Bills Continue Youth Movement, Hire 33-Year Old Nathaniel Hackett As Offensive Coordinator

The Bills have a 48-year old coach, a 45-year old team president, a 40-year old soon-to-be general manager and now they have a 33-year old offensive coordinator in Nathaniel Hackett.  Hackett served under new coach Doug Marrone in the same capacity in Syracuse for the past 4 seasons.  Prior to that he was an offensive quality control coach for the Bills under former head coach Dick Jauron.  He is also the son of longtime NFL coach Paul Hackett who coached with Marrone when they were both with the Jets under Herman Edwards.

Hackett and Cuse QB Ryan Nassib

Hackett and Cuse QB Ryan Nassib

Hackett had success at Syracuse with a pro style offense in his first 3 years but the team opened it up more last season, implementing more of a spread offense.  It’s said that he used some of the old K-Gun offense that he learned during his time in Buffalo from former Bills QBs Jim Kelly and Alex Van Pelt.  He also used some of the current Sean Payton system which he learned from Marrone.  Expect to see a similar offense in Buffalo presumably with a heavy emphasis on the running game with CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson.  I’d also expect to see both running backs down the field more whereas Chan Gailey generally used them primarily for screens this past season in the passing game.

One concern at this point is that the Bills may be telegraphing the fact that they feel that Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib could slot right into their starting QB position with his familiarity with this coaching staff.  Obviously you don’t want the whole league knowing who you are going to take with your pick but nevertheless Nassib still has work to do before securing himself as the #8 pick in the draft.

As far as the hiring of Hackett goes…what the hell right?  It’s been a boring, redundant 13 years in Buffalo.  A little outside-the-box thinking can’t be any worse.

Follow me on Twitter

Advertisements

NFL Week 3 Review – Bills At Browns

The Bills won their first road game in over a calendar year on Sunday when they defeated the Browns in Cleveland by a score of 24-14.  The victory may have come with a price however as running back C.J. Spiller appeared to suffer a shoulder injury in the game.  While Spiller’s injury doesn’t seem to be as bad as it originally appeared to be, the Bills may have to play a crucial division game against the Patriots this week without him.  Here are some thoughts on the game on Sunday:

  • Fitzpatrick has thrown 8 TDs since his last INT

    Ryan Fitzpatrick has been a different quarterback since the Cromartie interception.  Fitzpatrick capped off a nightmare day against the Jets in week 1 with an interception to open the 3rd quarter that Jets CB Antonio Cromartie returned for a touchdown.  He’s been a changed man since that play.  Fitzpatrick was a workman-like 22 of 35 for 208 yards and 3 TDs on Sunday.  Fitzpatrick has thrown 8 touchdowns without an interception since that Cromartie pick.  He’s also only been sacked once and he wasn’t even touched on the play.  He lost the ball in the rain and fumbled which qualifies as an official sack.  A team that’s built to produce in the trenches simply needs a game manager at quarterback and Fitzpatrick has been exactly that over the last two games.

  • The Bills offensive line is very, very good.  Obviously C.J. Spiller is a special talent and nobody works as hard as Fred Jackson.  But even when both of those guys were lost Tashard Choice stepped up and ran for 91 yards on 21 carries.  Choice isn’t the home run hitter that Spiller and Jackson are but the line gave him a hole pretty much every time that he touched the ball to generate a solid 4 or 5 yards on every carry.  As I mentioned earlier the line technically didn’t give up a sack again either.  Cordy Glenn has been a revelation at left tackle.
  • T.J. Graham celebrated his 1st career TD on Sunday

    The Bills receiving corps is a work in progress but it’s getting better.  Stevie Johnson had his best game of the year thus far with 61 yards and a touchdown on 7 catches.  Rookie T.J. Graham had the most productive day of his young career with 3 catches for 24 yards and his 1st career touchdown.  Donald Jones bounced back from being in the red last week with 5 catches for 42 yards.  The unit as a whole isn’t very deep without primary slot man David Nelson but this unit will have to do at least until Spiller and Jackson are back healthy.  These guys did their jobs on Sunday.

