Saturday, June 5, 2010

What's Wrong With Buffalo?

Not too, too long ago, the Buffalo Bills were among the upper class of the NFL. They appeared in 4 straight Super Bowls, averaged an 11-5 record through 1988 through 1996 and had names like Marv Levy, John Butler, Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas and Jim Kelly on their roster.

Since those days though, the Bills are a empty uniform of a football team. They've had Tom Donahue, Mike Mularky, Rob Johnson and J.P. Losman. They've had a first round draft pick arrested for stealing $20. Another first round picks suggested that the Bills should move to Toronto. They've been called out by their own players for a lack of direction. Mismanagement, poor coaching and even worse personnel decisions have shredded this franchise. In fact, during the entire decade that just passed, the Bills didn't play one snap of playoff football. They had one season over .500, a 9-7 season in 2004.

And now the Bills are mired in above-average poor football. I say "above-average poor" because, they haven't even crashed and burned and had to start over with very high draft picks—picks that become franchise anchors. In fact, in the last 5 drafts had the Bills select 9th, 11th, 11th, 12th and 8th. Just bad enough to be irreversibly mediocre.

Let's take a look at some of the recent poor decisions the Bills have made and how it led them to where they are now.

Aaron Maybin over Brian Orakpo
Let's take a look at what Pro Football Weekly wrote about Aaron Maybin just a week before the 2009 Draft.
One-year starter. Nowhere near a finished product. Needs to get significantly stronger and is one-dimensional at this point in his development. Cannot anchor vs. the run. Lacks functional strength to disengage blocks and is too easily erased from the line of scrimmage. Gets knocked around too easily in the trenches. Instincts are nowhere near the level of his physical traits. Undisciplined. Inexperience shows when he guesses and loses positioning. Needs to mature physically and emotionally. Would have greatly benefited from not stacking on 23 pounds in less than two months and struggling to carry the weight naturally. Comes from a program known for producing too many pass-rushing busts.
Here's what wrote:
But he’s not a sure-thing, safe pick and there’s told-you-so bust potential.
To be sure, a lot of good things were written about Maybin. He is quick, explosive and an athlete. But really? Do the Bills look at Maybin and think Julius Peppers? Orakpo, rated above Maybin on Scouts draft board, wrote this about Orakpo:  

Either a 4-3 speed rusher or an outside linebacker in a 3-4, wherever he lines up he’ll get into the backfield on a regular basis. Extremely strong, he’s a freak of nature in the weight room and workouts with a jaw-dropping performance at the Combine. He has busted his tail to get bigger, stronger, and better....
So right now, they hope and pray Maybin turns it on, while Orakpo, off of an 11 sack season—or 11 more than Maybin—is already an anchor.

Jason Peters and C. J. Spiller
Every sentient being on the planet had the Bills taking an offensive linemen or a quarterback this past draft. So naturally the Bills took an explosive, though not an every-down, running back. The last time a team took an explosive back at the expense of ignoring their offensive line, was when the Raiders took Darren McFadden with the 4th pick in the 2008 draft. McFadden has started 12 games and has a 3.9 ypc.

This selection one year after the Bills traded LT Jason Peters—a 3-time Pro Bowler—to the Eagles for a number 28 pick. The result was an offense rated 30th and a surrendered 46 sacks. A galactically bad move—brought on by a contract squabble—made worse by the Spiller selection. Peters was an uncharacteristically good move by the Bills. An undrafted free agent, he grew to be a nice LT—not Walter Jones, but very good. So the Bills ended up giving him away and not replacing him. Which means that their quarterbacks were doomed to fail.

Not Bryan Buluga. Not Anthony Davis. Not Maurkice Pouncey or Mike Iupati. Not Jimmy Clausen. How do the Bills expect Spiller to succeed when they wont block for him? And how do you pass up on Jimmy Clausen, the most ready-to-start QB in the draft, not once, but twice? Even if he just sits and learns this year, do they truly think Trent Edwards and Brian Brohm are the future?

James Hardy over Desean Jackson
Most had DeSean Jackson going mid to late in round one. A total burner, Jackson was a threat from anywhere on the field. One twitch and he was gone—just ask the Philadelphia Eagles. So when he was there for the Bills early in the 2nd round of the 2008 draft, and they were thinking wide receiver, what do they do. They select Hardy.

Hardy was a physical specimen; a natural big receiver with a tiny, tiny brain. A knucklehead in the purest form, Hardy never learned techniques, instead relying on his natural gifts. Reportedly, the Bills selected Hardy because they wanted a "bigger" receiver corp. The Eagles with shorties DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin would disagree. With several police incidents under his belt, Hardy, in 2 seasons has 10 receptions. Jackson has 125.

