Bills Roller Coaster Ride Heads West to Face Hawks

<B>Where to begin…: </B> <P> This roller coaster ride to nowhere continues on this week on the road in Seattle where the Bills face one of the several top-half defenses that they face on the season. This is the first in a string of games of which four of the five games are on the road due to the schedule maker having been a close friend and party buddy of Ricky Williams'.

At this point fans should begin to look for improvements in players that are likely to be on the team next season or in 2006. While this piece will be written from the perspective of what has to happen for the Bills to win, it would be in the team's better interests going forward to develop its younger, inexperienced, and potential talent more in line with "taking inventory" than with winning. In games to date vs. similarly ranked or higher ranked defenses among the top half, the offense has scored an average of barely over ten points-per-game with a high of 14 on the road.

I never cease to be amazed at the contributions of the defense and special teams this year while the offense receives far more than its share of the credit.

Defense:

Rush D: Bills 6th, Hawks 8th
Pass D: Bills 6th, Hawks 21st
Yardage D: Bills 4th, Hawks 14th
Scoring D: Bills 11th, Hawks 12th

Offense:

Rush O: Bills 22nd, Hawks 5th
Pass O: Bills 28th, Hawks 15th
Yardage O: Bills 29th, Hawks 7th
Scoring O: Bills 24th, Hawks 10th

Key Players and Matchups:

Humpty vs. himself:

Humpty will likely be called upon to do some real work this week meaning instead of simply having to throw a few passes to propel the offense from midfield or the 5-yard line of the opponent into the end zone. The passing defense is the weak link of the Seahawk D however and ranked below average. So certainly the "new and improved" Humpty will be stellar this week no doubt! Either way, if he cannot cut it then the Bills need to make a move for one of numerous reasons if not several at once, one of which being to assess how much difference a different QB, even if only Matthews, makes. Needless to say, the second that Losman is ready, he should play.

Bills Front-7 vs. Shawn Alexander:

Alexander leads the league in rushing. The Hawks also bring offensive balance to the table, even with Koren Robinson out. The only way that they will not is if Darrell Jackson is not ready to go. At present he is probable however. The Seahawk passing game is threatening enough to keep the Bills on their toes and to limit blitzing and cheating up front. The Bills again need to be concerned with a passing game capable of exploiting its secondary.

Bills Secondary vs. the Seahawk Air Game:

Even minus Koren Robinson the Hawk's air game is better than that of the Bills. If the Bills' front-7 can shut down Shawn Alexander the way they did Faulk and Stevens, then the Bills will have a good shot at holding the Seahawk offense down into the realm of reasonability. If not then expect this one to get away from the Bills.

McGahee vs. a tough Hawk Rush Defense:

Thus far McGahee has not dominated a single game in spite of his 100-yard performances. Whether he does in this one remains to be seen. What needs to occur for Willis to earn the status that has already been prescribed for him is to allow the Bills to control the clock by providing three or four full quarters of rushing production while demonstrating an ability to help the team sustain more than two or three semi-long drives en route to a solid offensive performance. He also needs to demonstrate an ability to punch it in on close goal-to-go situations and "move the pile" when it matters most. In three of Willis' 100-yard rushing performances, he ran against the league's 26th, 29th, and 30th ranked rushing defenses. The Seahawks rank 8th. The Seahawks have only allowed one 100-yard rusher over their past four games.

As well, when will he crack that "long run" that all of his backers he is capable of at any time. The 41-yarder last week may qualify, but that was the sum total of anything impressive by him last week and along with the 31-yarder in the Miami game the only two long runs even approaching a waft of future greatness. That's 2 of 162 carries! At some point those "threats" will have to begin to materialize if Willis is to make that leap to the top echelon of NFL running backs. I hope he does, but unlike many, have not acquiesced that it has happened thus far.

Bills Coaches:

The offensive coaches need to begin to find a way to give this offense a kick in the pants. "T-Ball offense" is not representative of anything other than bottom tier offense, perhaps the worst in the league practically speaking, let alone anything remotely approaching playoff caliber offense or even average offense for that matter. With Mike Holmgren on the other side of the ball, Mularkey & Co. will have to have a little something more than a trick play two or three times a game masking their abilities to move the ball with consistency and effectiveness via more conventional means.

Summary:

I finally took the time to run the numbers for the offenses of last season and this one. The results were as anticipated, perhaps even more so.

Last season, on offensive drives begun at the Bills' own 30-yard line or within, the chances of success in scoring a touchdown were 8.0%. On offensive drives begun at the Bills' own 37-yard line or within, the chances of success in scoring a touchdown were 9.7%. On offensive drives begun within the Bills' own end of the field overall, the chances of success in scoring a touchdown were 12.7%.

