Monday, October 10, 2005

Bills Week Five Recap

Is Kelly Holcomb the answer?

Well, the five people who actually read this may remember my contention that the Bills desparately need a 65% passer to be competetive.

Holcomb's stats: 20/26 for 169 yards, 1TD, 0 Turnovers.

That's about 75% for the math-challenged. So is he the answer? Well, it sure looks like he was in week five. The Bills don't expect the QB to throw for 300 yards a game. Hell, at this point 200 yards a game would be great. But they need the QB to be efficient and turnover-free.

The Bills beat the Dolphins 20-14 to improve to 2-3 on the season. While their overall record isn't that great, there is reason for optimism. For one, the Bills are two games out of first (Patriots) with both games against NE still to play. Second, the Bills have have no conference losses, and a good conference record will be vital if they're trying to make the playoffs with a 9-7 or 10-6 record. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the offense moved the ball. It wasn't consistent, and it wasn't often pretty, but the bottom line is the offense scored enough points to win.

The Bills have three crucial games coming up. They play the Jets at home, then travel to play Oakland and New England. This stretch will define the season, one way or another. If the Holcomb-led Bills can win two of those games, they will be 4-4 at the halfway point with a 3-1 conference record; a good position for a playoff run. Winning all three games would be a statement that the team is ready for the post-season. Losing any more than one game, however, would make it very difficult for the Bills to salvage their season. They'd be 3-5 (or worse) at the halfway point, and would have to go 6-2 over the last eight games to finish 9-7 and even sniff a playoff berth. With road games against San Diego, Miami, Cincy and the Jersey Jets in the second half of the season, a 6-2 record is probably asking for too much.

So we'll see how they respond to this victory. It shouldn't have been as close as it was, but the defense let Miami score late to make a game of it. What happened to this defense, anyway? It doesn't look remotely like the squad that finished second over all the last few seasons.

For one, the D-line sucks. DT Sam Adams and RE Aaron Schobel are the only players who should be starting in the NFL. Unfortunately, Adams is too fat to stay on the field for more than 50% of the plays. Last year, the Bills had Pat Williams, a sometimes-dominant tackle, starting along side Adams. They could rotate the two in and out of the game, allowing at least one to be on the field most of the time. Now when Adams comes out, the Bills have nothing but scrubs to replace him. When DT's Tim Anderson and Justin Bannan are on the field at the same time, Buffalo is inviting the opposition to control the line of scrimmage. This is not good. Schobel is a streaky player who takes advantage of weaker opponents and completely dissappears when playing quality offensive tackles.

Since the D-line can't get it done on their own, the Bills have to blitz to create pressure. And they sure do blitz. A lot. Against Miami, the Bills rushed five or more players quite a bit, leaving gaps in deep coverage. When you rush five guys, you only have six to cover (what is generally) four receiving options. At least one will be single covered. When you drop your strong saftey into the box (as Lawyer Milloy did all afternoon,) your free saftey is left alone to help your CB's deep. If an offensive team can pick up that blitz and it sends two or three players deep, someone is going to be open. Miami QB Gus Ferotte was adept at finding that open guy, gashing the Bills defense for at least five big pass plays. CB's Nate Clements and Terrence McGee are solid, but they can't be expected to completely shut receivers down on every play. The Bills need to get consistent pressure on the QB without blitzing, allowing them the full seven defenders to cover downfield.

The loss of Takeo Spikes also hurts the blitz-heavy-Bills. The defensive scheme puts tremendous pressure and responsibility on the linebacking core. NFL linebackers are expected to do it all: sack the qb, blow up blocks, take runningbacks head on, and have the ability to cover speedy TE's and WR's. Spikes was an elite linebacker, a guy who could do it all and do it well. While Angelo Crowell is no-doubt a capable backup, the loss of Spikes hurts the Bills twice. They lose Spikes' ability in the defensive scheme, and they lose Crowell's ability as a special-teams ace, since he no longer performs those duties as the starting weakside 'backer.

So we will find out shortly just what this Buffalo team is capable of. Next weeks opponent, the Jets, are an average-at-best football team, the type Buffalo should beat if it has playoff aspirations. If Buffalo can get in 42-year-old Vinny Testaverde's face, and contain Curtis Martin, they should win the game.

As long as Holcomb is a 65% passer.

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