Buffalo Bills State of the Union: Where Does the Team Stand Headed into Week 5?

Erik Frenz@ErikFrenzSenior Writer IOctober 2, 2012

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 09:  Ryan Fitzpatrick #14 of the Buffalo Bills looks for an open man against the New York Jets   during their game at MetLife Stadium on September 9, 2012 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Hasty judgments and week-to-week overreactions are never a smart thing in the grind of an NFL season. If any team has been full evidence of that, it's the Buffalo Bills.

They have been equal parts imposing and—in their own words—embarrassing this season.

So what do we make of one of the most bipolar teams in the NFL?

Let's take a look at some of the key components to the Bills season thus far in our first-quarter State of the Union.

The Good, The Bad, The Quarterback

If it feels like Ryan Fitzpatrick has been very up-and-down this season, it's because he has been.

But let's be honest, here. Is that any different than what we've come to expect from Fitzpatrick throughout his career?

If this chart of Fitzpatrick's passer ratings by game throughout his career were an EKG, Fitzpatrick would be admitted to an ICU.

The Bills were hoping that they would get the Fitzpatrick that chucked his way to a 97.8 passer rating in the first seven games of the 2011 season, and clunked his way to a 66.5 passer rating in the final nine games.

We have seen glimpses of both Fitzpatricks—"good Fitzpatrick" and "bad Fitzpatrick"—at different points this season, and even over the course of a game.

The Bills were looking to capitalize on a second-quarter fumble by Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, and called a "shot play" where they would go deep to try to take advantage of the sudden change. Fitzpatrick lined up in the shotgun in the 11 personnel grouping—running back C.J. Spiller flanking him to the right, and tight end Scott Chandler split out wide.

Fitzpatrick's pump fake to wide receiver T.J. Graham worked beautifully, freezing Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty in underneath coverage while Chandler streaked for the end zone.

Fitzpatrick took advantage of the eight-inch height advantage Chandler has over safety Patrick Chung, who was on Chandler in coverage for no good reason. The ball is placed perfectly, where only Chandler can get it.

Who says Fitzpatrick can't throw accurately deep?

Fitzpatrick does.

The Bills were down by two touchdowns, and desperation was beginning to set in.

But still, is that any excuse to throw all the way across the field after rolling to the left?

The funny thing is, this pass could have been a huge play if Fitzpatrick had put enough on it. Unfortunately, it was terribly under-thrown and/or off-target, allowing McCourty to make a play on the ball.

Good Fitz-Bad Fitz. Same as it ever was.

Bills Offense Functioning Without a Deep Threat

Stevie Johnson is a solid pass-catcher, but the team lacked a deep threat, and that was a focal point of the offseason discussion.

Through four games, Ryan Fitzpatrick has accumulated 14 passes of 20-plus yards, according to NFL.com. That being said, Fitzpatrick currently ranks 18th in passes traveling 15 or more yards in the air, according to Advanced NFL Stats.

We know Fitzpatrick is an inconsistent deep passer. The Bills know it, too. According to Pro Football Focus, Fitzpatrick has completed 22 of 51 passes (43.1 percent) that have traveled 10 or more yards in the air.

Less than 10 yards, Fitzpatrick has completed 50 of 70 passes (71.4 percent).

The Bills have accumulated a lot of their passing yards through yards after the catch. It's not necessarily a bad thing—some of the best offenses in the league function largely off their ability to create YAC (see Packers, Patriots).

These tendencies help explain why the Bills may have taken their need for a "deep threat" a bit less seriously than the general population thought they should.

Embarrassment of Riches on DL is an Embarrassment

No pressure.

It's what you tell yourself before you go on a date with a pretty girl. It's what LeBron James tells himself before sinking a game-winning jump shot.

It's what the Bills have to explain after spending $115.5 million at the defensive end position this offseason—$96 million on Mario Williams and $19.5 million on Mark Anderson.

On this pace, the Bills will finish with 40 sacks this season, which would be a huge improvement over the 29 sacks they recorded last year. That being said, this front four has not delivered what Buffalo natives thought they were getting with those two giant contracts.

Joe Buscaglia of WGR 550 Sportsradio pulls back the green curtain on Williams' struggles against the Patriots, pointing out that the Patriots left him one-on-one on 25 of 29 drop-backs.

Just look at this pocket for Brady.

He could make a sandwich, have a picnic and go flower-picking back there.

Every dog has his day, and although Williams and Anderson are both in the doghouse, their day came in the Dawg Pound, where they both finally got on the stat sheet for the season.

Kyle Williams has been the dominant force of the defensive line thus far, racking up 3.5 sacks to lead the team in that category. His seven hurries are nearly as many as Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, and while that's an impressive mark for a nose tackle, it's an embarrassing indication of the futility of the Bills high-priced, free-agent acquisitions.

Mario Williams may be wasted money at this point, but the struggles of the defense are not entirely on him or the pass rush.

Second-Guessing the Secondary

With the selection of cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Ron Brooks this year, as well as Aaron Williams last year, the Bills have done quite a bit to overhaul their secondary.

The results, thus far, are spotty at best.

The Bills currently rank in the 20s in nearly every passing category, and they have given up 16 pass plays of 20 yards or more, currently tied for sixth-most in the league.

The pass defense should improve if the pass rush ever hits stride, but it just goes to show you that it's rarely ever about one specific player or unit, but rather how the entire unit works together.

Moving Forward

The Bills record says they are an average team, but it's more accurate to say they are as good at times as they are bad at other times.

On offense, the Bills must stick with the ground game and continue to work the short and intermediate parts of the field in the passing game.

On defense, the pass rush needs to begin doing what it was brought in to do—erm, rush the passer—and as a result, the secondary should reciprocate that production, if performances against the Chiefs and Browns are any indication.

If the Bills are able to do those things, they'll find that their season will look a lot more like it did in those two contests than it did in two embarrassing divisional losses.

If they're unable to, it could be another long season in western New York.

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 firsthand.


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