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NFL – Buffalo Bills’ Season Review – Part 4

31 Jan

The final section of the annual Buffalo Bills’ season review is a look at what the team needs to do to continue growing towards their ultimate goal of winning a Super Bowl. I always look back to the previous season’s review prior to completing the newest one, and I thought I would re-enter my final thoughts from last year. I don’t think much has changed since then.

 

“One thing is for certain. Beane cannot stand pat with his current roster with the Bills smack in the middle of a huge Super Bowl window with Josh Allen as his quarterback. He can’t fall in love with certain players who have been here but haven’t reached their full potential. He and coach Sean McDermott must add the pieces necessary to strengthen this contending club even more. That may also mean taking a hard look at the coaching staff, and whether or not there are better position coaches/teachers available to push the young talent to a higher level.”

 

Yes, I believe all of that is still true. Here are my suggestions on the areas that need improvement:

 

Backup Quarterback

 

OK, this year I made it specific in the header. The need is at backup quarterback, certainly not starter. Veteran Case Keenum filled the role in 2022, but I think Josh Allen is past the point where he needs all these older mentors. He already has the offensive coordinator, QB coach and practice squad QB (that could be Matt Barkley again or maybe Davis Webb). It’s now time to draft a mid-to-late round prospect to groom as a permanent backup going forward. At 6’6 and 226 lbs. Stanford’s Tanner McKee would match Allen’s physical stature but is strictly a pocket passer. Max Duggan of TCU has Allen’s leadership qualities. He led the Horned Frogs to the college football playoff this season.

 

Running Back

 

Devin Singletary is a free agent who the Bills may decide to move on from, and whether Nyheim Hines fits in their plans is debatable too since he didn’t contribute much beyond kick returns after being acquired in a trade. So there is a need for probably more than one back to compliment James Cook. In the 2-3 round range, UCLA’s Zach Charbonnet and Jahmyr Gibbs of Alabama could add some juice to the offense, while TCU’s Kendre Miller is a pounder with the short yardage skills the Bills’ stable of backs has lacked. There are plenty of veteran free agent RBs hitting the market, but most are overpriced or over the hill. Josh Jacobs of the Raiders would be an immediate upgrade at the position but GM Brandon Beane couldn’t afford him unless the running back market is severely suppressed. Stealing a hidden gem like Jeff Wilson from a division rival (Miami) could be an option, but needing cheap labor to fill the roster the best option is the draft.

 

Receivers

 

I still believe Gabe Davis is a quality receiver, and Khali Shakir will have a much bigger impact next season, but the consensus is that Josh Allen needs more weapons. On the free agent market, a couple of potential targets could be Parris Campbell of the Colts, who could thrive playing with a top quarterback, and Jakobi Meyers of New England. Signing him would be that double whammy of strengthening the WR corps and weakening a division rival. In the draft, the receiver class isn’t as strong as some years, but some early-to-mid rounders who could help are Jalin Hyatt of Tennessee, SMU’s Rashee Rice, Marvin Mims of Oklahoma and North Carolina’s Josh Downs. If USC’s Jordan Addison should somehow drop to the Bills at pick 27, they should sprint to the podium to draft him.

 

Offensive Line

 

This is the Bills’ biggest area of need, especially the interior line. Again, if they don’t have to break the bank, they should target Baltimore’s Ben Powers or Denver’s Dalton Risner to upgrade the guard position. In the draft, there are always players with potential in all rounds. Early on, Peter Skoronski of Northwestern would be a great pick but he is moving into the top 10 on a lot of draft boards. Dawand Jones of Ohio State is an intriguing player who could be available in the second round. Both those players are tackles. There are more realistic prospects at guard who could be around when the Bills pick in almost every round. Those include O’Cyrus Torrence of Florida, Andrew Voorhees of USC, Notre Dame’s Jarett Patterson, Jaxson Kirkland of Washington and Cody Mauch of North Dakota State.

