2004 Final Grades

Quarterback: D-</B> Where to begin…

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king's horses,and all the king's men,
Couldn't put Humpty together again.

Regardless of how it is spun, "all the king's horses and all the king's men, could not put Humpty together again!" Fans will see full well whether the front office and coaching staff can come out of their state of denial this offseason.

It is laughable that anyone could have realistically believed that Humpty was capable of playing like Montana per the statements of the coaching staff heading into the season. Needless to say, anyone having seen that this season or anything even close to it needs to go back and watch some film of Joe Montana. Regardless, the efforts to "fix Humpty" seem to preoccupy an entire team and have not only held up its progress moving forward, but have not turned away a proverbial "gift horse" which would have freed up $8 million this past offseason as well as spared Humpty's nearly $5 million cap hit this season and at least as much in either cap hit or salary going forward. Oh, to think what an offensive line the Bills could have had heading into next season! Someone absolutely needs to be held accountable.

While many will cite an increase in Humpty's rating from 73.0 to 76.6, an increase of 3.6, it should also be noted that the "new passing rules" aided in this across the board and in spades relegating this nominal increase, especially when coupled with the slate of easy defenses played to irrelevance. Forget the fact that 76.6 is nothing to write home about under any circumstances anyway. Four QBs finished with ratings higher than last season's leader and the four by an average of over 11 greater. Last season, only six QBs finished with ratings above 90, this season it was 11. Last season 18 finished with ratings above 75, this season 26 did. Bryan Leftwich, on a team not exactly noted for either offense or passing, improved his rating from 73.0 to 82.2.

The analysis on Humpty could easily be pages long. Suffice it to say for the grades of this review that Humpty's efficiency rankings at QB from 2003 to 2004 were as such:

QB Rating ranking fell from 22nd to 25th in a season where ratings skyrocketed due to the new rules governing opening up the passing games.

Sack ranking rose an unimpressive and marginal 6 spots from dead last (32nd) to 26th, again, in a season where this was one of the primary goals with all other measures of offensive efficiency thrown to the four winds.

Interception percentage ranking fell from 10th to 22nd.

Yards-per-attempt remained stable at 26th.

Completion percentage ranking dropped from 16th to 26th.

His TD percentage increased, however, over half (11) of Humpty's TDs came in only four games with 12 games with 0 (3) or only 1 (9) TDs.

All of this in a season whereby the NFL made every effort to "pave the way" for QBs and passing games.

One last thing, the myth of Humpty's "arm strength" was once again born out to be a myth. He had arm strength at one point in his career. This season however, just as last, his longest ball on the fly was only 50-yards. At the beginning of last offseason I made the assessment that a "deep threat WR" would be of no value with Humpty at QB given his clear inability to launch a deep ball anymore and that any speed differential would be negated by underthrows allowing defensive backs to catch up. Well, how many times did Lee Evans have to curl under or wait in balls that Humpty simply could not launch beyond 50-yards, and often less, this season! This was also blatantly evident last season yet no one at OBD apparently caught onto it.

Running Back: C+ Last season, had Travis Henry started and played all 16 games, extrapolating from his 14 game stats, he would have had 372 carries for 1,542 yards on 4.1 yards-per-carry. Had Willis McGahee started the first four games, his 16 game totals based on extrapolations of the last 12 games that he played in starting all but one would have been 353 carries for 1,411 yards on 4.0 yards-per-carry. When one considers that Henry played through a broken femur and had absolutely no support from an even worse Humpty-led passing game featuring Eric Moulds playing injured throughout most of the season and with no bonafide second WR, Henry's rushing last season should be twice as impressive.

Ergo, do not count me in among those that considered this season by McGahee to have been better than that by Henry last season. Henry's long run of 2002 was better than McGahee's of this past season by 23 yards. The number of Henry's runs over 20 in 2002 were about equal to those of McGahee this season as well with similar support from the passing game in '02.

As well, while McGahee posted some rushing totals that impressed some, again, it should be fully understood that most of his yardage accrued came largely vs. teams with poor rushing defenses and late in games to the point where his contributions were more the beneficiary of the score as opposed to the reason for them. Of McGahee's seven 100-yard games, six were against the 20th, 23rd, 27th, 29th, 31st, and 32nd ranked rushing defenses with the seventh coming vs. the Jets coming off their big Monday night win the week prior leaving them traveling to the Ralph two days shy on rest and prep. In spite of the paltry level of rushing defenses faced, McGahee's yards-per-carry average in those 100-yard games was only 4.2 yards-per-carry. His next best game and only game above 80 yards rushing otherwise was 91 yards vs. 31st ranked Miami. Impressive? Not in my book. Many other RBs in this league that played those same teams ran equal to or much better yet minus all the hype and high draft picks required to attain them.

