RSS
 

NFL – Bills’ Season Review – Part 4

07 Jan

The fourth and final segment of our Buffalo Bills’ 2016 season review takes a look at what the team needs to do to finally snap the 17 year playoff drought. Of course, the first and most important thing they need to do is find a new head coach who can change the attitude and the culture of a franchise that has been mired in mediocrity for almost two decades. Here is a summary of the Bills’ biggest needs and our suggestions on how to fill them:

Head Coach

The lack of discipline under Ryan needs to be corrected. If the Pegulas and Doug Whaley decide they need to have some semblance of continuity, then promoting interim coach Anthony Lynn to the job full time would be a good option. Two candidates who have been lined up for interviews are relative unknowns – Sean McDermott, defensive coordinator for Carolina, and Harold Goodwin, offensive coordinator for Arizona. A dark horse candidate who I liked before Ryan was hired is former Buffalo backup quarterback Frank Reich. He is currently offensive coordinator for the Eagles, and did a pretty good job helping develop rookie Carson Wentz there. He’s not a flashy or hot candidate, but the fact he knows the fan base and understands the team’s history is a plus. He seems to have the right demeanor to be a good head coach also, and really was basically a coach on the sideline for Jim Kelly during his playing days.

Quarterback

If the Bills want to try to build on what they’ve accomplished on offense, then bringing back Tyrod Taylor is the best option. A new head coach will likely have input in that call, however. No matter what, the Bills will need to replace EJ Manuel as their primary backup. As far as veteran free agents go, the pickings are slim. They might be better off just continuing to develop Cardale Jones and drafting another lower round player to compete with him. Middle round options with some possibilities include Iowa’s C.J. Beathard and a familiar name, Chad Kelly from Ole Miss.

Receiver

The Bills have 3 impending free agent receivers in Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin and Justin Hunter, four if you count Percy Harvin, who should not be retained after contributing nothing after being re-signed this year. It would behoove them to try to retain Woods and Hunter and then try to strengthen the unit through the draft. Good receivers can be plucked in the middle to late rounds if your scouts are doing their jobs. Some options there are Corey Davis from Western Michigan, Travis Rudolph of Florida State and Oklahoma’s Dede Westbrook.

Safety

This is the Bills’ biggest area of need and may very well be where they look to improve their defense with their top draft choice, which will be the tenth pick of the draft. There are three top players who might be available there – Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers, a versatile star, Malik Hooker of Ohio State and LSU’s Jamal Adams. Any of these three would be able to step into Aaron Williams’ starting spot in the lineup. An interesting free agent possibility is Duron Harmon of New England, who could be a diamond in the rough for the Bills’ currently depleted secondary.

Defensive Line

The Bills need to start looking toward the future with Kyle Williams aging and Marcell Dareus being a player they can’t count on. A couple of draft prospects are Notre Dame’s Jarron Jones and Clemson’s Carlos Watkins, who are both nose tackles. If they decide to try to improve the pass rush, a couple of draftable edge rushers are Josh Carraway of TCU and Auburn’s Carl Lawson.

Placekicker

The Bills have a lot of needs but Dan Carpenter was so bad this season that they may have to use a draft pick on a new kicker. The top prospect is Auburn’s Daniel Carlson, who also can punt. If they can convince him to come here, Los Angeles Ram kicker Greg Zuerlein is one of the NFL’s best. Signing him would be equivalent to when they inked Steve Christie back in the “Plan B” free agency days.

 
No Comments

Posted in Football

 

Classic Team Logo of The Day

07 Jan

swmissouristbears082005

Logo of a small college football team, used until 2005, the Southwest Missouri State Bears. The program began in 1908 and in 2005 the school shortened it’s name to Missouri State. Former Bears who went on to play pro football are Brad St. Louis, Tom Mullen and Jason Whittle.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

07 Jan

68toppslittle

1968 Topps football card of former pro football running back Floyd Little, who was a star player for the Denver Broncos during some of their lean years in the old American Football League. He played 9 seasons for the Broncos and was a two-time AFL All Star, then carried that success into the NFL after the leagues merged, being named to the Pro Bowl 3 times. Little was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.