 

Defensive Line

 

The Bills have already spent a lot of draft capital in recent years here, but they may need to do it again. I would expect the team to move on from Jordan Phillips and Shaq Lawson so there will be openings. They signed Von Miller last offseason so any additions would likely be draft picks. My favorite edge rusher is massive 6’7 Andre Carter of Army. At interior tackle, Baylor’s Siaka Ika is a space-eater who would compliment DaQuan Jones nicely. Other tackle possibilities are Gervon Dexter of Florida, Lukas Van Ness of Iowa and Cory Durden of NC State.

 

Safety

 

The Bills plan to move Christian Benford to safety, and with Jordan Poyer likely departing, they will have to add some depth here. There really isn’t a player on the free agent market who would be an upgrade over Poyer, so the reinforcements would come from the draft. Georgia’s Chris Smith would be a great addition. Other possibilities include Rashad Torrence II of Florida, Jammie Robinson of Florida State and Louisville’s Kenderick Duncan Jr.

 
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Classic Team Logo of The Day

31 Jan

Used from 2002 until 2018, this is a logo of a college football team that plays in the Ivy League, the Cornell Big Red. The school, located in Ithaca, NY, began it’s grid program in 1887. They’ve won 5 national championships and 3 league titles. Former Big Red players who have spent time in pro football include Ed Marinaro, Kevin Boothe, Tex Coulter, Pete Gogolak, Frank Wydo, Gary Wood, Seth Payne, J.C. Tretter, Bo Roberson and Al Dekdebrun.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

31 Jan

1979 Topps football card of former pro football linebacker Merv Krakau, who played 6 seasons in the NFL, 5 of them for the Buffalo Bills. His best season was in 1976 when, as the Bills’ starting middle linebacker, he led the team in tackles and was second in the entire NFL in fumble recoveries with 6. Krakau was out of the game for 5 years when he came out of retirement in 1983 to play a season in the USFL for the Tampa Bay Bandits.

 

NFL – Buffalo Bills’ Season Review – Part 3

30 Jan

Part 3 of our annual Buffalo Bills’ season review deals with the defense, a unit that puts up impressive statistics and rankings each season, then has epic failures in the playoffs. Coordinator Leslie Frazier’s troops have put up these shocking numbers in their last 3 postseason defeats – 107 points and 1,403 yards allowed. That averages out to 36 points and 468 yards per game. Not exactly numbers that reflect a championship contender. Here is a position-by-position look at the defense and special teams:

 

Defensive Line

 

The play of this unit can best be described as inconsistent. GM Brandon Beane signed a big ticket item in Von Miller, and he delivered until an injury ended his season. The Bills were never able to deliver a consistent pass rush after he was gone. Greg Rousseau had 8 sacks and was stout enough against the run, and A.J. Epenesa chipped in a quiet 6.5 quarterback traps. You could argue that their production was limited by the Bills’ use of a heavy D line rotation. The other edge rushers on the roster are Shaq Lawson and Boogie Basham. Both played hard when they got their opportunities and Basham is still growing as a prospect, but it’s possible that the team isn’t in a rush to bring Lawson back. The interior line was boosted by the free agent signings of DaQuan  Jones and Tim Settle, especially Jones. He was solid in taking on double teams and freeing up Ed Oliver to make more plays. His absence in the playoff loss had a negative effect on the defense as a whole. It’s debatable whether Oliver has lived up to his draft status, but like Basham he still has room to grow. Does the team have time to wait for that growth? His contract will be an issue soon. The last interior defender is veteran Jordan Phillips. He flashed some good play during the season but is only on a one year contract and lacked the one ability that coach Sean McDermott insists is most important – availability. He missed considerable time due to injury.

