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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Off-season Troubleshooting: Buffalo Bills

The Buffalo Bills were the very embodiment of a middle of the road team during 2013, finishing with a 6-10 record and offensive and defensive rankings in around the middle of the pack. Yet they had a solid draft class come through last year, assuming the EJ Manuel is able to prove GM Doug Whaley was right to take him as the first QB in the draft. Manuel will need to stay healthy this year for that to happen, but what else do the Bills need to address this off-season to push themselves into playoff contention? We’ll examine that here:

Offense:

It is easy to make excuses for the Bills offense in the year gone by. To start with, they were depending on good service from a rookie QB who wasn’t very highly thought of in all quarters. Then he suffered some injury troubles, leaving the offense in the hands of the initially shell-shocked and out of his depth Jeff Tuel, who really is more of a developmental project for Buffalo, and then Thad Lewis. It was upsetting to watch Tuel trying to cope with the pressures of coming in to his first game live on Thursday Night Football. But the QB carousel aside, the Bills top receiver was tight end Scott Chandler, and he only managed 53 receptions for 655 yards. While it is clear more needs to be coaxed out of Stevie Johnson, the Bills are going to have to add some dynamism in the wide receiver options. The Bills invested a second-round pick in Robert Woods, so it remains to be seen how much more they are willing to invest in receivers. But maybe the problems really begin up front for Buffalo, where in only ten games EJ Manuel was sacked 28 times, with Lewis and Tuel going down a further 20 times. A quarterback can only do so much when he is getting hounded to that extent. It isn’t easy to come by offensive linemen of quality in free agency, and it certainly isn’t cheap, so this may have to be addressed in the draft.

Defense:

Things were better on the other side of the ball for the Bills. Along with bringing in Kiko Alonso to strengthen the linebacker core, the Bills really upped the ante on pressure. Buffalo recorded 57 sacks, a very impressive total which is only diminished by looking at how many sacks the offense gave up. Kyle Williams, Jerry Hughes and Mario Williams combined for 33.5 of those, a big contribution. They were also the second-least penalised defense in football, and three of their defensive backs combined for 12 interceptions, as well as the rookie Alonso chipping in with 4 picks himself, as well as being a tackle machine in his first year. So how come this D is ranked in the mid-regions? Well, partly to blame is the offense, who failed to produce enough to keep their defensive players off the pitch. But defensively, the Bills look ok. They have a number of young players, and really this was a team that was being built to challenge next year. They gave up a few too many touchdowns, and some teams were able to run on them quite effectively. On the whole though, the Bills are making progress. They swept the Dolphins and split with the Jets, both of whom were on the verge of making the playoffs. The real challenge for the Bills is how they will cope with defensive co-ordinator Mike Pettine, who left for the head coaching job in Cleveland, and Jairus Byrd, who will almost certainly not come back after he hits free agency. Byrd wanted to get paid well, and the Bills seem unlikely to give the safety what he is looking for. How Jim Schwartz develops this defense will be key for the Buffalo Bills in 2014.

Players to target in free agency:

Jeremy Maclin, WR.
Hakeem Nicks, WR.
Brent Grimes, CB.
Walter Thurmond, CB.
Branden Albert, OT.
Geoff Schwartz, G.

By Andy Halligan

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