  • Mario Williams is quelling those early concerns by the week.  A huge red flag went up when big ticket free agent Mario Williams was basically a no-show against the Jets on opening day.  Williams got more involved last week against the Chiefs with some pressure and a fumble recovery.  This week he finally got on the board with a sack and a half.  Williams has put some pretty consistent pressure over the past few weeks and is starting to look comfortable in the Bills defense.  Maybe he wasn’t such a waste of money after all.
  • Kyle Williams is back to form.  During the off-season Kyle Williams said that he was feeling the best he had since he was playing at L.S.U.  That certainly seemed like hyperbole at the time but Williams has looked like the Pro Bowl player he was in 2010 before he lost most of 2011 to injury.  Williams is showing that explosive first step that has made him so difficult to block early in his career.  He has already recorded 3 sacks from the inside so far this season.
  • Arthur Moats and crew were active in the run game on Sunday

    The linebackers had their best game of the season on Sunday.  Nick Barnett, Arthur Moats and Kelvin Sheppard were all active in the run game on Sunday.  They took advantage of the lack of options that the line was giving the Browns running backs and didn’t let them get to the outside.  All of these guys are playing a new position in the Bills revamped 4-3 defense and it looks like they are getting more comfortable.

  • Chan Gailey has had two good weeks of excellent play-calling.  Gailey has been out-coaching his defensive counterpart over the past two weeks and it’s paid dividends for the Bills, particularly at a time when their depth is weak at the skill positions.  It must have been especially sweet for Bills fans to see Gailey run circles around Browns defensive coordinator and former Bills head coach Dick Jauron early in the game on Sunday.  Gailey will have to pull another rabbit out of his hat this week in New England.

This week’s game against the Patriots is obviously a huge game that will determine just how much of a contender the Bills really are.  This is not a prediction by any means but I wouldn’t be surprised to see both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller out there.  All news has been optimistic for Fred Jackson over the past few weeks so I expect at least he will be in the lineup.  I expect it to be a raucous crowd at Ralph Wilson Stadium.  I’ll be there myself in what should be quite the atmosphere in Orchard Park.

Follow me on Twitter

NFL Week 2 Review – Chiefs at Bills

Well, week 2 went a hell of a lot better than Week 1 did for the Bills.  Facing a near must-win situation already in Week 2 the Bills came out swinging and dominated the Chiefs on both sides of the ball.  The Bills really fed off of the home crowd to get to 1-1 going into a relatively tough stretch that takes them on the road for 3 games next month.  Here are some thoughts on the Bills’ 1st win of the season:

  • Cordy Glenn got downfield to block for C.J. Spiller

    Let’s talk about the best unit of the day for the Bills.  No, it wasn’t C.J. Spiller but rather the big guys in front of him.  The offensive line for the Bills had an outstanding day.  Cordy Glenn looked like a beast out there, running down the field and blocking for Spiller.  Eric Wood looks healthy and the unit as a whole looks very strong.  Ryan Fitzpatrick hasn’t been sacked in the 1st two games and Spiller leads the league in rushing.  I’d say that they are off to a pretty good start.

  • C.J. Spiller gets it.  I know it’s like beating a dead horse by now but C.J. Spiller looks like a totally different player in year 3 than he did in years 1 and 2.  He said this week that he has given up trying to hit a home run on every run rather than taking what he is given.  He has slowed the game down and letting his blockers make the plays before he finishes them off.  There’s concern about his workload or whether or not he is playing over his head right now.  Spiller will only have to carry the bulk for a few more weeks however until Fred Jackson returns.  The Bills will likely rely heavily on the run game, particularly with the strong offensive line, throughout the late winter months.
  • Fitzpatrick looked just alright.  He didn’t make mistakes but he missed Scott Chandler badly twice when he was open.  He will definitely benefit from a run-first mentality.  As mediocre as he’s been he leads the league in passing TDs.
  • Kyle Williams looked like his old beastly self on Sunday

    The defensive line finally showed up.  Mario Williams’ day was another modest one on the stat sheet although he did get a fumble recovery.  His presence, along with that of fellow DE Mark Anderson, was certainly felt though as they collapsed the pocket and made Matt Cassel step up and play in front of the pocket.  That resulted in 5 sacks up the middle, 2 by Kyle Williams, 1 by Marcell Dareus, 1 by Alex Carrington and 1 by MLB Kelvin Sheppard.  Kyle Williams looked like his old, pre-injury self by collapsing the pocket and beating his man all day.  When this line is on it will be very tough to block.

  • Cordy Glenn wasn’t the only rookie with a great day.  Stephon Gilmore shook off a tough start after a rough game against the Jets in week 1.  Gilmore was targeted early and often and held his own against Chiefs receivers Dwayne Bowe, Steve Breaston, and Jon Baldwin.  While it was a good showing the rookie can’t rest because teams will likely still key on him in the passing game.
  • The old man can still play.  The Bills had some cornerback troubles early on in the season but Terrence McGee came off the bench on Sunday to contribute with a strong game in pass coverage.  McGee is a great guy for the young guys to lean on but I think he proved that he can still play with his performance last week.  Of course it is easier to cover receivers when the defensive linemen are in the quarterbacks grill right off of the snap.
  • Leodis McKelvin ran back into the good graces of the Bills mafia on Sunday

    Leodis can’t cover but he can still contribute.  Leodis McKelvin has been a disappointment ever since he was drafted in the first round by the Bills in 2008.  He has trouble locating the ball when it’s in the air and also has trouble making a play on it.  McKelvin was downgraded to 5th cornerback for Sunday’s game against the Chiefs but it didn’t get him down.  He returned a punt for a touchdown to put the game away in the 3rd quarter.  McKelvin may not see much of the field on defense but if he keeps his head in the game he could be a key contributor to the special teams unit.