 

Linebackers

 

For a team that regularly plays a scheme that uses only 2 linebackers, the Bills were awfully heavy on the roster at the position. Matt Milano is a bonafide All Pro and Tremaine Edmunds had his best season and is the leader of the defense. His contract is up and it’s not a certainty that the Bills are willing to cough up big dollars to keep him. There has to be a reason why they spent 2 draft picks on the position last year in Terrel Bernard and Baylon Spector. Both of those rookies made the squad but only played on special teams most of the year, as did veterans Tyler Matakevich and Tyrel Dodson. A.J. Klein was brought back as added depth during the season but it’s doubtful if he is back. My expectation for 2023 is that the team beefs up the roster at other positions and doesn’t carry 7 backers so there will be subtractions, the question is who will they be?

 

Defensive Backs

 

There are 13 players in the mix as this season ends on the back end of the defense. Let’s sort through them, starting with the safeties. Micah Hyde missed most of the season due to injury but was practicing and ready to play at season’s end. He was sorely missed and will be a welcome re-addition next season. However, the Hyde/Jordan Poyer tandem days may be over. Poyer, who was a warrior playing through injuries all year, is about to test the free agent waters and is likely to get an offer Buffalo won’t be willing to match. The depth behind these 2 veterans is full of question marks. Siran Neal is almost strictly a special teamer now, Damar Hamlin’s future as a player is in serious doubt after his horrific incident, Jaquan Johnson got his opportunity to start and never took hold of it, leading to the team bringing back Dean Marlowe as a stop gap who wound up starting. Marlowe played admirably but he is just that, a stop gap. That leaves Jared Mayden, a late-season signee who is a complete unknown. Post-season press conferences revealed that the team is considering moving impressive rookie Christian Benford from cornerback to safety. That move could work out but it’s really just more uncertainty. Cornerback is in good hands going into 2023. Tre’Davious White is back and should be even better, rookie Kaiir Elam looks like a keeper even though the coaches held him back in his development. Taron Johnson is arguably the best slot corner in the NFL, and Dane Jackson is solid. His play may have been better than White’s this year. Cam Lewis also dependable, one of the guys on the roster who is a valuable special teamer but also can actually play the position they’re listed at on the roster. Of course, Benford and Neal can also fill in here in a pinch.

 

Special Teams

 

The Bills put a premium on the special teams, maybe too much so. Veterans like Taiwan Jones, Matakevich, Dodson, Kumerow, Neal and Tommy Sweeney have contributed little at their respective positions. Maybe it’s time for younger players like Bernard, Lewis and Spector to infiltrate those spots, freeing up roster spots for important weapons elsewhere. The specialists are all good, solid pros. Long snapper Reid Ferguson, kicker Tyler Bass and punter/holder Sam Martin are a good unit that work well together. It is possible the team brings in competition for Martin, who is 30+. Beane’s trade for Nyheim Hines upgraded the return game also.

 
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Classic Team Logo of The Day

30 Jan

Logo of a college football team that plays in the Patriot League, the Lafayette Leopards. Starting play in 1882, they are among the oldest programs in the college game. They’ve claimed 3 national titles and 7 conference wins. A few former Leopards who had brief pro football careers include Blake Costanzo, Walt Zirinski and Chris Thatcher.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

30 Jan

1967 Topps football card of former pro football defensive end Howard Kindig, who played 10 seasons in the AFL and NFL. Half of that career was spent with the Buffalo Bills during their lean years of the late 1960s, but he was a member, the long snapper, of the undefeated Super Bowl champion Miami Dolphins in 1972. He also played briefly in the World Football League. After retiring as a player, Kindig ran a real estate and appraisal company.

 

NFL – Buffalo Bills’ Season Review – Part 2

27 Jan

In part 2 of our annual Bills’ season review, we look at the offensive side of the ball. There were issues with consistency as the season progressed, some players had down years and once again, there was a failure to develop a sound ground game. Here’s a position-by-position look at the offense:

 

Quarterbacks

 

Josh Allen is a franchise quarterback, a true NFL superstar. He can’t, however, do it all on his own. He needs more help from the play callers and more support from the other 10 players around him, whether that means current players stepping up or new players added. Backup QB for this team is basically an extra coach and a clipboard carrier, so Case Keenum was the 2022 version of that. It may be time to start grooming a younger player for this role in 2023.

