02 November 2011
Sweet jersey, bro...
I consider myself a very knowledgable football fan, but if you asked me why the Bills are 5-2 and sit atop the AFC East entering the second half of the 2011 season, I'd respond with crickets. Yeah, I know Ryan Fitzpatrick and Fred Jackson have played well, they have Stevie Johnson---although I can't respect a grown man named Stevie, and they have that defensive tackle guy with the really generic name who may or may not be hurt right now (yup, he's hurt, I just checked), but what makes them so much better than the Bills team who went 4-12 last season? They have the same head coach. Same general manager. Same crappy, old (but fun) stadium.
If I had to guess, I'd say it's their new uniforms. The Drew Bledsoe Bills uniforms were ATROCIOUS. In the same way the Jets transition from their original unis (their current ones), to the forest green unis, to the kelly green unis coincided with their precipitous downfall through the NFL hierarchy, the Bills changing of uniforms has led to less and less success, as well. Buffalo's lone championships came when they were wearing uniforms very similar to the ones you see today. The unis of the '63 and '64 AFL Champ Bills, with Cookie Gilchrist and Jack Kemp are essentially the unis of Jackson and Fitzpatrick, only the buffalo on the helmet hails from the Thurman Thomas and Jim Kelly four straight AFC Championship days. It's really a brilliant design.
So, yeah, it's the uniform, right?
Well, for a more educated opinion, we bring back Queen's own Joe Pinzone, a lifelong Bills fan and writer for Buffalo Wins, a Bills and Sabres blog. His answer makes a little more sense than mine.
RS: Y'all gave Ryan Fitzpatrick A LOT of money. Is he worth it?
BW: Yes. It's the going rate for NFL starters these days. If you look at his deal, he's making less than Kevin Kolb and Matt Cassel, and I'd rather have Fitz than those two guys. The thing I harp on about Fitzpatrick is that he's gotten better every year he's been with the Bills. He was below average in 2009 when he started 8 games. That year, he only completed 55% of his passes and only had two games in which he passed for over 200 yards. Last year, Fitz got better as he passed for 23 touchdowns in 13 games. He also passed for 200 yards or more 9 times during the season. This year, he's been lights out. He's on pace for over 30 touchdowns and he's passed for over 300 yards in two games this year. He's thrown a touchdown or more in 6 of his 7 games this year. In his last three games, he's faced the Eagles, Giants and Redskins, all three teams were in the top 3 in sacks. And yet, he still completed over 70% of his passes. He's legit. Does he make bad throws here and there? Yes. What quarterback doesn't though?
RS: Fred Jackson. Why has he been so good?
BW: Fred has always been that good. The problem with him is that he was never the every down back like he is now. For his career, he always played behind Marshawn Lynch, but after Lynch went to Seattle, the Bills gave Jackson the rock exclusively. He's been lights out this year. He's on pace for over 2,000 yards in total offense. He makes this offense works. He's the complete package. He can block, he can catch, he can run over people and his vision is superb. He kind of reminds me of Curtis Martin. In Fred's last 15 games, he has gone over 100-yards in total offense 11 times.
RS: I know most of the players on the Bills defense, but why have they played so well? Is there a formula to beat them?
BW: Eh. I wouldn't say playing "well." The Bills defense has caused the most turnovers in the NFL this season, but they still have issues with stopping the run and stopping the pass. I know they just shut out the Redskins, but when you guys face Washington later this year, you'll realize that anyone can shut out the Redskins. Their offense is a disaster. Up until last week, the Bills gave up over 400 yards in total offense in five straight games. If they don't force turnovers, they are kind of useless. I will say that I've been really impressed with Marcell Dareus (their first round pick in 2011; 3rd overall). This past week, the Bills played him at nose tackle for the injured Kyle Williams, and he was a MONSTER. He pushed the Redskins center right into John Beck's lap on almost every play. I also like the play of our safeties George Wilson (5 picks this year) and Jairus Byrd, both of whom are growing into all-around safeties. Nick Barnett has played exceptionally well. He's ranked 17th in tackles in the NFL right now and brings athleticism to the position that we didn't have with Paul Posluszny.