Now, to nip-it-in-the-bud in terms of McGahee, I have nothing but the highest of hopes for him next season. It is my biggest hope that he truly develops into a top-3 RB in the NFL. However, I simply did not see or agree with the statements surrounding his play on this season. He was not fast, was poor on third downs, could not "move the pile" with anything approaching regularity or consistency, and in spite of perceptions, was simply not good in short yardage situations to an extent that matched the hype. Yes, he has a very nice stiff-arm and picks up the blitz well however. But this alone will not propel a RB to greatness. There needs to be a very sizeable "step-up" from this season to next for all of the time and resources spent to have been worthwhile.

Wide Receiver: B+ Moulds' play clearly slipped a little bit this season, not so much from last season clearly, but in terms of career progress. It is clear that Moulds will not be a first WR for much longer if at all on the Bills. At 32 next season, an age at which all WRs' performances begin to fall off, Moulds' production next season will depend upon several factors primarily who will be throwing him the ball. If the Bills make the proper move, J.P. Losman will be starting. Will he favor his younger peer Lee Evans to begin building that QB-WR onfield rapport with, or will he defer back to Moulds. Moulds has also struggled in recently past seasons with dropped balls at key moments costing the Bills.

Given that Evans' 9 TDs fall one shy of Moulds' best scoring season of 10 TDs only two years ago. Will Moulds be back on the Bills next season? He will be asked to restructure as he will not be worth the near $9 million that he is presently slated to take from the Bills. If he opts not to restructure or he and the team cannot come to terms, then he will become a free agent unless he is traded. Moulds is at present perhaps a $3 million WR, not more. He has additional value to the Bills for reasons of obvious chemistry. Should Moulds leave, the 25,000-dollar question is ‘how will Evans be as the #1." The natural follow-on is who would be the second WR for the Bills then.

Lee Evans on the other hand looked superb in a stellar rookie outing. He has soft hands that appear to be up there with the elite receivers of all time. He can run routes and has speed "as advertised." Unlike Peerless Price, who predictably did little as a first WR in Atlanta and certainly far from what the contract that he got presumably leaving Falcon fans highly disappointed, Evans provides real hopes for developing into a bonafide first WR and among the top-10 in the league.

Evans was 6th in the league in receiving average and had 23 grabs for 399 yards and 6 TDs over the last five games in December and one game in January. Look for Evans to be well over 1,000 yards next season and into double-digit TDs. As to the Bills other wide receivers, there do not appear to have been any to step up and make a statement, leaving Moulds' re-signing, along with Jennings', somewhat precarious putting the Bills in a lose-lose situation for both. They will more than likely either overpay for either player or lose them altogether. Both have the team by the onions in negotiations. The Bills third leading WR was Josh Reed with 16 catches for 153 yards and no TDs. In fact, the only players having caught a TD pass for the Bills other than Moulds and Evans were Campbell (5) and Euhus (2), yet another reason why Humpty simply cannot stay on. As well, the play of the wideouts must be "asterisked" with the condition that Humpty was the one throwing the ball.

Tight End: B+ The tight ends were used sparingly this season although Mark Campbell caught five TD passes with two more added by rookie Tim Euhus. Both went out late in the season with season-ending knee injuries introducing questions as to their ability to perform next season without losing a beat. The backup TEs filled in nicely, again, aided by a schedule not by-and-large featuring many of the league's top defenses.

Offensive Line: C- The offensive line had as much to do with the offense's ineffectiveness against just about any defense rated among the top half as Humpty did. This is a catch-22 of analysis. The offensive line was below average and it will be a minor miracle if there is much of an improvement to next season if Jonas Jennings leaves. More on that in a week or two.

The Bills have four viable linemen; Jennings, Teague, Villarrial, and Mike Williams. They have only one above average lineman yet no dominant lineman in Jonas Jennings, who is also perennially hampered by injuries, yet who figures to draw an enormous contract due to the premiums placed on LTs. There was a revolving door of sorts at the LG position which was filled by Justin Bannan at times when a pulling guard was needed, presumably because the Bills possess no other lineman capable of pulling effectively. I smell trouble for next season. I also plead innocent given that since the end of the 2002 season one of my strongest warnings has been to the lack of strategic planning insofar as the offensive line goes. Whether the Commander Tom methodology of coaching below average linemen into an above average unit comes to pass will be main event on stage next season barring the signings of some superb linemen.

Bills fans should consider the following, that if Jennings walks, Teague will be in a contract year and will be 30. Villarrial enters this next season at 32 and is year-to-year for serviceability and only average as is. There is not one up-and-coming stud lineman on the Bills' roster let alone any single lineman even close to dominant at his position. At the end of next season, Teague should be released and Villarrial will be 33 heading into the following season leaving Mike Williams as the anchor and only lineman worth mentioning at present, again, assuming that Jennings is not with the Bills next season. One word that comes to mind is "scary."

