Bills' Christmas Wish List

Collapse '08 will come to a merciful end in two games. Russ Brandon (left) and the Bills will need to shake things up to avoid another disappointment next season. BFR's Adam Beilman offers a Christmas wish list of changes the team must make...

With my two-front teeth already in place and no room in my house for a hippopotamus, I'll focus my wish list on things the Bills need to improve if this squad wants to contend in the AFC East in the near future.

The first thing I'm supposed to say here is that the Bills need to fire coach Dick Jauron. Not so fast, that isn't in the holiday spirit. With speculation increasing and reports surfacing that a suspected three-year contract extension was indeed signed after a fantastic start to the season, it seems very unlikely the Bills can afford to dump Jauron. Ralph Wilson would have to buy out the entire cost of the deal, and then pay a hefty sum to whoever the new coach would be, and Ralph is not a man who spends his money so frivolously.

Economics aside, is the Bills' abrupt fall from grace decisively Jauron's fault? If anything, the lack of defensive pressure and offensive firepower are as much on the players and the staff as much as they are on the head coach.

The play being looked at as a microcosm of Jauron's tenure, J.P. Losman's decisive fumble-return-for-touchdown on Sunday, was indeed a boneheaded attempt to get creative of the coach's part and was apparently a Jauronian audible and not the play call by offensive coordinator Turk Schonert. One cannot overlook, however, the fact that Losman should know that pressure is coming and that he needs to throw the ball away or take a sack in such a crucial situation. The Bills surprising lone Pro-Bowl selection, tackle Jason Peters, completely whiffed on an attempt to block the blitzing safety, Abram Elam, who forced the fumble. Jauron left his players out to dry, but they were not completely without blame themselves.

Instead of firing Jauron, I think the Bills' front office needs to shake up this staff. Schonert has proven that he does not know the appropriate situations to change things up. When the Bills are getting a good push upfront, he often decides to throw out of the shotgun. The backfield has been emptied on 1st-and-10 and on 3rd-and-very short, and Schonert had been allergic to play-action before the Kansas City explosion. As last season's quarterbacks coach, he may have helped to shape Trent Edwards growth into an NFL passer, but that growth has not continued with Schonert in the play-calling role.

On the other side of the ball, Perry Fewell's cover-2 scheme has been abused all season long. The Bills do not have the personnel to make the Tampa 2 work. The scheme is predicated on speed at all positions, an effective pass rush by the front four, and ball hawking, hard-hitting defensive backs. Bills' defenders are constantly late getting to the ball, and have not generated any pressure up front. This season's leader of the sack is Ryan Denney, with four through fourteen games. This lack of pressure forces Fewell to send predictable blitzes, which only leave more of the field susceptible to the pass.

The Bills need new minds with new ideas and new schemes on both sides of the field. The front office needs to give Jauron an ultimatum: let Schonert and Fewell go, or climb aboard the next bus out of town with them.

As far as personnel goes, the Bills need a few big-ticket gifts in their stockings. First and foremost, Buffalo is asking Santa for a pass rush. Assumedly, this means a dominant defensive end to go opposite Aaron Schobel, assuming he'll ever be on the field again. This could also mean a play-making linebacker. It is a safe assumption that Angelo Crowell will not be a Bill next season, and Keith Ellison is nothing more than an effective stand-in. The Bills need a Shawne Merriman or James Harrison type, a backer that can roam the field and strike fear in the hearts of opposing quarterbacks.

On offense, a legitimate second target for Edwards has still yet to emerge. James Hardy has not grasped an NFL offense and is now done for the season with a torn knee ligament. He has caught two "go-get-it" touchdowns, but has looked lost in the middle of the field all season long. Josh Reed has reemerged as a reliable target, but his lack of speed and size make it hard to imagine him as a first-read receiver. Roscoe Parrish is best in the return game and is mostly a gimmick slot receiver because of his elite speed but small stature. The tight ends still have not stepped up to be the cushion a young QB needs; Robert Royal, Derek Schouman, and Derek Fine have combined for just over 500 yards and three scores to this point.

A midseason trade for Tony Gonzalez would have rectified this situation, but seeing as the Bills didn't follow through on that speculation, this hole is left unfilled. There are some receiving tight ends that will look attractive on draft day, and L.J. Smith and Bo Scaife are slated to become unrestricted free agents. T.J. Houshmandzadeh will be the must-have name on the receiver market this offseason, but he may be out of the Bills' price range. Bobby Engram is another familiar name that will be available.

Buffalo will probably look to the draft for defensive talent. It seems unlikely the Bills could woo UFA Julius Peppers away from Carolina, but Baltimore's Terrell Suggs looks like an attractive option as a LB/DE hybrid. There will be a few such players available in the draft, like USC's Brian Cushing, that would look great in a Bills uniform.

In conclusion, all I'm asking of Santa Claus (or Russ Brandon) are several new assistants, a few pass rushers, two new receiving threats, and a partridge in a pear tree.

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