Game 5 Preview: Bills @ Lions

The Bills pickup on their new millennium formula for "success" on the road in Detroit this week. That formula is, opponent bad, team good; opponent good, team bad. Last week the Bills stood around for the coin flip and then proceeded to stand around for the rest of the game getting pummeled by the Chicago Bears as if the Bears were on high-speed T-1 cable while the Bills were on dial-up.

Either way it was easily the Bears' most impressive victory this season, greatest margin of victory in 20 years, and largest scoring output in 13 years.

The Bills did less in that game both offensively and defensively than any other opponent played by them all season. No one expected the Bills to emerge from Chicago a winner. But no one also expected them to line up as objects for a Bears practice either playing far worse than either Green Bay or Detroit had vs. them.

The Lions are a very beatable team however. They join Tennessee, Oakland, and Tampa Bay as one of four winless teams in the league and only the Titans as an 0-5 team. So the Bills have a legitimate chance and yet another opportunity to inflate their statistics to whatever extent possible in yet more vain attempts to overcome reality and continue to sell poor management, resultant bad decision making, and an overall poor team to the fans with more shiny packaging in a "house-of-cards" style reminiscent of recently past seasons.

The Lions are tied with Houston and Oakland for the most points allowed on a per game basis ahead of only San Francisco in scoring allowed. Yippee! They are also below average in scoring.

Marv Levy suggested in post-game interviews that a loss such as this past one tests a team's character to see how they will react. The reality of the situation is that it forces fans to look at the schedule to see who lies ahead and what the circumstances are for that team. If the team is poor enough or the circumstances for the opponent dire enough, then fans have hope for a victory.

It also forces fans to finally come to grips with notions that perhaps once again they've been sold a bill-of-goods.

For example, the Lions are up next and they flat out stink. So that's good because the Bills can win and be .500. After all, it's all about the record even if you don't have any of the actual ingredients that perennially make the best teams the best and even if all you can do is go as your schedule goes thereby relying almost solely on playing easy teams or teams imploding for your "success" in that way, right. Dick Jauron knows all about that going 13-3 prior to receiving a red derrière in the playoffs in the '01 season. That season came at the hands of a ridiculously weak schedule with all but one win over mediocre to poor teams. Interestingly that team was wedged in between losing 5-11 and 4-12 seasons. If the success of the '01 season was not predicated on a weak schedule, then how does one explain the 6th worst record in the league in '00 and 3rd worst in '02?

Either way, let's see, after the Lions are the Pats at home. Oh, there'll be a lot of talk about how we "let that first game vs. the Pats slip away" and the corresponding talk about "if it was close in New England then we should win in Buffalo." But the reality is that the well-coached Pats with two solid lines will not be beaten by the likes of the Bills, there, here, or anywhere. The Patriots have sound fundamentals which will win over a team such at the Bills every time.


Further interview folly:

Levy, after further admitting that the Bears are a better team, as if it weren't blatantly obvious for various reasons, stated that lopsided scores such as that in Sunday's game are not a true indicator as to the difference in caliber of the teams. Perhaps not, but cheap victories while making horrid decision making in those games are also not a true indicator of how good a team is in spite of what the record may or may not be.

"Levy's Used Car Sales" is now officially open in Orchard Park. Warning: message board weenies should steer clear. (pun intended)

Jauron then took the ball and continued on suggesting that this game is essentially meaningless and implied that this was the first bad game played by the Bills. Apparently the coach has missed long stretches of his own games. It may have been the first bad game as an entirety, but it was far from the first game in which terminal inadequacies were revealed or unveiled. It certainly was not the first game in which the same serious problems from last season reared their heads perhaps even more so than last season.

For example, the Bills cannot stop any team from running the ball including the two that didn't put up solid rushing numbers vs. them. Minnesota and Miami may not have posted big numbers rushing, but both had rushers that had absolutely no difficulty running on the Bills pathetic run D when they did try to run the ball. The fact that the Bills have yet to face any of the top rushing teams in the league besides New England who had a rushing hey day on the Bills notwithstanding!

The best team after that in team rushing production are the Bears who have now moved up to only a very average 15th in yards-per-game almost entirely as a result of the Bills allowing a 155 yard heyday by undistinguished RBs on the season prior to that and inflating their stats here in that way.

Fans are now seeing what is the onset of yet another era of incompetence, misassessment of team shortcomings and needs, but most particularly another inability to properly and adequately assess talent needed to correct what's wrong with this team.

This past offseason is very quickly turning into an exercise in futility. The Bills top paid free agents brought on board haven't contributed anything worthy of note as a whole. Tripplett, Royal, and Price have "contributed" more bad in the way of dropped passes, penalties, and generally unacceptable play than they have positive. The receiving tandem has logged 18 catches for 182 yards and a single TD combined, almost entirely by Price. They are on pace for a paltry 58 catches for 582 yards and 3 TDs. Boy howdy! Tripplett has very few tackles and absolutely no sacks along with the rest of the Bills' DTs.