 

NFL – Bills’ Season Review – Part 3

05 Jan

Part 3 of our annual Buffalo Bills’ season review deals with the defense and special teams. Defense was supposed to be departed coach Rex Ryan’s area of expertise but instead was the main reason for their failure to reach their goal of making the playoffs. Consider these games: 1) at home against the Jets, they allowed Ryan Fitzpatrick, who otherwise had a horrible season, to have one of the best performances of his career, as the Jets cruised to a 37-31 win. 2) at Miami, after the offense built a 17-6 lead, the unit totally melted down, allowing Jay Ajayi to run for over 200 yards as the Dolphins rallied to win. 3) at Seattle, they couldn’t even slow down Russell Wilson and the Seahawks in the first half, forcing the offense to try to play catchup in the second half. 4) at Oakland, the offense took control of the game and built a 24-9 lead, only to watch the defense again inexplicably fall apart and allow the Raiders to score 29 unanswered points and rally to win. 5) at home against Miami, after supposedly preparing to stop Ajayi all week in practice, they again give up over 200 rushing yards to the Dolphin back, including the run in overtime that set up the winning field goal when only 10 Bill defenders were on the field. Here is a position-by-position look at the Bills’ defenders and special teamers:

Defensive Line

It’s supposed to be an area of strength on the team. Inside at tackle, there’s Kyle Williams, a team leader who is getting up in age, and Marcell Dareus, who signed a huge contract and then totally let his team down, first getting suspended and then coming back out of shape and suffering minor injuries that kept him out of the lineup. He is a prime example of the type of player that the franchise has to deal with – inconsistent and unreliable. The new head coach has to somehow fix this problem – either develop the players into men who can be counted on, or cut ties with them and move on, regardless of where they were drafted or how big their paychecks are. Rookie Adolphus Washington got benched for the team’s final game for supposedly not practicing hard enough, but for most of the year was as reliable of a player on the defensive line as the team had. The rest of the D-line roster is pretty much veterans who will have to work hard to impress a new coaching staff to keep their jobs – Corbin Bryant, Jerel Worthy and Rex Ryan favorite Leger Douzable. DeAndre Coleman was another of Whaley’s in-season signings who never had much impact.

Linebackers

There are 11 players available on the Bills’ roster who are listed as linebackers, but some of them may be better players on the defensive line, since there isn’t much depth there. Where these players play and whether or not they even make the team will depend on the opinion of a defensive coaching staff which will probably, and should, undergo wholesale changes. Jerry Hughes has played both DE and LB with the Bills, and is most effective as a pass rusher, although his play fell off markedly this season, another example of Bills’ players who got new contracts, then regressed. Shaq Lawson missed half the season due to injury, then showed a few flashes of decent play, but not much consistency. He certainly didn’t make the impact you’d expect from a first round draft pick. Two of Whaley’s free agent signings, Zach Brown and Lorenzo Alexander, had good years but the Bills’ penchant for not stopping the run and giving up big plays leaves them open for scrutiny also. The same could be said for Preston Brown. Rookie Reggie Ragland was a player who the team had high expectations for, but an injury ended his inaugural season before it started. He could be a wild card in a much-needed attitude adjustment for the defense. Ramon Humber and Lerentee McCray were special teams players who were also brought in during the season. They are marginal talents who will likely struggle to make the roster next year. Veteran Brandon Spikes is almost surely gone.

Defensive Backs

The fall-off in play of Buffalo’s cornerbacks was one of the big disappointments of the 2016 season. Stephon Gilmore was wildly inconsistent, and the Bills would be smart to not hand him a big money contract, or even waste salary cap dollars putting the franchise tag on him. Ronald Darby had a solid rookie season in 2015, but the sophomore jinx hit him badly this year. Nickell Robey-Coleman regressed also, and was consistently burned by bigger receivers while playing the slot corner position. Rookie Kevon Seymour had his ups and downs, but in my opinion showed as much promise as both Gilmore and Darby and would be a good option to start if Gilmore departs. Out of the in-season players that Whaley brought in, Marcus Roberson looked like he could be a guy who should be given an opportunity next year also. Corey White struggled at corner, then made the switch to safety due to injuries there. He had his hills and valleys there also, but the fact that he appears to be a team player says he deserves a look as a depth player again next year. Aaron Williams suffered another neck injury and may have to retire, and he heads a long list of safeties who played, and got hurt, as the season unfolded. Here’s the rest of the list: Colt Anderson, James Ihedigbo, Robert Blanton and Philip Thomas. Corey Graham is the other safety, and he is getting up in age. Jonathan Meeks is strictly a special teamer, and not all that impressive of one. The Bills’ final roster included defensive backs Sergio Brown and Shamiel Gary. Who?

Special Teams

Special teams weren’t that special in 2016. One bright spot was the kick return work of Brandon Tate, a player who should be brought back next season for sure. New coaches usually mean a new punter and placekicker. Punter Colton Schmidt’s play fell off from 2015 and he needs to be challenged in training camp next year. Kicker Dan Carpenter kicked his way out of Buffalo this season. A poor campaign culminated in a dreadful showing in the home finale against Miami that was likely the final nail in his coffin.

