Goals for the Bills in ‘04

<P> With Sunday's season opener with the Jags looming, I thought I'd try and slip this one in under the wire. While viewing the Miami-Florida State game during the literal calm before the storm, I found myself asking what would be good goals for this Bills team this season.

While Donahoe, Mularkey, Bledsoe and other coaches and players have stated that anything short of a winning season is unacceptible, and while they will and should be held to that standard four seasons into the Donahoe rebuilding plan, my goals are less stringent by and large. Donahoe on the other hand needs to be held accountable if the Bills do fail to post a winning season and one with clear indications of significant improvement.

Four seasons of dangling in the wind left to the mercy of the strength of schedule would be enough seasons of trying his methodology out as his peers have taken similar teams with equal cap woes and from similar conditions and turned them into winners within the same time period. Four seasons without so much as a trend in the right direction is inexcusable.

My goals for this team this season are predicated on the notion that Donahoe's stated goal for last season let alone this one, namely to have a playoff competitive team, is unattainable.

The first is that Donahoe's player moves begin to pan out. During Donahoe's tenure, the Bills have acquired few players, a number falling into the "pure chance" category, that have outperformed expectations and numerous players that have fallen short. Brand names, not on field performance, seem to have been the priority.

The list of players that are overpaid or that were aging free agents whose performances are starting to come down as their salaries go up, coupled with draft selections underachieving is certainly not empty. Misjudgments by Donahoe, or poor drafting, are bringing this team very close to full circle under his watch pending this season.

Second, forget wins or losses, I fail to see how this team can post a winning season. But it must beat some of the more competitive teams on the schedule. There are twelve teams in the league that posted equal or worse records last season than the Bills. The Bills play six of them, however five of them, the Jets, Steelers, Browns, Jacksonville, and Oakland have all made significant net player additions that should improve their teams coaching notwithstanding. The Bills have not relying on almost exclusively coaching changes for any improvements.

The road schedule is a bear featuring all teams which finished better in record than the Bills last season except for the Raiders who have made very significant improvements. But the real measure of success should be counted by how the offense performs vs. all of the teams on the schedule, not simply the weak defensive teams such as has largely been the case now for two seasons. If the Bills can simply remain competitive, there is some hope that improvements have been realized. The offense, especially given the all-star roster of talent must finish among the top half of the NFL in scoring offense minimally given that it has top 10 talent easily at the skill positions.

Third, the defense must prove that it is really as good as its last season's rankings, or thereabouts which largely came about due to ranking inflation as a result of having played the NFC East and its weak cast of offensive units. It must control some of the better rushing attacks in the league and finish among the top half in rushing defenses. The overall scoring defense should remain ranked among the top 10 and within a reasonable measure from last season's 5th ranking.

Fourth, Bledsoe must not bust. Pure and simple. The Bills have once again put all their eggs in the Bledsoe basket with no veteran with any significant experience to back him up. Bledsoe either sinks or swims. There is no middle ground here.

Fifth, new head coach Mike Mularkey and rookie offensive coordinator Tom Clements must show clear signs of improvement on game days over Greg Williams and Kevin Gilbride. The measure of this will be in how many points the offense puts up generally speaking. It is that simple. With no net changes to the team, the Bills have relied solely on coaching for just about all of their improvements. Since Williams and Gilbride were hailed as a dolts and simpletons, a failure to improve the offense wouldn't exactly be a ringing endorsement for the new staff.

Sixth, Mike Mularkey needs to be prepared to make some very tough player decisions pending the play of the team early on this season. Which decisions those are remain to be seen. What are in his interests may not be what are in GM Tom Donahoe's. The way this develops may be an interesting sidebar to the season. The new coach needs to be prepared to set team politics aside and do what is in the best interests of the team going forward.

Those are the things that should determine how successful this season is. Coach Mularkey should not be held accountable for factors that are beyond his control. There will be a host of things within his control that will reveal much about the first year coach however. How those things shape up will give fans a good indication of the near-term future of this team.

Comments: mweiler.billsreport@cox.net

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