Buffalo Bills fans are ready for positive change. They have been subjected to numerous head coaches, countless quarterbacks since Hall Of Famer Jim Kelly retired in 1996, and have persevered through thirteen consecutive years without reaching the playoffs. A strong wind blew through Western New York this off season and these die-hard and loyal fans are hoping once the dust settles the new regime that has come to town, will produce a winner. Finally.
1. Head Coach
Following another disappointing season, 6-10, it didn’t take long for the Buffalo Bills front office to come down with a swift hand and wipe the entire slate clean. Out is head coach Chan Gailey and his 16-32 record during his three year stint in Buffalo, never topping the six win mark while there. Enter rookie head coach Doug Marrone. Coach Marrone leaves his head coaching position at Syracuse where he has been instrumental in turning the Orangeman into a relevant program once again over the last four years. Marrone brings in a whole new staff from top to bottom since the Bills front office left the cupboard completely bare. This is probably a good thing. Out with the old (losing) and in with the new (winning).
Marrone has spent some time in the NFL coaching ranks over the last decade. Most notably he was the offensive coordinator in New Orleans from 2006 through 2008. In 2006 and 2008 the Saints had the overall number one offense in the National Football League and in 2008 quarterback Drew Brees lead the NFL in passing with 5,069 yards. In 2007 the Saints lead the league in red zone offense with a success rate of 72%. One more point to mention is Marrone was the offensive line coach for the New York Jets in 2004 when running back Curtis Martin finished third in league with 1,697 yards.
A lot of coaches reach their goal of becoming a head coach with a nice resume and the Bills fans should consider the overall production on the offensive side of the ball Marrone has been able to bring to the table during his run in the NFL. This is one part of the team that probably needs the least amount of work, but if Marrone can make the Saints an offensive juggernaut, any changes that he wants to make, Western New Yorkers and Bills fans across the nation that have been waiting for a winning team again, should give him the benefit of the doubt and Billieve in him.
The most anticipated decision at quarterback since the Flutie vs. Johnson dilemma is on the horizon. Will the new coaching staff stay with current starter Ryan Fitzpatrick or move in a new direction. Let’s be honest, Fitz is no Drew Brees. Now it’s not known publicly if Marrone will run the same type of offense he ran while the offensive coordinator in New Orleans, but if it ain’t broke, why try and fix it? Find a field general that can be successful in that type of high power offense. The proof is in the pudding with Fitzpatrick, he is what he is..a serviceable quarterback, but not a winning one. He can make a few plays here and there, but over the last two seasons he has been unable to set himself apart and put the team on his back and win. He threw for 3,400 yards in ’12 with a 60% completion rating and 24 touchdowns along with 16 interceptions. Again, good but not the top tier of the quarterbacks in the NFL. Hell, rookie Colts quarterback Andrew Luck was able to put his team on his back several times during the duration of the season and lead HIS team to the playoffs.
Then there’s the other QB’s on the roster. Tyler Thigpen and Tarvaris Jackson. Thigpen has five years NFL experience and had thrown for a grand total of 3,222 yards, 21 TD’s and 18 INT’s. Jackson was resigned by the Bills in the off-season with the coaching staff stating there will be an open competition at the quarterback position. A decision that is a little weird looking at the numbers over Jackson’s seven year career. In ’11, Jackson had his best year as a starter when he was with the Seattle Seahawks, throwing for 3,091 yards, 14 TD’s and 13 INT’s with a 60% completion rating. Fitz and Jackson are almost one in the same. Neither is an elite quarterback and unfortunately for the Bills brass, there are no true great prospects at this position coming out in April’s NFL draft.
The one name that has been circling the airwaves is Ryan Nassib, the Syracuse Orange’s three year starter, while Marrone was the head coach. There is a lot of speculation that Nassib could come in and run Marrone’s offense from day one. There are of course some critics that are claiming Nassib is not a consistent deep ball thrower and is more in tuned to the short passing game. There are always going to be critics, but if Nassib can come in all ready familiar to Marrone’s offense, the decision should be greeted by Bills fans with open arms.