Running Backs

 

Devin Singletary is a hard working back who fights for extra yardage, but has never been much of a home run threat. His contract is up, and I don’t see the Bills paying him much unless he returns as a backup. James Cook shows a lot of potential but only was able to show flashes of that in 2022 with the Bills coaches’ maddening habit of over-nurturing their young prospects. Still, he is the lead dog as far as becoming the number 1 running back next season. Beane acquired Nyheim Hines at the trade deadline to add another offensive weapon, but he was mostly underutilized. His contributions in the return game made a difference. Taiwan Jones is on the roster for special teams only. He is up in age and his value in taking up a roster spot has diminished. Fullback Reggie Gilliam is valuable for his versatility. He can play fullback and fill in as a tight end, and is a regular on special teams also.

Receivers

 

Buffalo has one of the top # 1 targets in the NFL in Stefon Diggs, a fiery competitor who puts up consistent numbers each year. After him, the Bills need to figure it out. Gabe Davis had a bad year with dropped passes, but he’s a big game monster and has to be a major part of the offense going forward. A little off-season work to improve his consistency should help. The fact that John Brown and Cole Beasley were brought back to boost the passing game production was a sign that the club is in need of weapons. Bringing back Beasley wouldn’t be a terrible idea. Late season flashes from rookie Khalil Shakir put him in the conversation to be one of the top 4 next year. He’s one of many first year players who weren’t given ample opportunities to help when the team had struggles. Isaiah McKenzie may have seen his last days as a Bill. He also had drop issues and he no longer contributes on kick returns, so his is a prime spot for an upgrade in 2023. The team never got a good look at Jamison Crowder after he signed as a free agent due to injury, and Jake Kumerow, who has stuck around for his special teams value, is in the same boat. Dawson Knox has developed into a quality tight end. He made tremendous strides with his production late in the season. After him, he TE depth is slim. Quinton Morris is a good story as an undrafted player who fought hard to make it, but the team should look for better players at his position. Tommy Sweeney is another player who is on the roster but rarely active on game day. The receiving corps overall could use an infusion of new blood.

Offensive Line

 

This group is an enigma. The Bills have struggled badly in developing a run game outside of Allen’s runs, and the beating the QB took in the playoff loss to the Bengals is a sign that they need changes up front. Center Mitch Morse is solid, but the rest of the line leaves a lot to be desired. Both starting tackles, Dion Dawkins and Spencer Brown, looked good at times and struggled badly in other instances. Left guard Rodger Saffold showed signs of his age (34) as the season wore on, and I doubt if he is offered a contract to return. Ryan Bates was moved to right guard, and his play was decent, but he played much better on the left side in 2021. The depth behind the starters has one young player with some potential in Tommy Doyle, who spent much of the year on injured reserve. The rest of the backups are average journeymen – David Quessenberry, Bobby Hart, Greg Van Roten and Ike Boettger. There is a possible diamond in the rough on the practice squad in Alec Anderson, but again, an infusion of better talent is needed here.

 
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Classic Team Logo of The Day

27 Jan

Logo of a college football team that plays in the Pacific 12 Conference, the University of Washington Huskies. In existence since 1889, the program has claimed 2 national championships and 17 conference titles and racked up 7 Rose Bowl wins. The school has 3 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame among it’s alumni in Hugh McElhenny, Arnie Weinmeister and Warren Moon. Other notable former Huskies who have played pro football include Khalif Barnes, Chuck Allen, Mark Bruener, Mark Brunell, Blair Bush, Rich Camarillo, Chris Chandler, Ben Davidson, Corey Dillon, Nesby Glascow, Don Heinrich, Lincoln Kennedy, Ray Mansfield and Lawyer Milloy.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

27 Jan

1966 Topps football card of former pro football back Keith Lincoln, who played 8 seasons in the American Football League, mostly with the San Diego Chargers. He was one of the AFL’s brightest stars, a five-time league All Star and championship game MVP when the Chargers won the title in 1963. Lincoln was the victim of the “Hit Heard ‘Round The World” when he was tackled by Buffalo’s Mike Stratton in the ’64 title game, but then played briefly with the Bills at the end of his career.