The Bills embark on a tough 4 game stretch this weekend when they head to Cleveland to face the Browns.  This is a pretty important game for the Bills.  The Browns are a beatable opponent but the Bills have lost 9 of the last 10 road games.  If the Bills want to be in the conversation in December they will need to win at least 2 of the next 4 games.  This one might be the easiest of the bunch.  Regardless the Bills will likely try to take the “one game at a time” approach and try to take care of business in Cleveland and then start preparing for the Patriots a week later.

Follow me on Twitter

NFL Week 1 Review – Bills at Jets

After an off-season of hope this one was a bitter pill for Bills fans to swallow.  The Bills were coming in with a wave of momentum and the Jets looked to be a mess on and off the field.  he Jets came to play and they shocked the Bills early, going up by 21 points in the 1st quarter en route to a 48-28 opening day win.  To many in Buffalo the bubble seems to have burst already.  Maybe they aren’t who we thought they were but the truth is that they have a heel of a lot of time to make up for it.  Here are some individual thoughts on the game:

  • Spiller ran past the Jets defense on the way to 169 yards on Sunday

    Regarding CJ Spiller, the lone bright spot for the Bills.  It looks as if CJ has finally figured out the tempo of the pro game.  If he continues to progress and improve as he has he could truly be an elite offensive weapon.  Earlier in his career Spiller was doing too much dancing and spending too much time finding the hole.  Spiller is shifty and quick.  Once he finds a hole he has to attack it.  That’s exactly what he’s started to do.  Between last week’s performance in relief of Fred Jackson and the last 5 games he started last year for the injured Jackson he is averaging just a hair under 7 yards a carry.  That’s a huge number for an NFL running back.  Spiller stills ahs some growing up to do but the Bills can win without Fred Jackson if they have to, provided other things go right.  Spiller will not be the problem.

  • Where is the new and improved defense?  Dave Wannstedt was hired to fix the Bills defense.  Clearly the Jets had an effective offensive game plan.  Use quick drops before the 4-man front can get to you and take advantage on the Bills young CBs who were playing 5-6 yards off of the receivers.  So where were the adjustments.  Despite Sanchez getting rid off the ball too quickly for the 4-man front to get to him the Bills brought extra guys only 4 times the entire game.  Stephon Gilmore has a reputation for being a physical corner yet he was giving the Jets receivers a cushion.  When you hire a coach with Super Bowl winning experience you except Super Bowl caliber coaching.  Wannstedt needs to bounce back this week against the Chiefs.
  • Sanchez excelled throwing the ball on Sunday

    Give credit where it’s due.  Mark Sanchez was ridiculed since the day the Jets acquired Tim Tebow.  He had a lot to prove.  The entire team did but Sanchez in particular.  And he put his money where his mouth is.  He shook off a very bad INT on the opening drive and played a great game.  He spread the ball around and threw the ball confidently.  For weeks we heard about a QB controversy leading up to week 1.  Entering week 2 there is no quarterback controversy.  This is Mark Sanchez’s team (for now).  The Jets locker room has become a happy place (for now).

  • Fitzpatrick was Jekyll on Sunday.  He still has the potential to be Hyde.  There is no way to mince words.  Ryan Fitzpatrick single-handedly put the Bills in a deep, early hole in the 1st quarter with two bad passes.  Then, while they still had a chance to come back in the 2nd half, Fitzpatrick gave up a pick-6 on the 1st drive.  He’s had bad days like this in the past.  Sometimes he’s bounced back, sometimes he hasn’t.  Losing David Nelson is a big blow but Donald Jones seems ready to step up and rookie T.J. Graham will get some important time early.  I said this last year but the Bills should really work tight end Scott Chandler more into the offensive game plan.  He’s a tremendous mismatch for most linebackers and safeties with his 6-7 frame.  And he catches pretty much everything.
  • The Bills offensive line is a good unit.  I know what that says about Fitzpatrick’s day but the truth is that Fitzpatrick’s mistakes weren’t because he had people in his face all game.  They opened up huge holes for C.J. Spiller.  The middle of the line is stout with center Eric Wood and guard Andy Levitre.  Rookie Cordy Glenn held his own at left tackle.
  • Football isn’t everything.  Marcell Dareus had a bad day on Saturday in the Meadowlands but it pales in comparison to what him and his family are dealing with now.  On Sunday Marcell’s brother Simeon Gilmore was shot and killed in his native Alabama.  Gilmore was 20.  Obviously football seems very small in light of the tragedy and while Marcell is a big part of the Bills team I hope that he takes all the time that he needs to deal with this tragedy.  Condolences to the family of Simeon Gilmore.