 
No Comments

Posted in Football

 

Classic Team Logo of The Day

05 Jan

youngstownst7788

Logo of a small college football program that plays in the Missouri Valley Conference, the Youngstown State Penguins. The school began play in 1938 and has won 4 Division I-AA national championships. Former Penguins who have gone on to play pro football include Ron Jaworski, Paul McFadden, Donald Jones and Cliff Stoudt.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

05 Jan

89toppsickey

1989 Topps football card of former NFL running back Ickey Woods, who had a short but memorable four year career with the Cincinnati Bengals. He burst onto the scene in his rookie year of 1988, when he rushed for over 1,000 yards and was a major factor in the Bengals winning the AFC Championship. Woods made a name for himself with his whimsical “Ickey Shuffle” touchdown dance, which he reprised in recent a Geico commercial while ordering cold cuts at a deli. Woods has served as owner/coach of a women’s full-contact football team, the Cincinnati Sizzle, whose roster included Woods’ ex-wife.

 

NFL – Bills’ Season Review – Part 2

04 Jan

Part 2 of our season review for the Buffalo Bills deals with the offense. Rex Ryan made a bold but decisive move when he fired Greg Roman as offensive coordinator after the Bills started 0-2, especially since Ryan’s sorry defensive unit was the problem in the second loss. Anthony Lynn was promoted from running backs coach to OC and the move paid off as the Bills’ offense became a competent unit, especially in the run game. There were at least 4 games this season in which the offense did it’s job, which was to score 20 or more points, not turn the ball over and allow a strong defensive unit to win the day – at Miami, at Seattle, at Oakland and at home against Miami. A decent showing by the defense in those games would have cut the Bills’ loss total in half, and had them solidly in playoff contention. Here is a positon-by-position look at where the Bills stand on offense entering the off-season.

Quarterbacks

As usual, it appears the quarterback position is in a state of flux. The “business decision” to bench Tyrod Taylor in the season finale makes it look like the team may be ready to part ways with him. I think that would be a bad decision. Taylor hasn’t been spectacular, but has given the Bills strong enough play at the quarterback position to warrant keeping him around. This is a spot where continuity would be a good thing, since Taylor has gradually grown into the leader of the offensive unit. Also, his play improved markedly when he had all of his top weapons available. There’s a lot of consternation about letting Taylor’s contract extension kick in, with the reasoning being that they’ll be stuck with an overpaid, underperforming player (see Ryan Fitzpatrick). However, if the numbers being reported are accurate, Taylor’s contract would put him at around the 15th highest paid QB in the NFL, which is about where he falls. As for backups, EJ Manuel is as good as gone from Buffalo. He was never a good fit here and needs to move on to a better opportunity for his own good. Cardale Jones could be a viable option if he develops as the team hopes he will. All the more reason to make sure the next coaching staff has competent teachers who will ensure the young players develop, not regress as they have under Ryan.

Running Backs

This is a solid unit, with LeSean McCoy and Mike Gillislee complementing each other with different styles of running. Rookie back Jonathan Williams showed some promise in limited playing time, and it was good sign that he was trusted to be on the field at times on obvious passing downs for blitz pickups. Honestly, I never saw any reason why an aging Reggie Bush was even on the roster. He contributed almost nothing and will likely not be around next season. At fullback, Jerome Felton rebounded nicely after being cut at the beginning of the year. He was re-signed and became a solid presence as a blocker and pass receiver for the offense.

 

Receivers

This unit was a revolving door for most of the season, and Taylor deserves a lot of credit for accomplishing what he did despite not having much familiarity with the receiving corps for much of the year. There’s no question that Sammy Watkins is the stud of this corps, the problem is keeping him healthy and in the lineup. He is extremely talented and also an up and coming leader in the locker room. I loved his call for a “culture change” on the team after Ryan was fired. With all the prima donna “me first” divas in the league at wide receiver, Watkins is a refreshing “team first” player. There were scattered contributions from just about everybody on this unit in 2016, including Watkins. In sifting through the others who played in games this year, or were at least on the roster, a few players had some positives but there was very little consistency. Marquise Goodwin, whose career has been plagued by injuries, made some big plays when called upon. Robert Woods was a solid slot receiver and a reliable blocker in the run game, but becomes a free agent. If the team wants to keep some continuity in their successful rushing attack, keeping Woods should be a priority. Justin Hunter, once a top prospect who has floated around the league in his first couple of seasons, signed with the Bills during the season and may have found a home. He developed some chemistry with Taylor when he arrived and is a big red zone target. Brandon Tate is another in-season signing who improved the team’s return game, while also seeing some time as a receiver with all the injuries. Dez Lewis worked his way from the practice squad to the active roster by season’s end, but he has shown little in his time with the club. There is a possible diamond in the rough waiting in the wings on the injured list in Kolby Listenbee, a speedy low round draft choice who never saw any action this year due to hernia surgery. A free agent signee who hasn’t lived up to his billing is tight end Charles Clay, but he finally started to click with Taylor toward season’s end. Another reason to keep Taylor and try to keep some semblance of continuity with the offense. Nick O’Leary earned plenty of playing time as a backup TE, while 2 other tight ends on the roster are development projects – Gerald Christian and former quarterback Logan Thomas. Chris Gragg was having a decent season before he was hurt and will be a roster option for the next coaching staff also.