Not one was worth half the contract that they signed let alone the actual contract. Who is accountable for that? Clearly not Levy who has hedged himself in nicely in his "hey, don't blame me, it was a team approach" methodology.

Let me see if I can accurately script the rest of the season:

@ Lions (bad team): Win

New England (solid fundamental team): Decisive loss, even at home

Bye Week

Green Bay (stinks): Win

@ Indianapolis (good team) Decisive loss

@ Houston (terrible team) Win

Jacksonville (good team) Loss

San Diego (good team) Loss

@ Jets (bad team) Chance at a Win

Miami (bad team) Win

Tennessee (terrible team) Win

@ Baltimore (fundamentally sound team) Loss

If that were to pass, then the Bills would be 7-9. That would be good, wouldn't it, a two game improvement over last season?

Perhaps so for anyone viewing this team in a window dressing fashion. When dissected, it will have likely been fortunate that these Bills got to face the Jets and Fins twice who each are not good, the weak Titans, the equally pathetic if not more so Texans, Detroit and Green Bay. Should victories over those teams be impressive.


Key Matchups:

There really shouldn't be a whole lot of key matchups here. If the Bills cannot dominate the Lions pathetic O and D then there's something really wrong. Even if they can that does not dismiss notions that there clearly is something wrong with the Bills fundamentally. A squeaker win here would say quite a bit that wouldn't be complementary.

Jon Kitna is respectable but certainly far from great or needing to be feared.

Kevin Jones averaging 3.6 yards-per-carry? Hardly.

An offensive line banged up with injuries? Nope.

Roy Williams who has sorely underperformed during his brief stint in the NFL? Nah.

Dre Bly is a good CB and may give Evans a fight, but Evans shouldn't have too much difficulty overcoming that.

Of course the Bills can probably be relied upon to put up penalties that hurt them in this game.


Summary:

Once again with this team, you can listen to what they say, or you can watch what they do. The two are worlds apart. The talk in the offseason was all about building a defensive line that would disrupt plays behind the line of scrimmage due to the speed on the line. While that has happened vs. one of the more poorly run teams under new rookie management, Miami, it has clearly not happened otherwise in spite of the Jets being poor and under new management as well. For brief stretches when it has, little of the pressure has come from the interior DL with almost all of it coming from the DEs and blitzers only.

The talk was all about ignoring larger linemen as if by implication of having smaller linemen that they were necessarily faster and therefore better than the larger ones and therefore more capable of "disruption." Folly at its finest.

Offensively there has also been little domination with the Bills entire running game statistically being built on one game vs. the Jets, one of the league's worst rushing defenses. The running game was supposed to dominate and help out JP Losman. Instead, in the other four games, McGahee is averaging 72 yards-per-game on 3.2 yards-per-carry. He is a 230 lb. RB with absolutely no nose for the end zone or utility in short-yardage situations. His yardage statistics are grossly misleading much as Bledsoe's passing numbers were back in '02. Once again, yards are one thing, points are yet another. Even so, if games were determined by yards the Bills would be 1-4.

Once again the Bills have turned into a team reliant on their schedule for their "success." This week they're in luck! The Lions are presently in the running to be among the few worst teams in the league. The Bills will emerge as winners from this game pushing their record to 3-3, .500, in what has amounted to three very unimpressive wins over schlep teams when all the facts are considered. Sure, a win is a win, but when a win is generally speaking only possible vs. bad teams, then the losses speak louder than the wins.

The picture that is emerging on this team is that it is indeed no better than it was last season. There may be a plus/minus somewhere, particularly with Losman playing decently, but generally speaking the defensive line is actually worse, the offensive line is about the same, the team is getting less from its skill position players, and efficiency indicators are down almost across the board.

While the team's record may have improved by season's end, the weeks ahead will reveal that this team is no more capable of competing down the stretch and vs. average or better teams than it was last season, perhaps even less capable of doing so.


Bills 27, Lions 24

If the Bills cannot beat the Lions, then there is indeed trouble in paradise. Everybody is scoring on the Lions. The question is how many points will the Lions put up vs. the Bills. Even in a win, would it be impressive? Green Bay beat the Lions too as did the Vikes. Those two teams put up 31 and 26 respectively. Does that mean that if the Bills cannot score at least in the mid-20s then they are perhaps not very good at all? Clearly the offense has not improved to date over last season's. They also have yet to put up much more than 13 points without serious help from a prevent D, STs, or defense.

I'm thinking that this game is closer however than many would like to think going in. The Lions have kept it close to all but the Bears who they played somewhat better than the Bills did also in Chicago. This game may surprise many fans in fact. The Lions can easily win this one.


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