The Bills open the home docket of their schedule this Sunday in Buffalo against the Chiefs.

Follow me on Twitter

Bills’ Jackson received hard-earned contract extension

Bills General Manager Buddy Nix has been saying for months that Fred Jackson would get a contract extension before the 2012 season started.  Buddy, as per usual, was true to his word today when the Bills announced that Fred Jackson was given a two-year extension added to his current deal which expired at the end of the season.  Terms of the deal were not disclosed by the Bills but reports say that the deal has a base of $4 million per year.  Jackson’s deal will take him through his 33rd birthday after the 2014 season.

Fred Jackson signed up with the Bills for 2 additional seasons

Jackson was having an M.V.P.-type season before he went down with a broken bone in his foot in the 10th game of the season.  He already had 934 yards on the ground to go along with 442 yards through the air at the time of his injury.  He reached the end zone 6 times.  In 5 seasons with the Bills Jackson has gained 3,794 yards on the ground, 1,535 yards through the air and reached the end zone 20 times, 16 on the ground.  Jackson has carved out a nice career for himself after being an undrafted free agent out of Coe College.

Jackson becomes the 11th key member of the roster signed to a contract extension since Buddy Nix took over after George Wilson, Chris Kelsay, Kyle Williams, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Rian Lindell, Erik Pears, Garrison Sanborn, Stevie Johnson, Scott Chandler, and Kirk Morrison.

Follow me on Twitter

Buddy Nix is changing the blueprint in Buffalo

The Buffalo Bills announced a 5 year contract extension for WR Stevie Johnson today.  Johnson will get paid $36.25 million over the contract that will keep him in Buffalo through his 31st birthday.  Johnson’s 5 year agreement comes a few months after the Bills signed both QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and DT Kyle Williams to 6 year contract extensions.  They also signed starting RT Erik Pears, K Rian Lindell and LS Garrison Sanborn to 4-year extensions last month.  Last season they extended DE Chris Kelsay and SS George Wilson to multi-year deals as well.  Why is this news?  Because the Buffalo Bills have long been notorious for not keeping their players beyond their rookie contracts.

Fitzpatrick and Johnson will anchor the Bills offense for at least the next 5 seasons

Astoundingly the Bills have signed only 1 first round pick to a second contract since 1997.  That was WR Lee Evans who was traded to the Ravens two years into his 4 year extension.  11 players – RB Antowain Smith, CB Antoine Winfield, DE Erik Flowers, CB Nate Clements, T Mike Williams, RB Willis McGahee, QB J.P. Losman, SS Donte Whitner, DT John McCargo, RB Marshawn Lynch, and LB Aaron Maybin – were all cut, traded, or signed away in free agency after being drafted in the first round by the Bills.  Their track record hasn’t been too much better with players that were late round picks that they developed on their own either.  Late round gems like CB Jabari Greer and DT Pat Williams were lost in free agency.  T Jason Peters, a perennial Pro Bowler in Philadelphia now, was traded away when the Bills would not meet his salary demands.  Long story short is that this has been a franchise that has been spinning their wheels for over a decade.

That’s why Stevie Johnson’s re-signing was significant.  As mentioned before, Stevie is the 6th starting player re-signed by the Bills since Buddy Nix took over as GM in early 2010.  There were 6 starters in the Bills starting lineup last opening day with contracts expiring at the end of the year.  Only two, T Demetrius Bell and TE Scott Chandler, remain unsigned.  Buddy Nix said at his introductory press conference on New Year’s Eve in 2009 that he wanted to “draft ’em, develop ’em, and keep ’em here.”  So far he has been true to his word.

Williams' 6 year deal will pair him with fellow DT Marcell Dareus for the next half decade

For the first time in what seems like ages the Bills won’t enter draft weekend simply trying to fill the holes that they opened up by losing players in the off season.  It’s all about building depth, which is what good teams do on draft day.  It’s something that the Bills haven’t done in over a decade.  Now they can also go into the summer and start negotiating with the next batch of pending free agents which includes RB Fred Jackson, G Andy Levitre, and FS Jairus Byrd.  They no longer have the stigma of a team that doesn’t keep their players.  They no longer have the stigma of a team that doesn’t go the extra mile to build a winning team.  Will it finally start equating to wins in Buffalo?  Maybe, maybe not.  One thing that is certain is that they seem to be up there swinging and it’s definitely better to go down swinging then to go down looking.