Offensive Line

The Bills were one of the top rushing teams in the NFL again this year so the offensive line, although not loaded with star players, is at least competent. Eric Wood is solid at center, and guards Richie Incognito and John Miller did a good job blocking inside for the team. Left tackle Cordy Glenn got a big contract prior to the season, then spent a lot of the year battling nagging injuries. Jordan Mills was quietly efficient most of the year at right tackle. The injuries to Wood and Glenn revealed two players – Ryan Groy and Cyrus Kouandjio, as adequate replacements. Groy did a great job filling in for Wood, while Kouandjio, whose career has started slowly, could be an option to win Mills’ job next year. GM Doug Whaley seems to be a proponent of constant roster turnover during the season, with an eye for finding gems to help the team in future years. Center Patrick Lewis and tackle Michael Ola are two examples of this. Neither one did anything to help the team this year. A big question mark for next year is big tackle Seantrel Henderson, who has battled Crohn’s disease and drug suspensions for 2 years. He is a talented player when he’s available to play but he has been like a lot of players who have been with the Bills in recent seasons – not very reliable.

 
No Comments

Posted in Football

 

Classic Team Logo of The Day

04 Jan

austinpeay72now

Logo of a small college football team, the Austin Peay State University Governors, who first began play in 1930  and currently compete in the Ohio Valley Conference. Former Governors who have played pro football include Jeff Gooch and Percy Howard, whose only reception in his NFL career was a touchdown catch in Super Bowl X for the Dallas Cowboys.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

04 Jan

55bowmanstanfel

1955 Bowman football card of former Detroit Lion lineman Dick Stanfel, who was a standout guard for the Lions in their last dominant period in the NFL, which was way back in the 1950s. He was a five-time Pro Bowler and helped the Lions win NFL championships in 1952 and ’53. He was also named to the league’s All Decade team for the 1950s. After his playing career ended, Stanfel spent over 35 years as an assistant coach, mostly an offensive line coach, and won a Super Bowl ring as O-line coach for the Chicago Bears in 1985. After being overlooked for decades, he was finally elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, posthumously, by the Veteran’s Committee in 2016.

 

NFL – Bills’ Season Review – Part 1

02 Jan

Seventeen straight years – that’s how long the Buffalo Bills’ NFL longest playoff drought has now been extended following a largely disappointing 2016 season that saw the end of Rex Ryan’s tenure as head coach. This section of our yearly review of the Bills’ season deals with management and coaching,  and the fact that Ryan and his brother Rob were both jettisoned tells the tale of another head coaching failure in Buffalo. Despite a constant coaching carousel not being a good thing, Ryan deserved to go. In his final game as coach, the team displayed the same negative attributes that marked his two year regime – undisciplined play, unforced penalties, poor time management, confusion on play calls and personnel, and just disorganization in general. If I’m Bills’ owners Terry and Kim Pegula, the play in overtime that sealed the win for Miami, Jay Ajai’s long run on which the Bills had only 10 men on the field, is evidence enough to relieve him of his duties. Add in the defensive meltdowns in Miami and Oakland that cost the team valuable wins and there is no way Ryan, a supposed defensive genius, should keep his job. He never managed to fix any of the problems that plagued the team from day one of his regime. The defensive players vowed they would play hard to try to save Ryan’s job, yet the lack of effort and poor tackling in some of the team’s heart-breaking losses this year was pathetic. Critics can say the lack of continuity is the reason for the Bills’ problems, but when continuity equals mediocrity it’s time to make changes.

General manager Doug Whaley has apparently survived to pick the new coach and run another draft, and in my mind he deserves to stay, but the players he has drafted and signed need to reverse the regression they showed under Ryan when a new coach takes over, in order for him to stick around after 2017. The Pegulas gave Ryan all of the resources he could ask for to turn this team into a winner, including a bloated 29 person coaching staff, and he couldn’t get the job done. It’s time for Whaley to find a competent head coach, not just a carnival barker, to lead this team. Any coach who claims he needs a five year rebuilding plan should be eliminated from consideration. All this team needs is a real leader who will demand accountability from his players and who has some semblance of organizational skills.

 
No Comments

Posted in Football