It’s the time of the season to take a breather and examine where the Bills have come so far this season. Approaching the half-way mark of the season has shown this Bills fan that THIS team bears little resemblance to Bills teams over the last 13 seasons of despair.
OK, their record is 3-4. Yes, they are about to play the high flying Saints in their “Nawlins” house after a bye week. I’m beginning to think that the Bills should be called the Bye-Week Bills because it seems as if the evil schedulers screwed the Bills again by putting so many challenges in front of them in terms of playing teams coming off their bye weeks.
Not wanting to get into the company of the “conspiracy theorists” who think every situation is predetermined to put the Bills at a disadvantage, I’ll just choose to move on from that point by adding that the Bills (and their fan base) need to accept every challenge, and not dwell on the fairness issues (or lack thereof). It boils down to being another issue that no one but the schedulers can control, so as fans we would probably be better off not wasting our time on things over which we have no control.
So, how has this Bills team stacked up so far this season? For this Bills fan, it’s looking like they are pretty much who I thought they would be at this point in the season. Last week, I wrote that the key to winning the game against the Dolphins would probably rest on the shoulders of the defense.
I stated that I thought the game might be decided by turnovers, and that the defense would have to put a lot of the game on their shoulders. Guess that assumption turned out to be true, and the pick-six by Robey at the beginning of the game, as well as the forced turnover by Mario Williams at the end of game made me look far smarter than my football acumen. Thanks to the guys who kept me from looking stupid (again).
We cannot underestimate the importance of that road victory against the Dolphins. Winning on the road for any young team is a challenge, but when you are bringing in your practice squad QB with two RBs that might have one good leg between them, it was looking like it would take a monumental challenge to go down to the Sweat Box they call Sun Life Stadium these days and get the job done. They did it. Pretty impressive to see the guys fight to the end to pull off the road victory against a division rival.
Tomorrow it’s the Saints in their house. Yikes. This game has the makings of the David and Goliath storyline. However, we have already witnessed some very gutsy, fight to the finish play from this young Bills team. Again, it’s my belief that the defense will once again need to come up big against Drew Brees & Company.
With Manny Lawson listed as doubtful, Sproles is probably licking his chops to go after that massive loss on the Bills defense if Lawson does not play. Drew Brees is an elite QB and one who can pick apart any defense, and they are no strangers to the type of defensive scheme that the Bills run.
Additionally, one has to wonder about how the Bills will be able to run long enough drives to keep the Saints offense off the field with their “up tempo” style. Toss in the unknown RB Wingo, the probable loss of CJ Spiller for the game looms large with respect to how effective they might be in the running game. It’s not like Freddie is 100% either, so in order for the offense to have any degree of success, Wingo is going to have to show the same level of upside surprise demonstrated by Thad Lewis.
Sure, Tashard Choice will be able to help establish some sort of respectability in the running game, but will it be enough to keep moving the chains? It might require Thad Lewis to run more than he has in the last couple of games, so here’s hoping his sore foot really has improved to the extent he says it has at this point. You’ve got to love Thad Lewis’ moxy in not looking flustered or uncomfortable with the way he has been thrown into the fire.
Here’s what has surprised me so far this season; the Bills seem to have more depth and are getting productivity out of players that far exceeded my expectations at this point in the season:
Their record is in line with my expectations. They are 3-4 with most games being nail-biters that could have gone either way at the end. What I did not expect to see, and am pleasantly surprised is how the guys who have come in as “the next man up” have fared when they’ve been thrown in and given the challenge to produce, despite limited reps and experience.
I do think some fans and reporters have been unduly harsh on the offensive play calling by Hackett to this point in the season. Since the QB position (and it looks like the RB position now) has been a turnstile, this has to put significant limitations upon what Hackett is actually able to develop as far as a game plan.
Fortunately, stepping in as a newly-minted RB is a bit less of a challenge than putting a practice squad QB out there for 4-6 weeks in the middle of a brutal stretch of the schedule. I have no doubt about this team giving it their all to help the players who have been asked to be the “next man up” with little or no experience and/or familiarity with the offense.
However, the biggest surprise I’ve seen from this team is the fact that they do not give up when the chips are down. We have been the unfortunate witnesses of too many teams over the last 13 years who roll over when the opponent gets up by a couple of touchdowns. That is not happening this season.
It’s been since 1988 that I can remember a team with a bunch of “upstarts” who have come in and shown flashes of what we have not seen since; grit and that “never say die” attitude. This team still has holes, but there are a lot of players like Robey who are stepping in and showing the potential depth that is necessary to become contenders.
All things considered, I’m going to put out my completely arbitrary grade of a solid “B” to this coaching staff and players at mid-season. If you can’t see the flashes of what this team is capable of producing, it’s probably because it has been so long since we’ve witnessed a bunch of young players stepping up and producing right out of the gate.
Perhaps the most queasy situation for this Bills fan are the question marks surrounding Special Teams, and their inconsistency. I’m not sure if Crossman is the best guy for the job, but I’m willing to hold my nose and pray he isn’t the reincarnation of Ronnie Jones.
Stay strong, BillsMafia and Bills Nation! This team is on the right track toward prosperity. Don’t give in to the nagging doubts and fear that instills the “here we go again” complex that many fans have (rightfully) developed. This team is challenging all of us to keep an open mind as we move through the last half of this football season.