RS: If I told you two years ago Buddy Nix and Chan Gailey would save the Bills franchise, how hard would you have laughed? Would a change of underwear been needed?
BW: Yeah, I would have LOL. I think more of the credit goes to Chan Gailey. Buddy Nix's drafts are still a little questionable, especially his 2010 Class. The Shawne Merriman experiment was a joke. However, he has found some nice players in Barnett and found undrafted guys like David Nelson and Donald Jones. But, he's still a work in progress. It has been Gailey who is the moneymaker. If you look at the Bills personnel on offense, your QB and #1 WR are carryovers from the Jauron era. Stevie Johnson had something like 11 career catches before Gaily got his hands on him. Fitz was a nobody. The whole offense is a bunch of nobodies. Only Eric Wood (1st round), Andy Levitre (2nd round), Scott Chanlder (4th round) and Kraig Urbik (3rd round) were drafted below the 7th round. The rest of the starters on offense are either 7th round picks or undrafted free agents. We've had a ton of injuries to our wideouts and the offensive line, and yet, we haven't missed a beat. Gailey calls the offensive plays and he is really a master of game planning.
(Editor's Note: Yes, THAT Chan Gailey. I don't get it either.)
RS: Is this Bills season a harbinger of things to come? Is their success sustainable?
BW: It is still early. The Bills are 5-2, but they have a 11-year reign of incompetence to make fans worry. I think they have a nice trio with Fitz, Jackson and Stevie, but two of those guys, Johnson and Jackson, want new deals. The Bills have to re-sign/extend them, or this will kind of be for naught. It was good to see Marcell Dareus dominate like he did last week, because he was the first Buddy Nix draft pick to actually be the best player on the field for the Bills. It's still a work in progress, but I feel a lot better about the future than I did in August.
RS: In 10 years is it the Buffalo Bills or Toronto Air Canadas?
BW: 55/45 they stay in Buffalo. I'm always worried about the LA people because Ralph Wilson says the team will go up to auction when he dies. By law, the franchise would go to the highest bidder. So, you don't know if the rich douche bags in LA, who have been fighting to build a stadium, could pounce on it. Toronto worries me as well. However, I do know that a lot of rich people want the Bills to stay in Buffalo. The one example I can give is Terry Pegula who just bought the Sabres. No one knew who the hell he was before he bought the team, but he was a diehard fan of the team and is worth over a billion dollars. He bought the team and that was it. In other words, there are rich people with Buffalo connections who can buy the team that we may not know about.
RS: Who wins Sunday and why?
BW: This is going to be fun. I hate the Jets. I hate them more than any of the other teams in the AFC. As a Buffalo transplant who lives in Queens, I have to put up with too many of you guys! (Editor's Note: Mongos!) Anyway, I don't think highly of the Jets offense. Too many injuries to the line (Editor's Note: No injuries, actually. Wayne Hunter really does starts for us. It's shocking, I know) and Mark Sanchez is too inconsistent. They looked alright against the Chargers, but I think San Diego just choked. Tony Romo handed you guys the season opener. And if Miami had a QB, who knows what would have happened on Monday Night. But hey, the Bills could easily be 2-5. So, those are the breaks.
I still worry about our defense against your offense. In the last four meetings, the Bills defense has allowed an average of 250 yards a game against the Jets. It didn't matter if it was LT, Thomas Jones, Joe McKnight, Greene or Blair Thomas. We sucked. Also, Fitz's struggles against you guys in the first meeting last year, still rings in my head (44% completion and only 128 yards). However, now I think things are different. I think this will be a slugfest. I think the key for this game is Fred Jackson. With the Jets having the 25th ranked run defense and me not being confident about the Bills trying to have Stevie go 1-on-1 with Revis, Jackson needs a huge game. Look for a ton of screen plays to slow down the Jets pass rush. It will be close, I got the Bills, 17-14.