 

NFL – Buffalo Bills’ Season Review – Part 1

25 Jan

The Buffalo Bills’ 2022 season ended abruptly, and disappointingly, in the divisional round of the playoffs for the second consecutive year with a shocking beatdown administered by the Cincinnati Bengals. After being “crowned” as Super Bowl favorites before the season by just about all the pundits, anything short of a championship was going to be looked at as disappointing, but the manner in which they were manhandled on both sides of the ball while being eliminated took all the wind out of the sails of the organization. With that in mind, we begin our annual four-part review of the team’s season, starting with the front office and coaching staff. It certainly won’t be as glowing as past years’ reviews.

General Manager Brandon Beane has done an admirable job of building the Bills into an annual playoff team and legit title contender. Drafting Josh Allen and securing Stefon Diggs in a trade rank at the top of his list of accomplishments, but we are reaching the point where it’s fair to question some of his moves. Trading up in the draft to get guard Cody Ford, then hanging onto him too long before finally releasing him, can and should be questioned. Couple that with trading away Wyatt Teller, who has developed into a Pro Bowl interior lineman, doubles the criticism. As for the rest of his acquired talent, looking at it creates a bit of a conundrum. Players like Tremaine Edmunds, Ed Oliver, Boogie Basham, Devin Singletary and Zack Moss have ranged from competent starters to sometime contributors. But to use Beane’s own term, there always seems to be “meat still on the bone”. They don’t quite measure up to the spot they were drafted in. Beane has had tremendous success with mid-to-late picks-players like Matt Milano, Dawson Knox, Gabe Davis, Dane Jackson and Taron Johnson. The 2022 draft class gets an “incomplete” grade, since the Bills’ coaches have a habit of babying young players, claiming they’re not ready to contribute regularly. Hence, we only got to see glimpses of what players like Kaiir Elam, James Cook, Khalil Shakir and Christian Benford could do.

That leads us to the conundrum. If the young players “aren’t ready”, are the coaches doing their jobs? Beane has invested heavily in the defensive line, yet the Bills still can’t generate a consistent pass rush and have trouble stopping the run. So, are Beane’s draft picks bordering on being busts, or are the coaches not getting them ready to perform at a high level? Were Zack Moss and Devin Singletary overrated as third round draft picks, or are the coaches failing at developing a consistent ground game?
Sean McDermott is the head coach and deserves praise for leading the franchise out of the doldrums, but the playoff failures also fall at his feet.

Looking at the coordinators:

  1. Ken Dorsey was being praised at the beginning of the year as the Bills racked up yardage and points, but fell under criticism when the offense faltered later on. Josh Allen still stands by him, so he should, and will be, given the opportunity to right the offensive ship in 2023. It doesn’t necessarily fall directly on the coordinator, but how long will this team struggle to develop a consistent run game?
  2. Matt Smiley was a first time coordinator, like Dorsey. The team consistently fills the roster with strictly special teams contributors. Other than Nyheim Hines’ stunning double kickoff return touchdown game, did the special teams do anything else special? Are they capable of scheming up a blocked punt or field goal at a critical time when needed?
  3. Leslie Frazier’s defense has now been guilty of massive failures in the playoffs 4 years in a row. From blowing a 16-0 lead at Houston, getting blown out in the 2020 AFC championship in Kansas City, the 13 second fiasco in K.C. last year and the meltdown at home this year against the Bengals, it’s a troubling pattern. The team always has statistics that rank high in the regular season, but the defense is not feared by any opponent. They have trouble stopping the run, can’t generate a pass rush and don’t get enough game-changing turnovers. It’s hard to believe that the players Beane has added are as mediocre as the unit looks at times, so the coaching has to be questioned. The defensive coaching staff needs an influx of young talent that can innovate and put the players in better positions to make plays.
 
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