Trent Edwards, moved the ball efficiently and effectively; and most importantly, the coaching staff looked decisive and prepared.
In the NFL, most teams take every four games as a mini-season. In this case, after losing in consecutive weeks to division opponents and losing three of their last four, the Bills have failed their second mini-season miserably.
So how did they get here? The first four games were enjoyable, not only because the Bills won, but because of how they won.
They throttled the Seattle Seahawks when they were thought to be a formidable foe on opening day. Then against the Oakland Raiders, Jacksonville Jaguars, and St. Louis Rams , the team had the mettle to mount extraordinary comebacks to pull victories from apparent defeats.
As a fan, the ride wasn’t just enjoyable, it was, as I stated, extraordinary. Extra ordinary, or in layman’s terms, something miraculous which won’t always be the norm.
There were signs in the early games which could have pointed to the Bills’ collapse. From the complex angle, like bad coaching decisions by opponents coaches (I still contend that Jack Del Rio is a terrible coach, Scott Linehan and Lane Kiffin were coaching teams in turmoil, and on their last legs as head coaches, and the same can be said in San Diego for defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell), and timely plays which just can’t be something the team counts on.
To the more simple, like not establishing a running game or generating an effective pass rush in any game, or not showing the humility of being a consistent loser finally on the rise.
Looking back to their early wins, the Bills may have been as much lucky as they were effective. The law of averages tipped in their favor throughout the early season, and in the past four games, it has bitten back.
Against the Arizona Cardinals, Trent Edwards, who was on his way to an MVP-type season, was knocked unconscious by a vicious (and legal) hit from a safety blitz by Adrian Wilson. With Edwards out, despite a not-terrible day from backup JP Losman, the Bills sputtered offensively and defensively, and were laughed out of Arizona.
Against San Diego, the team bounced back slightly by with a win over the Chargers, but the Miami Dolphins game is when they started to truly be exposed.
The Bills were sluggish, out of sorts and inherently predictable against a Miami team good teams should beat. The predictability continued today against the New York Jets, and on a day when the Bills kept Brett Favre in check, they lost.
Eric Mangini is the second most overrated coach in football (see: Jack Del Rio), but the Bills were boring, unmotivated, and handily out-coached.
The Bills were facing a top-five run and bottom ten pass defense, and it appeared they got caught up in those statistics, as their gameplan never even called to establish a running game.
It didn’t help that the first play of the game seemed to be a carbon copy of the Cardinals game, as Darrelle Revis’ corner blitz seemed to have shaken Trent Edwards’ confidence early. More troubling, Edwards continued his recent poor play. For a player who showed so much promise early this season, he has been just as bad since his concussion.
Statistically, he had an alright day, throwing for almost 300 yards and a nice completion percentage, but he constantly checked down, missed numerous open receivers, held on to the ball too long, and rarely hit his receivers in stride.
Dick Jauron and the rest of the Bills coaching staff have been equally as bad. The Bills have three good offensive linemen, which is pretty good in the NFL. Still, the line flat out can’t pass or run block.
More concerning is the lack of a pass rush and terribly inconsistent defensive scheme. The Bills have talented players all over the field. Yet, these good players continue to be out of position, over pursue, and their strength—third down defensive efficiency, has been sliding since week three.
Simply put, winning teams scheme well, and adjust better. The Bills have been figured out for weeks, and slipping.
No, the sky isn’t falling yet. But in a league driven by quarterback play and smart coaching, the Bills won’t get to the playoffs without getting Edwards right and working harder to be smart coaches.
Calling three timeouts throughout the Jets game to avoid a delay of game penalty is inexcusable, both on the part of Edwards and the coaches. Also on the coaching staff is the continual losses when challenging plays. They do not appear able to make a smart decision when it comes to challenges and substitutions.
In critical back-to-back possessions against the Jets, the Bills played rookie fourth round pick, Reggie Corner, at one corner position and Terrence McGee in the slot/nickel position.
Corner hadn’t seen the field all season, but the Bills either decided he was good enough, suddenly to play man coverage on Laveraneus Coles, or they needed to get him experience.
The team has acted similarly with other younger players over the past few games, with players such as Marcus Buggs and Copeland Bryan. I’m sure they will argue that this is necessary to keep the legs of the veterans and also to position themselves for depth purposes. Either way, their times for inserting the players are just wrong.
More frustrating, they should be able to decide who they are. The Bills faced similar third-and-goal situations against Miami and the Jets. Against the fins, on the road, the Bills ran the ball and were stuffed, then kicked a field goal to take the points. Against the Jets, at home, the Bills threw an incompletion on third down, then went for it on fourth, and were stuffed trying to run.
In hindsight, its easy to question decisions which went wrong, but its not the decision as much as the inconsistency and lack of awareness that is so frustrating. Halfway through the season, what once looked so promising now shows the team in an identity crisis—the coaches exposed and a quarterback in question.
Good teams know who they are, don’t make stupid mistakes, and establish themselves halfway through a season—the Bills are in peril.