Follow me on Twitter

My AFC East First Half All-Pro Offense

A lot of people like to do a list of their mid-season all-stars to feel self important and I am no exception.  This is my All-AFC East Team – 11 starters on offense, 11 starters in a 3-4 defense, and 4 special teamers.  Today will be the offense and kicker and tomorrow I will unveil the defense and punter.  Here is the AFC East First Half All-Pro Offense (1st team write up, second team in parenthesis)

Quarterbacks

  • 1st team – Tom Brady, New England Patriots (212 of 321, 2,703 yards, 20 TDs, 10 INTs, 66.0 comp. %, 100.0% QBR) – It’s been another banner year for Pats QB Tom Brady.  He hasn’t been efficient as he has in years past, including last year when he had an unreal 36/4 TD/INT ratio.  But his stats for the first half of the year are as gaudy as anyone’s in the league and he’s leading a Patriots offense that is one of the best passing attacks in the league.  He’ll be in the MVP conversation at the end of the year again
  • 2nd team – Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo Bills (170 of 260, 1,930 yards, 15 TDs, 9 INTS, 65.4 comp. %, 92.3% QBR) – Fitzpatrick has emerged as the Bills’ long term answer at QB, a stature made official with a contract extension signed two weeks ago.  Fitzpatrick is once again on pace to put up numbers that only rival that of Jim Kelly and Drew Bledsoe in the past twenty years for this Bills franchise.

Running Backs

  • 1st team – Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills (150 car. for 803 yards, 5.4 avg., 6 TDs, 1,194 total yards) – Jackson is far and away the best halfback in the AFC East.  He’s already got 1,194 total yards halfway through the season, which is on pace to eclipse O.J. Simpson’s single season Bills record.  He’s also on pace to crush his previous career high for rushing yards in a season.  He is the workhorse behind a potent Bills offense and like Brady will be a candidate for NFL MVP at the end of the year.
  • 2nd team – BenJarvus Green-Ellis (108 car. for 452 yards, 4.2 avg., 5 TDs, 501 total yards) – Green-Ellis narrowly beats out Reggie Bush because he’s been more in touches (and scores) and Shonn Greene because he is more consistent in average per carry.  Green-Ellis is the workhorse in a Patriots offense that uses many different pieces.

Fullbacks

  • 1st team – John Conner, New York Jets (7 car. for 26 yards, 3.7 avg., 1 TD, 35 total yards) – Conner is emerging as a top fullback in the league this year.  He’s been by far the most versatile fullback in the division this season, contributing in the rushing, passing, and blocking games.
  • 2nd team – Corey McIntyre, Buffalo Bills (No stats) – McIntyre hasn’t been utilized as a ball-handler in the Bills offense this year but he is a physical load.  He is a grinder who opens up huge holes for Fred Jackson in the short yardage and goal line situations and Brad Smith in the wildcat formation.

Wide Receivers

  • 1st team – Wes Welker, New England Patriots (66 cat. for 960 yards, 6 TDs, 42 1Ds) – Welker has been off the wall this season and is on pace for his best season to date.  He is one of Tom Brady’s security blankets and is virtually impossible to cover with Brady throwing him the ball.  Oh, and he’s a free agent at year’s end so don’t look for him to slow down any time soon.
  • 1st team – Brandon Marshall, Miami Dolphins (46 cat. for 644 yards, 2 TDs, 31 1Ds) – Marshall edges out Stevie Johnson for the second WR starting spot on my team.  He’s made headlines for what he’s said off the field so for this year but what he has done on the field has been nothing to sneeze at.
  • 2nd team – Stevie Johnson, Buffalo Bills (42 cat. for 523 yards, 4 TDs, 28 1Ds) – Johnson was edged out by Marshall for first team honors but makes a fine first receiver off the bench.  Johnson is one of the best route runners in the league.
  • 2nd team – David Nelson, Buffalo Bills (35 cat. for 402 yards, 3 TDs, 19 1Ds) – Nelson beats out Deion Branch for the last WR spot on the team with a bit more consistency.  Nelson has seen fewer targets but has more receptions.  Nelson’s hands are as sure as anyone’s in the league and as such a big target he gets to balls that other receivers can’t.

