Behind Enemy Lines: Buffalo Bills

2011 Recap: The Bills found themselves in the AFC East's basement this year, tied with the Miami Dolphins. They started off hot, jumping out to a 3-0 record in the early weeks. At their Week 7 bye they were 4-2 and grabbed another victory once their schedule resumed. Buffalo couldn't keep up that pace and dropped their next seven straight. By the end of the year they had won one game in the last nine weeks of the season.

Offseason Review: Buffalo landed the biggest fish of free agency when they signed ex-Texan Mario Williams to a six year, $96 million deal. Williams should make an immediate impact, but I think they overpaid a lot. They continued to load up on pass rushers with the addition of Mark Anderson. Finally, the team signed Vince Young to compete for the backup spot. I'll pause for laughter.

Hit the jump for the draft review, player spotlights and analysis from Buffalo Rumblings editor Brian Galliford.

Draft Review: Everyone here knows I really liked Stephon Gilmore going into the draft. He has the potential to be a great corner in this league. Cordy Glenn in the second round could be a steal and should help out Ryan Fitzpatrick a lot. As for a late round player, I'll be keeping on eye on fifth rounder Tank Carder from TCU. That seems like a good value pick.

Player Most Dangerous to the Titans: We're very familiar with Mario Williams work and that's why he gets the title here. I'm assuming that he'll rebound well from his injury, and when healthy he can disrupt a passing attack by himself.

Overrated Player: I remember when scouts said that CJ Spiller would end up being like Chris Johnson, like it was going to be easy for Spiller to just jump in and have success. Swing and a miss on that one.

Underrated Player: Apparently I'm focusing in on the running backs today, because I think both Fred Jackson and Tashard Choice are underrated players. Jackson has long been Buffalo's best back the past few years, and I was a huge fan of Choice's work in Dallas. It'll be interesting to see how the carries are shared this season.

Insider Info: Here is what Buffalo Rumblings' manager Brian Galliford had to say about his beloved Bills (my questions are bolded):

We don't know yet who will be playing QB. Who scares you more: Matt Hasselbeck or Jake Locker?


I'm not sure that either particularly scares me - the Bills get Tom Brady twice a year, after all - but I think Locker is the type of athlete that can make plays against the type of defensive line that Buffalo looks to be fielding this year. I don't see that from Hasselbeck. In short, I think Locker would give the Bills more problems.

The Titans under Mike Munchak have moved to a pass-oriented offense that stems from the Run and Shoot. How will the Bills secondary fare against four and five receiver sets?

They'll fare as well as their defensive line lets them. As NFL offenses spread out, defenses are only going to get by if they can generate pressure with four rushers, and that's obviously been the idea for the Bills this off-season. If their efforts pay off and they can get pressure, Buffalo has a lot of interesting athletes in its secondary that can make plays on the ball. The Bills are certainly used to handling those formations - Chan Gailey's offense uses them more than any offense in the league, so the defense is practicing against them weekly. Plus, there's the whole two games against New England thing, too.

The Titans were weak run defenders and the Bills finished 13th in rushing. Do you expect the Bills to have a formidable run game again this year?

I expect the Bills to run the ball very well this year, but I would not describe their rushing attack as "formidable." This is not a power running team. They run a lot out of three- and four-receiver sets with just one back, relying on zone blocking, a lot of pulls and traps, and use slot receivers and tight ends as lead blockers far more often than I imagine most teams do. It has been highly effective, but it's also predicated on their spreading the field almost constantly. Buffalo will run the ball very well, but they are not a ground and pound team.
Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 3800 yards with a 62% completion rate, but he also had 23 INTs (a near 1:1 TD to INT ratio). What should we expect from Fitzpatrick this season?

Lots of throws, lots of completions, a fair amount of touchdowns, a hair too many interceptions, moments of dominance and frustrating bouts of inconsistency. That's what Fitzpatrick is. A touchdown-to-interception ratio similar to his 2010 output (23:15) would be, I believe, very acceptable for Bills fans and Fitzpatrick's coaches - but the goals are clearly higher internally.
What do you think the Bills record will be?

There are so many variables to consider here - health chief among them, as the Bills seemingly send a dozen bodies to the IR list on an annual basis - that record-predicting for Buffalo is often laughable in its difficulty. With the talent on hand, Buffalo is capable of making the playoffs; it would take a 10-6 record or better to get there. But a key injury here and there could send them back to the 6-10 record they put up a year ago. This team has improved, but its personnel infrastructure is still fragile - i.e. their depth is highly unproven.
My Thoughts: Fitzpatrick is the wildcard here. If he can step up his game and reduce the turnovers, the Bills can compete in their division. I don't think they have enough to finish ahead of New England, but if things go as planned Buffalo will give the Jets trouble. They should be better than the Dolphins too.
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