Another year with a lot of promise at the beginning and another 6-10 finish full of heartbreak, whatifs, and WTFs.
We got a lot of answers this year and ended up with just as many questions.
We don’t know much more about EJ Manual than we started other than a new worry that we may kneed a QB with stronger knees. Hopefully these injuries were just a fluke and not a trend, although three of them just doesn’t seem right to type that they were a fluke. Everyone has a different opinion on whether Manual is going to be a franchise QB and we’re simply going to have to wait another year to have any clear idea. He needs help, he needs coaching and he needs to play better and more consistent.
We thought we had the answer at RB with CJ Spiller ready to have a breakout season and picked in the top 5 in a lot of fantasy drafts, but that turned out to be pure fantasy. CJ was injured early and often, routinely took himself out of the game after every run of 5+ yards and reminded me of the Warren Zevon song/album, “Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School.”
Fred Jackson added “ageless wonder” to his never-ending list of superlatives and was the Bills best running back all season. In fact, Jackson is pretty much The Man For All Seasons. Fred Ex delivered once again and he didn’t look like he slowed down a bit, even with defenders on his back.
Unfortunately, our other big name offensive player did let us down.
Stevie Johnson regressed badly, developed a severe case of the dropsies and gained a growing number of fans who became sick of his act. Unfortunately, he’s still the best receiver we have although not a clear #1. He’ll have at least one more year to undo the damage.
Robert Woods came into his rookie season as the most polished WR in the draft and proved it all year. But it takes more than polish to be a star. TJ Graham depressed fans repeatedly with an impressive array of crappy plays and simply lacks the ball skills to be a reliable WR. Marquis Goodwin was supposed to be the track guy without the football skills and yet routinely showed that he belongs on the field, combining world class speed with otherworldly ability to come down with the ball in bounds. Injuries and poor quarterbacking slowed him more than defensive backs. Chris Hogan had a much better nickname than game and should not be on the team. The Marcus Easley Experiment likely lost its funding.
The Bills offensive line also seemed to backpedal. While Cordy Glenn proved to be a reliable LT and potential star, and Eric Woods continued to be Bad Santa for opposing defensive lines, the rest of the OL was mostly a crapfest. With Chris Hairston missing the entire season under mysterious circumstances, Eric Pears got abused by his own peers. Kraig Urbik’s star looked on the rise coming into the season and now looks burned out. Both starting left guards hopefully left the building for good. And the front office looks inept and unprepared for not addressing the spot left open by Andy Levitre’s FA signing.
First year OC Nathanial Hackett has his share of detractors but was put in an extraordinarily bad position. First year on the job with a first year HC with a new system with a rookie QB who got hurt in preseason (along with his back-up) and then hurt two more times during the season with his star RB hurt and a spotty WR corp and crappy TE play and marginal OL play.
That’s too much overcome but doesn’t leave him off the hook. Hackett was overly predictable at times, unable to convince Manual to throw the ball downfield, and insisted on playing TJ over Goodwin, amongst other criticisms. But he gets a passing grade out of me and another year to show some improvement.
On defense, the Bills were an enigma. The team was clearly better and more exciting, and yet ultimately let us all down and couldn’t stop teams or stop the run when they most needed to, just like other seasons.
Mike Pettine had a solid first year as DC and yet did not have the right answers when the team was getting mauled at the LOS. The pass rush was ferocious as the Bills broke the team record for sacks in a season, and three separate players got 10 or more. We got a lot of turnovers, which is usually the sign of a great defense.
And yet when you look at how many players seemed to have good, to very good, to great seasons, including Mario and Kyle Williams, Dareus, Jerry Hughes, Kiko, Manny Lawson, McLuvin, Stephon Gilmore, Aaron Williams, Nickell Robey and Jairus Byrd, that’s 11 defenders who played well and yet the defense let us down too many times.
The run defense needs to be fixed before we can call this a good defense.
Going into free agency and the college draft, the Bills need another WR, a starting TE, at least two new OL, maybe a backup QB although Thad Lewis seemed to have given himself a shot at a decent backup career. The defense needs a run stuffing DT and maybe DE, a starting LB, and maybe a starting safety if Byrd flies the coop.
I personally think the Bills should make Byrd the highest paid safety in the game and get it over with. The team has the money and needs to show the league they are willing to pay top players top dollar besides Mario. Byrd has more big plays and INTs than almost anyone since he came into the league.
The new front office hasn’t been on the job long enough to know they don’t belong. Doug Whaley had a great first draft but needs to back it up with a solid off season. Doug Marrone had an erratic rookie season and indoctrination into the NFL but this writer thinks he can still be a solid HC. He might start by firing his ST coach whom all Bills fans seem to want the head of. Most long for Bobby April, until they learn that the Bills were 29th in special teams this year, and Oakland was 30th, coached by Bobby April.
Each year in the NFL, there seems to be five teams you thought would be great that stink, and five teams you thought would stink that were pretty good. The Bills, however, have been a model of consistent stinktitude, now missing the playoffs for an amazing 14 years in a row.
Since before Y2K.
But next year’s gonna be different. That’s how they getcha.