Tight Ends

  • 1st team – Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots (44 cat. for 596 yards, 6 TDs, 34 1Ds) – Gronkowski is a beast in the passing game, plain and simple.  He is versatile, he can block and catch, but he is most dangerous in the middle of the field where his big body and athleticism make him incredibly difficult to defend.
  • 2nd team – Dustin Keller, New York Jets (29 cat. for 436 yards, 2 TDs, 21 1Ds) – THE AFC East tight end pool is deep with Aaron Hernandez and Scott Chandler also getting consideration but Keller is just two big a part of the Jets offense to overlook.  He is their best receiver through the first half of the season.

Tackles

  • 1st team – Jake Long, Miami Dolphins – Long’s Dolphins might only have one win but Long is still among the best left tackles in the game in 2011.  Reggie Bush’s 4.9 yards per carry would help speak to that.
  • 1st team – Wayne Hunter, New York Jets – Hunter is probably not the best tackle on his team (see below) but he is the best right tackle in the division with Sebatian Vollmer splitting early time with rookie Nate Solder.
  • 2nd team – D’Brickashaw Ferguson, New York Jets – Ferguson is definitely not a high first round disappointment for the Jets, playing again at a extremely high level while guarding Mark Sanchez’s blind side.
  • 2nd team – Sebastian Vollmer, New England Patriots – Vollmer has been plagued by health problems and has dealt with the emergence of fellow right tackle Nate Solder but is consistent as ever when he’s in there.

Guards

  • 1st team – Andy Levitre, Buffalo Bills – Levitre has been a monster this season for the Bills.  He’s done all that’s been asked of him, including kicking out to left tackle the past two games for the Bills’ injured tackles.  Ryan Fitzpatrick was sacked just twice in those two games.
  • 1st team – Brian Waters, New England Patriots – Waters was a great veteran pickup by the Patriots just before the start of the regular season.  Waters has stabilized a line that was inconsistent at time for the Pats last season.
  • 2nd team – Logan Mankins, New England Patriots – Mankins is having another great season, just not one as good as Andy Levitre’s up in Buffalo.  Mankins is the anchor for the Pats offensive line.
  • 2nd team – Vernon Carey, Miami Dolphins – Carey has not skipped a beat moving inside from right tackle to right guard this year, playing at his usually high level and being a beast in the run game.

Centers

  • 1st team – Nick Mangold, New York Jets – Mangold missed a few games earlier this year due to a high ankle sprain but he is by far the best center in the NFL when healthy.  He is dominant virtually any time out there.  He was sorely missed during his injury, a huge blow to the Jets offense
  • 2nd team – Eric Wood, Buffalo Bills – Wood is playing at a Pro Bowl level in his first season back at his college position.  He would probably  a 1st teamer if he was in any other division, or Mangold wasn’t in his.  He might be the best pull center in the league.

Kickers

  • 1st team – Nick Folk, New York Jets (12-13 FGs, 23-23 XPs, 50 long) – Folk has been the most consistent kicker in the division, only missing once and being 2 out of 3 from over 50 yards out.
  • 2nd team – Rian Lindell, Buffalo Bills (13-15 FGs, 25-25 XPs, 49 long) – Lindell has had his usual consistent season with 13 makes, including a game winner against the Patriots.  Unfortunately he will miss the next 4-6 games for the Bills with a shoulder injury.

Defense tomorrow

Twitter @ErikVenskus

It’s homecoming weekend for three Bills

The Bills and Cowboys have had a pretty good rivalry since they faced each other in back-to-back Super Bowls back in 1992 and 1993.  The last time they played each other, on a Monday night in Buffalo, the two teams delivered one of the best games of the year.  The two teams will look to duplicate that this Sunday in Dallas and the Bills will no doubt be looking for a little revenge following that heart-breaking Monday Night loss 4 years ago.  For three Bills players, however, it is more than just a rivalry game.  Running Back Fred Jackson, Wide Receiver David Nelson, and Cornerback Aaron Williams are all coming home.

Aaron Williams was born in San Jose, California but grew up in Round Rock, Texas.  He attended McNeil High School in Austin, Texas where he was a Parade All-American.  He also made second team All-USA team by USA Today.  He also played in the 2008 U.S. Army All-American Bowl.  Williams was the only Texas native on the Bills roster to stay at home and play college ball, attending the University of Texas under Mack Brown.  He started 23 games at UT and was a second team All-Big 12 in 2010.  Williams was drafted by the Bills in the 2nd round in the 2011 NFL draft.  This week’s game will be extra sweet for Williams if he is able to go, as it will be the first action he would see since the scary injury that he suffered in Week 3 against the Patriots when he was carted off the field.