Willis McGahee
Coming off a 6-10 season, the 2003 Bears had a lot of issues. Having given up their original 1st round draft pick for underwhelming Drew Bledsoe (73% QB rating), their only 1st round pick was Atlanta's 23rd pick, which they got in exchange for Peerless Price, a receiver they hadn't yet replaced. The Bills had a pathetic 4.9 NY/A the previous season and only 11 passing TDs to 17 INTs. They also had Travis Henry, only 25 years old, coming off a solid season and 1 year removed from the Pro Bowl. So naturally, this moribund Bills team would select a running back, just off a devastating knee injury who wouldn't be able to step on a field for over a season.

With Dallas Clark the very next pick, and the starting Bills TE totaling 34 catches, it would have seemed a natural fit to select Clark. Or anybody who could help. But it was pure hubris to select a player for a position you didn't need, who wouldn't play for a year, and who may never be the same even after recovering, when you were 6 wins out of 16 games.

J.P. Losman trade
The very next year the Bills decided to fix what was wrong the previous year, namely their poor passing game. In the first round, the Bills selected Lee Evens to help with their receiving corp. And then they traded their 2005 first round pick and their 2004 second rounder to Dallas for the right to pick...J.P. Losman, a strong-armed but very untested QB from the football factory of Tulane. After not trading up to select Ben Roethlisberger—taken just 2 picks before the Bills—the Bills sacrificed a heck of a lot to take a shot on a guy nicknamed by scouts as "Not The Elite 3"—referring to Roethlisberger, Rivers or Eli Manning, and Losman being the next guy. Everybody knew that Losman wasn't in the class of the top 3 QBs, so why didn't the Bills make a strong move to get one of them? Why didn't the Bills trade up to get Big Ben? Just odd. And costly. And typical.

The Coaches
After Marv Levy, an all-around coaching legend, who have the Bills gotten to coach their franchise? Well for the most part, inexperienced coordinators and retreads.

First, the went to Wade Phillips, who had a losing record when they hired him, and who until last year, never won a playoff game. Phillips didn't coach too poorly, but of course, never get the Bills a playoff win. Essentially a Wade Phillips performance.

Then, the Bills then went to Gregg Williams, a defensive specialist who never had the top job before. It showed. His overly cautious approach—and complete offensive ineptitude—led to a 17-31 record and frequent complaints from his own players.

Next up, the Bills went with a offensive guru who had never held the top job, Mike Mularkey, and the results were the same as with Gregg Williams. Rampant displays of inexperience, a losing record and no playoff berths.

The next two coaches, Dick Jauron and now, Chan Gailey are real head scratchers. With the Bills in need of a coach with a track record for turning franchises around, a coach with a "fire" that extends to his team and with a vision to drive out malaise and mediocrity, the Bills instead went with "nice" average coaches. Dick Jauron, a "good football man," had however, a proven track record of failure. A fine defensive coordinator, Jauron was abysmal as a head coach. 36-49 when he was hired to coach the Bills, Jauron not only led them to 4 straight losing seasons, the culture of failure set in even deeper in upstate New York.

Chan Gailey, by all accounts is "a good football man." A lifer coach, his record speaks of modest success. He had a winning record in 6 seasons at Georgia Tech, but went 2-4 in Bowl games and never beat Georgia. He had an 18-14 record in Dallas, but was knocked out in the first round of the playoffs both seasons—including an embarrassing home loss to the Cardinals. Gailey is a solid guy and coach, but is he really the guy to turn around the Bills? Instead of doing whatever it took to get Bill Cowher or Mike Shanahan—instead of making the strong move notifying the rest of the NFL that the Bills are serious about returning to their heyday, the Bills went out and got a good football guy.

And the list of mediocrity could go on. Kelly Holcomb. Mike Williams. Eric Flowers. Tom Donahue. Poor decisions, poor management, poor coaching, (Dick Jauron passing instead of running out the clock leaps to mind), poor everything. And now the Bills hired Chan Gailey? Why, was Barry Switzer not available? What about Bruce Coslet?

The Bills really were once a proud franchise. And they could be again, with some shrewd management and quality coaching. But right now they are an afterthought, or even worse, a joke. It's going to take time for them to right the ship, but right now, they are not even headed in the right direction.

1 comment:

Pete S said...

Ouch...I never realized the number of bonehead moves they have made.