Fixing what went wrong

Last season, the Bills suffered a handful of down-to-the-wire losses that easily could have gone in their favor. Has Buffalo corrected what went wrong in those games this off-season? Here's a look back at three games that exposed the Bills' weaknesses in 2007...

Broncos 15, Bills 14

The Lowdown: An inspired defense effort was spoiled by a last-second, 42-yard field goal by Denver's Jason Elam. Despite losing three defensive starters to injury (Ko Simpson, Jason Webster and Coy Wire), the Bills' defense kept what should've been a blowout close for four quarters. The Broncos outgained Buffalo 470-184, yet the Bills' defense held strong in the red zone and put the anemic J.P. Losman-led offense in a position to win the game. Unfortunately, the Bills' offense treated each possession as if it were trying to gain five yards for a first down instead of 10. Losman averaged 4.6 yards per completion and didn't even crack 100 yards on the day. The Bills' longest pass completion went for 19 yards, while Denver had four different receivers catch a pass of at least that distance. The problem on defense was coverage accountability, and a physically weak defensive line getting pummeled by the Broncos offensive line (Travis Henry averaged six yards per carry).

The Cure: Turk Schonert takes over at offensive coordinator and promises to push the ball downfield with more regularity. It will almost certainly yield shaky results at first, but at least the Bills' new offense will take some shots into the secondary and test 5-foot-10 cornerbacks. Six-foot-six rookie James Hardy helps. Jay Cutler calmly dissected the Bills' pass defense, exploiting individual weaknesses to pass for 304 yards. Buffalo has re-hauled its secondary with new bodies and a newfound competition. Last season, the Bills were forcing guys like George Wilson onto the field. This fall will be different. With 11th overall pick Leodis McKelvin, fourth-rounder Reggie Corner, seventh-round steal Kennard Cox and former NFL-starter William James now in the fold, playing time must be earned. Eight cornerbacks and six safeties should cultivate some healthy competition in the defensive backfield during training camp.

Cowboys 25, Bills 24

The Lowdown: A microcosm of Buffalo's season. Overachieving. Fighting. Clawing. In a position to win. And justttt…a bit short. Anyone who wasn't a Cowboys fan was probably a Bills fan on Buffalo's first Monday Night game in more than a decade. Tony Romo kept throwing picks, Ralph Wilson Stadium was rockin' for the first time since Doug Flutie was scrambling around, and Buffalo was seconds away from being the first team to knock off the undefeated Cowboys. But after retrieving an onside kick, Dallas marched 34 yards in 18 seconds and Nick Folk booted a 53-yarder in to break Buffalo's hearts again. The problem was execution from the sideline. Buffalo's defensive backs gave Dallas' receivers 7-10 yard cushions throughout the fourth quarter, allowing Romo to find his rhythm when he needed it most.


Tony Romo picked apart Buffalo's defense in the clutch
Getty Images

The Cure: The coaching staff was hesitant to put Jabari Greer and Terrence McGee in man-up, bump-and-run situations against Terrell Owens and Patrick Crayton. Certainly understandable. But it cost the Bills bad, especially on Crayton's quick eight-yard catch to turn a 61-yard attempt into a manageable 53-yard try. He virtually had 10 acres to make the catch and scurry out of bounds, untouched. McKelvin isn't the type to backpedal himself out of the play in the clutch. He's a physical on an island and quick enough to break on the ball. The former Philadelphia Eagles starter, James, is also known for in-your-face coverage skills. Buffalo shouldn't let games slip away if this duo plays to its potential.

Giants 38, Bills 21

The Lowdown: Rain, sleet, snow and the inspirational return of Kevin Everett gave this late-season, Empire State battle a unique vibe. And the Bills Man O'War'd out of the gates, building a commanding 14-0 lead in the first quarter thanks to a two long balls from Trent Edwards. But as different as the game began, the same old virus finished Buffalo – the run defense. Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw carved through Buffalo's front seven with embarrassing ease. The Giants' 1-2 punch combined for 296 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, as Eli Manning only needed to put 15 passes in the unpredictable Western New York weather.

The Cure: C.O.O. Russ Brandon must have had this game haunting his memory during the first week of free agency this past spring. Mammoth defensive tackle Marcus Stroud and up-and-comer Spencer Johnson were added the Bills' undersized defensive line, and Buffalo stole one of the Giants' heroes from the December blowout – linebacker Kawika Mitchell – who had sacked Edwards twice. The Tampa 2 scheme, predicated on quickness rather than size, may eventually give way to a more gap-responsible defense. So far through OTAs, Stroud's questionable ankle doesn't seem to be an issue. If he is able to regain his Pro Bowl form, the Bills defense will see a drastic 180-degree difference from the Jacobs-Bradshaw beating.

thdunne@gmail.com


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