A primary foil of the 2011 Buffalo Bills was the injury bug. It would seem as if 2012 Bills may suffer from the injury blues yet again.
With Fred Jackson shelved for the better portion of the next three to five weeks and David Nelson lost for the year, the Bills have lost two major weapons and will need to patch together the holes in their offense to keep the ball rolling. They also need to find a way to plug the other leaks that the Jets attack created as they enter week two against the Chiefs. Here’s a field goal’s worth of objectives the Bills need to address before taking the field on Sunday.
1. Remediate and layer the passing attack: Ryan Fitzpatrick proved that he and his receivers were deadly on quick hitting slants and dig routes last season. The Bills greatest success came on these routes and led to the hot 5-2 start that captivated so many fans. However, when the deep passing game remained non-existent, the underneath patterns were eliminated.
On Sunday, Ryan Fitzpatrick wouldn’t have hit water if you put him on the Titanic despite ending the day with a trio of touchdowns. Stevie Johnson’s injury may have limited him at points and the new absence of David Nelson erases a primary target in three and four-wide sets. However, T.J Graham and – shudder – Donald Jones remain speedy targets for the Bills attack.
The key on Sunday, and beyond, will be for the Bills to utilize their criminally under-talented receivers in a number of different ways. The 2011 attack won’t work in its original form and stretching coverage with Graham and Jones should allow Johnson, Scott Chandler, and, um, Ruvell Martin to settle in underneath Kansas City’s coverage.
2. Know the final solution regarding the roster: Moving Nelson to the IR freed up one position that needed to be used to replace Jackson. While Johnny White is likely a temporary addition, the massive vacancy at wide receiver is more prevalent because the Bills only had four prior to bringing back Martin.
Since Martin is primarily a special teams player and Brad Smith didn’t see an offensive plays on Sunday, one could argue that the Bills are technically left with three wide receivers. One of those receivers, Graham, was inactive on Sunday. Point being, the Bills need to have a real solution to their shortage of depth and talent at receiver.
At some point a quarterback will be released from the roster and there will be one more spot to play with. What is vital is to figure out is Tavaris Jackson is worth the investment for another week or two or if one of the free agent wide outs on the market will provide more stability to the offense.
Also, if Derek Hagan could jump right into the Oakland offense and contribute, there is no reason to think any number of the current free agents like Branch, Sims-Walker or even problem child Plaxico Burress wouldn’t be able to provide a viable threat to the offense.
3. Figure out what is up with the linebackers: Watching the Jets carve the Bills secondary was dreadful and the massive swath of green between the line of scrimmage and safeties when the Jets were passing seemed almost too big at times. Kelvin Sheppard’s pass coverage skills are still a work in progress and it would see as if Arthur Moats is just wasted in any coverage situation. Nick Barnett can cover the pass, but it would seem as if even he struggles at times. Providing the secondary with any level of support would be a great start towards remediating the mess that was Sunday’s pass defense.
Sure, Stephon Gilmore wasn’t Revis from the get go. But shame on you for expecting that. Leodis McKelvin was, well, Ledois McKelvin and Aaron Williams continues to build a beautiful case as to why he is overrated. Maybe if Terrence McGee can get healthy and if Justin Rodgers is deemed to be an upgrade, there will be some progress made. However, the relationship between the pass rush, the linebackers effectiveness in coverage and the corners and safeties being overmatched was evident on Sunday. A pass rush will limit passing options and support from the linebackers will provide additional support in the secondary. Lastly, the defensive backs need to do more than run alongside a receiver if they hope to make any sort of difference in coverage.
Sunday should be better than what was witnessed against the Jets. Certainly the pass rush will have a bit more support than they had last week (five blitzes) and the secondary will likely provide more support than they did last week. The offense, however, could be as big of a question mark as ever depending on Ryan Fitzpatrick’s performance. While the three points above can be addressed immediately, there may be little that can be done regarding Fitzpatrick’s status as Buffalo’s starting quarterback.