David Nelson was born and raised in Wichita Falls, Texas.  He played at 1A Petrolia High School before he moved to S.H. Rider High School in Wichita Falls.  Nelson was named Class 4A first team all state for his senior season in which he caught 91 balls for 1,641 yards and 18 touchdowns.  He also played in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.  Nelson was captain and letterwinner for the Rider Raiders, a fact that won’t surprise Bills fans who have gotten to know David during the past two years.  Nelson headed to the University of Florida to play with one of the best college players of all time, Tim Tebow.  Nelson went undrafted in the 2010 NFL draft but was quickly scooped up by Buffalo, where he has caught 66 balls for 755 yards and 6 TDs in only a season and a half.  It will be a very satisfying homecoming for Nelson, who has earned his stardom the hard way.

Perhaps the most satisfying homecoming story however belongs to Fort Worth native Fred Jackson (sorry, couldn’t find a high school picture of him.)  Jackson attended Lamar High School in Arlington.  He traveled to little Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  His amazing career path has gone from Lamar to Coe to the Sioux City Bandits of the National Indoor Football League to the Rhein Fire of NFL Europe to the Buffalo Bills practice squad to finally, starting Running Back of the Buffalo Bills.  He made the Bills’ roster during the 2006 season and since then has amassed 3,663 yards on the ground to go along with 1,484 yards through the air and 20 touchdowns.  In 2011, at age 30, Fred Jackson is a candidate for NFL MVP and on pace to match or surpass the best all-around performance by a Bills franchise that has had versatile Hall-of-Famers O.J. Simpson and Thurman Thomas in its backfield.  It will be an extra special homecoming for Jackson who has certainly not taken the easy road from Lamar High School in Arlington to face of the franchise for the Buffalo Bills.

Good luck to those Texas boys on the Buffalo Bills and the rest of the squad in a big game this weekend in Dallas.

Twitter @ErikVenskus

Thoughts on Bills/Jets

Well, the whiteout didn’t produce the results that the Bills had hoped for.  The Jets took the crowd right out of the game early and they never fully recovered as the Jets were prepared for everything that the Bills threw at them.  Rex Ryan took advantage of the extra week he had to prepare for the Bills and by the time Chan Gailey found the adjusttments he needed it was too little, too late.  It’s going to be a crazy second half of the season in the AFC East, I’ll get to the Pats later, but obviously there are three teams at 5-3 halfway through the season.  It doesn’t get closer than that.  Here are some thoughts on the game.

  • I’m not sure that Donald Jones should have come off of a three week absence and thrown right into the fire across from Antonio Cromartie.  He was no match for his coverage skills and was unable to strecth the field.  You have to wonder if it would have been more wise to use CJ Spiller in that role for another week.
  • No touches on offense for Brad Smith this week.  I’m not sure that I understand that one.
  • While there were problems with the Bills offense, they didn’t come from the offensive line.  The line was exceptional again, opening big holes for Fred Jackson and keeping Ryan Fitzpatrick upright.  Fitzpatrick wasn’t sacked and generally had time to throw, he just couldn’t find anyone open.
  • You know that you’re having a great season when people see a line of 82 rushing yards and 38 receiving yards as disappointing.  Those were Fred Jackson’s numbers on Sunday.
  • I think Chan Gailey needs to work Scott Chandler more into the gameplan.  He is reliable and I can’t recall a mistake that he’s made all year in the passing game.
  • I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating – Darrelle Revis may be the best player in the NFL.  Not the best cornerback, the best player over all.  That being said Stevie Johnson found a way to beat him down the field later in the game, if only Gailey and the Bills tried to run the deep routes earlier the Bills may have had more success against Revis.
  • Defensively the Bills play wasn’t overly offensive but they caught some bad breaks (Wilson non-INT, questionable PI on McKelvin).  They didn’t give up as many yards on the ground as they did in the previous four games against the Jets but it was still too many.
  • Marcell Dareus was handled pretty well by Nick Mangold but that’s alright.  A kid like that needs growing pains and it’s always good to learn on the fly.  That being said he did show some flashes yesterday and I see a huge second half for the big rookie.
  • Chris Kelsay may be one of the more maligned members of the Bills for the past decade but the Bills defense really misses him when he’s not out there.  It will be another struggle to control the line of scrimmage next week against Dallas when he’s out again.
  • Brian Moorman had a great day punting the ball yesterday.  He’s quietly put together a great season.
  • For the first time this season Chan Gailey was severely out-coached.  It’s disappointing after what’s he’s done so far this season but it’s important to remember that Rex Ryan had two weeks to prepare.  It won’t get much easier for the re-match in three weeks when Ryan has 10 days to prepare, coming off of a Thursday nighter in Denver the week prior.  It’s what makes these next two road games so important for the Bills.