Either way, the line got it done vs. poor bottom ten defenses and was equally outplayed vs. top ten variety defenses including the Steelers' backup-backup defense. (See the Raven, Pats, Steelers, Jets, and Jags games) The disparity between the two was eye opening. The suggestion that the Bills are ready to compete vs. the best teams in the league with this line is baseless.

Offense: D+

The reason for the seemingly low grade here is that the offense "improved" over 2003 largely due to the ease of the defensive competition on the season. The advantages in starting field position have been documented here on several prior occasions. They played poorly considering the aid that they received from the special teams and defense in the establishment of field position coupled with the fact that they had many additional weapons/tools over last season including a healthy Moulds.

To illustrate the significance of the Bills defense and special teams in setting up the offense this season, consider the following:

Last season the Bills had 112 drives begin within their own 30-yard line whereas this season it was 89 drives.
Last season the Bills had 144 drives begin within their own 37-yard line whereas this season it was 115 drives.
Last season the Bills had 165 drives begin within their half of the field whereas this season it was 145 drives.

Last season, when starting from within their own 30-yard line, the Bills chances of success in crossing the goal line were 8.0%. This season they were 7.9% and subtracting the 2nd-team score by a Losman and Shaud Williams led drive vs. Cleveland along with the Moorman "patched drive" they fell to 5.6%.

Last season, when starting from within their own 37-yard line, the Bills chances of success in crossing the goal line were 9.7%. This season they were 9.6% and subtracting the 2nd-team score by a Losman and Shaud Williams led drive vs. Cleveland along with the Moorman "patched drive" they fell to 7.8%.

Last season, when starting from within their own half of the field, the Bills chances of success in crossing the goal line were 12.7%. This season they were 13.1% and subtracting the 2nd-team score by a Losman and Shaud Williams led drive vs. Cleveland along with the Moorman "patched drive" they fell to 11.7%.

The Bills' offense was set up 40 times within the opponents' half of the field or at midfield and managed to convert only 12 times (30%) for touchdowns on them.

Last season the Bills had nine games vs. teams finishing with 10 or more wins. This season the Bills had only five. Last season's schedule featured only five games vs. teams ranked 20th or worse in scoring defense, this season's schedule featured eight.

Versus teams ranked among the league's top 10 scoring defenses, the Bills averaged only 11 offensive points-per-game. Although up by 2.8 points-per-game, this still remains in the "unimpressive" category especially given all the efforts made to improve the offense. Versus teams ranked 20th or below in scoring defense the Bills averaged 27 points-per-game inflating their rankings enormously. Simply put, if the Bills were truly as good as they have been given credit for then these disparities would not be so great. It can be contended that the notion that "the way" in which the Bills beat lesser tiered opponents was important, however, until such a time as that translates to a significant impact in games vs. the types of teams that one typically finds in the playoffs and those that need to be beaten in order to bring home the Lombardi Trophy, it is a cut above irrelevant.

First downs per game remained unchanged once again indicative that moving the ball was still a major issue and that starting field position was far more pivotal than most are giving credit for.
3rd-down-percentage improved only marginally from 31.6% (28th) to 35.8% (20th) again, largely having been pushed along by gains due to an easier slate of defensive opponents and primarily in those games.
Yards-per-play improved marginally as well from 4.4 (32nd) to 4.8 (26th).
Many will argue that rushing improved, however the reasons for that have little to do with efficiency than they do with attempts per game which increased by 3.5 attempts-per-game from 26.7 (20th) to 30.2 (9th).
In spite of all the hoopla over the "improved" rushing game, rushing first downs increased only by a very nominal six on the season, again, largely at the hands of the weak and feeble.

As well, the improvement in total yards gained by the offense, in spite of all the hoopla and favorable circumstances this season, increased by only 191 yards on the season. The improvement of 346 net yards, a delta of 155 yards over total yards, was yielded due to lesser yards on sacks given up with that having been one of the primary goals of the coaching staff heading into the season and part-and-parcel of "Humpty Makeover 2004." This of course came at the expense of real improvements to the efficiency of the offense generally speaking.

Again, field position largely set up by the defense and special teams also were extremely significant this season. In games where average starting field position was at the Bills own 33-yard line or closer to the Bills own end zone, in eight games primarily vs. defenses among the top two-thirds of teams in the league, the Bills offense averaged just over 11 points-per-game. In games where average starting field position was at the Bills own 35-yard line or closer to the opponents' own end zone, in eight games primarily vs. defenses among the bottom third of teams in the league, the Bills offense averaged just over 29 points-per-game. In spite of notions that differentials vs. better or worse defenses exist, indeed this is a significantly pronounced delta between the two calibers of teams.

Given that just about every resource during last offseason was put into "fixing Humpty" and resurrecting a flat offense, the offense was very disappointing.

Comments: mweiler.billsreport@cox.net

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