3. Wide Receiver
The Bills need to look at this position quickly and make some strong moves. The new coaching staff came in and released veterans Donald Jones and David Nelson. Now it’s not like they just got rid of Don Beebe and Peerless Price. However, the Bills management has now taken away proven production from their second and third WR positions. Granted last year Nelson tore his ACL in the season open versus the New York J-E-T-S..JETS JETS JETS, but in ’11 Nelson was productive with 658 yards and 5 TD’s. Along with that Jones had 443 yards and 3 TD’s in ’12. This leaves Steve Johnson basically on his own and looking for some help to eliminate some of the double coverage’s he has been seeing over the last few years. Johnson finished the ’12 campaign with 79 receptions, 1,046 yards and 6 TD’s. He is the first wide receiver in Bills history to go over the 1,000 yard mark for three years in a row.
Then there was rookie T.J. Graham out of the University of South Carolina. He had an ok season in ’12, finishing with 31 receptions, 322 yards and 1 TD. But some of his lack of production could be blamed on inconsistent quarterback play. There were many occasions when Graham had his defender beat and the ball was either over or under thrown. Only time will time with Graham.
4. Defensive Line
This was probably the most disappointing part of the team overall. The Bills signed Houston Texans free agent DE Mario Williams in the ’11 offseason. The Bills chose to go all out to get, what they hoped would be the next Bruce Smith, by providing Williams with a guaranteed signing bonus of $50 million. The contract is for 6 years and could earn Williams up to $100 million. Williams repaid the Bills with a 46 tackles and 10.5 sacks, three of those sacks coming in a loss to his former team in Houston. Then there’s the free agent signing of DE Mark Anderson who was awarded a $19.5 million 4 year deal along with $7.9 million guaranteed. Unfortunately for the Bills and Anderson, he suffered a torn lateral meniscus injury that ended his season early. He finished the year with 12 tackles and 1 sack.
The Bills were hoping for more out of second year DT Marcell Dareus, but he was only able to produce 5.5 sacks and he was expected to help clog up the middle of the D-line and improve the rushing defense. The Bills finished 31st in the NFL in stopping the run. They gave up an average of 145.8 yards per game. Along with the poor performance at stopping the run, the Bills were only able to muster a combined effort of 36 sacks.
In addition, 10 year veteran defensive lineman/linebacker Chris Kelsay retired in the off season. He was a blue collar type of player, never one the best, but would do anything he could to try and win games. Kelsay was kind of like Bills favorite Aaron Schobel, but Schobel had better numbers. Both players wanted to win, no matter what.
5. Fan Support
he most important improvement that the Bills franchise needs to do is restore a winning tradition back to the fans of Western New York who have been going to games since the Rock Pile. These people have stood by and supported the Bills of the seventies who could not defeat the Dolphins one time. The fans that have sat in the blistering winds and frigid air that comes off Niagara Falls. The people that have heard all the rumors of the Bills moving to Canada or LA. The blue collar people who pay their hard earned money to hopefully see the Bills beat the dreaded Patriots a few more times before Tom Brady and the hoody (Bill Belichick) retire. These people are looking for a team to have pride in, like they did in the late 80’s and the majority of 90’s. Earlier I mentioned that the Bills have been waiting for a QB since Kelly retired, I’ll give the true fans the benefit of the doubt, they’ve been waiting on a QB since Flutie left. He’s the last one to take them to the playoffs. It’s been a long time since the fans in Buffalo had a winner, it’s time.
The new regime in Buffalo has a lot of tough decisions to make to figure out how to make this franchise respectable again. There seems to be some light shining through the end of the tunnel, but for a lot of Bills fans, that tunnel has become increasingly long over the last 13 years. Marrone and his coaching staff will have the support from the tried and true fans and all they are asking for is a change, in becoming a winner, finally.