I’ll recap the Pats/Giants game later but that game compared with this one was a possible game-changer in the AFC East.  The three teams are tied at the top of the AFC East.  On the outset the Jets look to have the best opportunity to get a leg up going into the second half of the season as the only one playing at home next week.  The Bills draw the Cowboys in Dallas.  It feels like it could be the beginning of the end, or it could be another chapter in the story of the resilient Buffalo Bills of 2011.

 

Twitter @ErikVenskus

Thoughts on Bills/Redskins

So Week 8 is in the books, a week away from the official halfway point of the NFL season and the Bills are 5-2 and sitting pretty in a tie atop the AFC East.  Clearly the Bills are one of the surprise teams of the season, if not the surprise team.  The Bills had their annual home away from home game in Toronto on Sunday and for the first time in the four year venture came out on top by a score of 23-0.  Here are some thoughts on the game:

  • Let’s start with Marcell Dareus.  The man is a beast, plain and simple.  You can tell at this early stage in his career that he is going to be one of the best.  Not many guys can say that they can single handedly take over a game in only their 7th game as a pro.  Dareus did just that yesterday.  Even if it was against an inferior opponent in the Redskins Dareus was flat out dominant.  4 tackles, 2.5 sacks and constant pressure on the pocket all game.  If the Bills get more of this the defense will be one of the better ones in the league by the end of the year.
  • Speaking of the defense and their 9 sacks, give credit where credit is due – the Bills cornerbacks finally played a complete game and it showed up front.  Florence, McGee, and McKelvin are all above average cover men and their performances should show more than they have for the first 6 games.  A little pressure goes a long way but at the same time it’s hard to make a hot read with a guy like Dareus bearing down on you when the corners don’t let receivers get a clean break off of the line.  This unit is crucial to the success of the Bills in the second half of the season.
  • The Redskins run game was stopped cold thanks to a smothering defense, again led by Dareus.  It will be interesting to see if that carries over to the Jets game.  The Jets once vaunted run offense has been disappointing thus far this season and the Bills will be smelling blood after their dominant performance this week.
  • There is not much more that you can say about Fred Jackson that hasn’t already been said.  The guy is a bona-fide MVP candidate.  He may be the most complete back in the NFL right now.  That’s saying something for a guy who just turned 30 prior to the season.  He’s got 721 rushing yards and 353 receiving yards through 7 games, giving him a whooping 1,084 yards from scrimmage through the first 7.
  • The newly minted man Ryan Fitzpatrick showed a bit of rust early but brushed it off to to finish with a good day overall.  He was an efficient 21 for 27 for 262 yards, 2 TD, and INT and the team’s first lost fumble of the season.  He didn’t have to do too much and overcame some bad turnovers early.
  • People have been heaping praise on top of the Bills offensive line all year and yesterday’s game was a prime example of why.  They were missing both of their left tackles, Demetrius Bell and Chris Hairston.  They asked Andy Levitre, who has been a Pro-Bowl caliber player at left guard to kick out to left tackle and inserted back-up swing guard Chad Rinehart into the left guard position.  The unit didn’t miss a beat.  The Redskins recorded only two sacks, both in the 4th quarter when Fitzpatrick just held onto the ball rather than risk a bad pass.  This unit has been, and continues to be outstanding despite the malignation that is suffered in the preseason.
  • Nobody ever tell George Wilson that he isn’t one hell of a football player
  • Rian Lindell has become so automatic that you are shocked when he misses, so much so that there is not a doubt in your mind that he is going to hit the next one.
  • Again, kudos to Chan Gailey for being the exception to the rule once again and getting his team ready to play after the bye.  Teams are only 8-10 coming off of the bye this year.
  • Finally we must talk about a bit of karmic justice.  Two years ago, prior to the 2010 season, the Bills were at a breaking point.  They had not been to the playoffs in 10 seasons at that point and had just run through a cavalcade of colossal disappointments at the quarterback and head coaching positions.  Owner Ralph Wilson had seemed to have had enough and showed an interest to opening up his wallet to a big name coach to come in and oversee the operation.  The team first turned to Mike Shanahan, who had been fired by the Broncos the year prior after a long and fruitful run in Denver.  Shanahan took an interview and then casually brushed the Bills off, waiting for Daniel Snyder to offer him the moon to come to Washington, where guys love to go when they want to get paid.  The Bills had to settle for an also-ran, Chan Gailey.  Well on Sunday that also-ran and his team handed Mike Shanahan the first shutout of his long and illustrious coaching career.  If that’s not a sign that the football gods are on their side, I don’t know what is.

It’s a big week ahead, the biggest game of the year to date takes place this Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium when the Jets come to town to take on the Bills.  This one will tell us a lot about where we will go from here.

Twitter @ErikVenskus