This season, on offensive drives begun at the Bills' own 30-yard line or within, the chances of success in scoring a touchdown to date are 5.0%, 3.0% lower than last season and nearly a 40% reduction. On offensive drives begun at the Bills' own 37-yard line or within, the chances of success in scoring a touchdown are 5.3%, 4.4% lower than last season and a 45% reduction. On offensive drives begun within the Bills' own end of the field overall, the chances of success in scoring a touchdown are 8.6%, 4.1% lower than last season and over a 30% reduction from last season.

Not that last season was impressive by any stretch, but this only reinforces aforementioned notions, theories, and statements that the Bills have trouble moving the ball consistently and that scoring has largely been set up by either the special teams which have been on fire, or by the defense on the opponents' end of the field. If the Bills are to have a realistic chance of winning this game, the offense is going to have to carry its share of the load this week. This team will never be a playoff caliber team until it hoists itself out from this abysmal offensive state.

The passing game of both teams appears to be very similar with Matt Hasselbeck playing similarly to Humpty numbers wise.

Pete Prisco wrote an article this week regarding the resurgence of Willis McGahee. In it he cited McGahee as stating that he has his eyes on 2,000 yards. There is no way on earth, in any season, that Willis amasses 2,000 yards without yielding near five yards-per-carry. Just as a reference point, using his 100-yard games only, assuming the same yard-per-carry average he would need over 500 carries to eclipse that mark. For what it's worth. He will need to begin to get that per-carry average up.

Bottom line:

It's very simple; if the Bills' D and/or special teams scores points or sets up the offense again several times in the Seahawks' half of the field, then the Bills may be able to hang in this one. If not, expect low scoring for the Bills and a slow, suffocating ball-control style of offense by the Seahawks. Last week even in a loss, the Rams dominated time-of-possession controlling 60% indicating that the Bills did not have many long drives in amassing those 37 points. The Seahawks should be even better at the ball control game.

The Bills are averaging 7.5 offensive points-per-game on the road which is not anything close to what will be enough if the Bills are to beat the Hawks this week. In four wins this season, the Bills have been able to score a touchdown on any drive originating within their own end zone only four times. Three of those times it occurred vs. horrendous defensive opponents Arizona and the Rams last week and all four times it occurred at home. So the Bills offense has their work cut out for them.

As well, the Hawks are +9 in turnover differential whereas the Bills are –3.

Will the defense and special teams continue to bail out the offense?

Beating teams such as Arizona, Miami, and the Rams, three non-playoff caliber teams, at home, and solely on the merits of immense contributions by the special teams and defense to scoring production is no basis for hopes of playoff success. If the Bills truly are for real, then making a go of it vs. the Seahawks and Steelers and winning one or the other assuming that the Steelers are playing a meaningful game by then, may persuade the opinion of many fan. But again, at some point the offense will have to show a pulse against a better defensive team. This is one of the two remaining opportunities left on the schedule.

In all four of the Bills' wins this season the defense and/or special teams has scored points directly in addition to setting up other offensive points as well. In fact, in three of those contests the defense or special teams have scored a touchdown.

The bottom line here is that the Bills are not currently a playoff caliber team. As well, it will take more than an 8-8 record to make the playoffs this season meaning the Bills would likely have to go 5-1 or perhaps even 6-0 henceforth to even have a shot at them and even then likely not make the cut. For the life of me I simply cannot even grasp the possibility that anyone truly has hopes for this team for the playoffs. A win this week will only postpone the dashed hopes of the diehards. A loss this week should cement notions that this team's season is over and that next season can take top billing henceforth.

If the Bills can finish .500 it would make sense given the remaining bottom third teams comprising two-thirds of the remaining schedule. Reading the tea leaves and the writing on the wall, making the playoffs is not going to happen! It is time for the Bills to begin focusing on next season. Starting Rashad Baker at safety in place of the below average and soon-to-be-released Izell Reese is way overdue. Baker, at 5'10"/200 still does not possess ideal size for a safety, but he can only be marginally worse than Reese worst case. Other players that should be given playing time are Tim Anderson (Williams), Josh Stamer (Posey), Losman or even Matthews (Humpty), and Aiken.

Prediction:

Bills 17, Hawks 27.

Again, this assumes that things go well for the Bills and that the special teams and/or defense continue to carry the O on its back. If they cannot do it again it is conceivable that the Bills score less. If they do, perhaps more. This game also has the potential for a Seahawk rout.

Comments: mweiler.billsreport@cox.net


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