Polling the Fan Base

ESPN recently put out a poll on five key questions about the 2004 Buffalo Bills. I voted on those and have been tracking the returns for several days.

The first question asked fans how many games the Bills would win this season.

The second question asked fans whom the Bills should have hired as their head coach.

The third question asked fans whom the Bills should have signed as Winfield's replacement.

The fourth question asked fans what the key to offensive improvement is this season.

The fifth question asked fans what kind of impact Willis McGahee will have this season.

To date, with nearly 21,000 votes tallied, the results are synopsized as follows:

For question one, the choices were 4 or fewer wins, 5 or 6 wins, 7 or 8 wins, and 9 or more wins. My vote was for 7 or 8 wins although I would have chosen 6 or 7 if the option had been available. Surely, if the Bills cannot manage to win at least a game or two more than they did last year with the talent that they now have, then clearly the issues of the Bills run deeper than most realize. Overall 57.3% of fans believe the Bills will win 8 or fewer games leaving 42.7% thinking that a winning season is a greater possibility.

It is less important the record of the team this season as it is to demonstrate both within the division as well as to the league as a whole, that the Bills are once again a team capable of beating any other team in the league and not simply routinely beating the dregs of the league. This has clearly not been the case over the past four seasons. Yet, in order for the Bills to truly be deemed a playoff team and contender, that box will need to be checked before the Bills begin talking playoffs again, particularly if they expect to be taken seriously in the playoffs.

The second question gave choices of Dick Jauron, Jim Fassel, Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel, and Mike Mularkey as the choices for which the best coaching hire choice would have been.

This without question is predicated on the team's goals for this upcoming season. If the Bills had expected to be competitive this season as stated by Tom Donahoe, then the best hire would have been a head coach with some experience. My vote was for Charlie Weis with the reasoning that the Bills will not be contenders this season regardless. However, playoff circumstances prevented his realistic consideration and hiring in a timely manner. Of the fans, nearly half, or 48.8% voted Mularkey.

I have high hopes for Mike Mularkey for the future. However, history, reason, and common sense all strongly suggest that a first year rookie head coach will need some time to advance along the learning curve prior to making an impact. This especially given a rookie offensive coordinator combined with a very dicey offense from the year prior and arguably the worst in the league beyond the statistics. The team's residence in the AFC East also will not be Mularkey's friend. Mike Mularkey's experience as a player will be pivotal for the coach however. But it is a difficult argument indeed to ascertain that a rookie head coach would outperform a veteran head coach each in their first season on a new team.

The big question for the Bills in this regard given a four season history of a very rough ride is one of what kind of impact might another losing season have on the perceptions of the franchise to other players who would otherwise consider coming to the Bills. So the Mularkey decision, just as it would have been with Crennel or Weis, is risky in that regard. Jim Fassel may have been the safest and least risky decision.

The third question gave Ahmed Plummer, Bobby Taylor, and Fernando Bryant in addition to Troy Vincent as which cornerback would best supplant Antoine Winfield. My vote was for Vincent, but again, the particular parameters of the Bills situation needed to be considered, of which money was a key factor.

Also, Vincent is slated to eventually move into a safety role, which would be a nice and natural transition as he ages into his mid/late-30s. He has the size and experience in order to ensure a smooth transition whenever the time comes there. Vincent will provide twice the pass coverage that Winfield ever did barring an unusually dramatic and unexpected drop-off in his level of play.

Vincent received a confidence building 66.1%, or nearly two-thirds of the vote, again, to the time of this writing.

The fourth question asked what the key was to improving the Bills' near last ranked offense last season and had poor choices as answers. The options were: contributions from the rookie Lee Evans, Production out of Willis McGahee, Josh Reed stepping up, better pass protection from the OL, or quicker release by Drew Bledsoe.

My vote went to a quicker release by Bledsoe although I was looking for overall improved play all around out of the QB position and not merely a quicker release. Much more than a quicker release will have to change in order for the 32-year-old 11-year veteran to lead the team to much better production than he did last season. The QB position is often overrated in terms of how much it contributes to the actual viability of the team. But Bledsoe's mistakes, sacks, and poor decision making have cost the team dearly in the two seasons that he has been in Buffalo.

Bledsoe is clearly the key to a vastly improved offense this season. How much the offensive line protects him is part and parcel of that issue. But apparently the Bills' braintrust felt more than comfortable with the offensive line talent on the table considering that they made only a replacement move for the 31 year old Chris Villarrial in Brown's stead on the opposite side of the line.

Nevertheless, more than half, 56.0% felt that improved pass protection was key and apparently believe Bledsoe's woes to stem directly from that. A quicker release by Bledsoe came in at just over 20% at 20.3%.

The last question polled for the contribution that Willis McGahee would make this season. The choices were fewer than 400 rushing yards combined with being a good change-of-pace RB, good in mop-up duty showing flashes of greatness, replacing Henry as the primary rusher by season's end, or no significant impact this season. My vote was for mop-up duty showing flashes of greatness in what was another poorly choiced question.

My belief is that barring injury again, McGahee will prove himself to be among the better RBs in the league even this season. Whether or not he gets that opportunity depends highly upon how close games are for the team as well as what the plans of the coaches are. McGahee could emerge early on in the season or later in the season depending upon numerous circumstances. An unfortunate injury to Henry could alter the landscape in Buffalo permanently. There are endless scenarios for this situation playing itself out including another injury to McGahee as well.

The one certain thing is that for one reason or another, Henry has a vote of confidence from nearly 80%, or 79.5% of the fans that voted in this poll as well as from myself. Only 8.1% believe that Willis McGahee will not make a significant impact this season. If this ends up being the case, then likely it will have been due to yet another knee (or other) injury, which would end up being McGahee's fourth in as many seasons played.

On a side note, the status of McGahee is somewhat tenuous when looked at from Tom Donahoe's perspective and he has reason to "encourage" the offensive coaching staff to see to it that McGahee gets plenty of playing time. If McGahee does not shine this season in one form or another, this could adversely and significantly impact Donahoe's status with the team, more specifically the fans, and dependent upon the performance of the team otherwise. It is this writer's belief that the entire difference between last season's offense, apart from only related coaching changes, will be the degree to which McGahee shines above and beyond anything that Henry can do or has done, coupled with changes in Bledsoe's overall play.

Comments: mweiler.billsreport@cox.net

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