6. Buffalo has had an extraordinary amount of changes to the offensive line from last year. How much has that hurt the team and what does claiming former Ram Richie Incognito do for the offense now?
Tyler Dunne: Injuries to the offensive line really doomed the Bills from the start. Buffalo has lost starters Brad Butler, Eric Wood and Demetrius Bell and a slew of backups. As crushing as these injuries have been, you need to place some blame on the front office. Buffalo haphazardly addressed major concerns along the line and are paying for it. The biggest change of course was trading left tackle Jason Peters to the Philadelphia Eagles. Buffalo hoped Langston Walker could make the switch from right to tackle. And...Walker was cut five days before the season-opener. Suddenly, the Bills were relying on a seventh-round pick (Bell) to protect the blind side. Too bad Michael Oher's movie didn't come out a few months earlier.
Injuries slammed the team and it is reaching for street pickups in December. A couple weeks ago, it was Kendall Simmons. Now its Richie Incognito. The former Rams guard was greeted by some fighting words from Kawika Mitchell via Twitter, who called the pickup the most disappointing move of the year. Welcome aboard, Richie. At this point, I have no idea why the Bills would welcome such a headache. The last thing Buffalo needs is self-inflicted dysfunction. Incognito is well known as one of the dirtiest players in the NFL. Unless the Bills see him as a long-term fixture, this signing makes little sense.
7. Perry Fewell took over for Dick Jauron since these teams last met. How has that gone and do you think Fewell is making a case to stick around or will Buffalo be in the market for a new head coach in 2010?
Dunne: Fewell has been a breath of fresh air in these parts. Players laud Fewells energy and passion in practices and games, something Dick Jauron obviously lacked. Fewell has taken more risks and shaken things up internally. Among other changes, the Bills have practiced outdoors a lot more under Fewell. In all, it has been a good move to dump Jauron midseason.
Is Fewell the answer beyond this season? Doubtful. Fans want a completely new regime with absolutely no ties to Jauron. Fewell could come cheap and will be an intriguing option if he upsets New England, Atlanta or Indy but Ralph Wilson needs to embrace full-scale rebuilding. No way can Buffalo lure a Mike Holmgren or a Bill Cowher but I think the Bills could tap into a rich class of up-and-comers in the college ranks. A hardnosed coach like Stanfords Jim Harbaugh would be an ideal fit here. One interesting possibility is if Buffalo hired Mike Martz as head coach. Martz reportedly showed interest in the position and is the purge of offense this team needs. If the Bills did go with Martz, Fewell could stick as the defensive coordinator. The two coached together in St. Louis. Still, its too early for speculation.
8. Rookie Jarius Byrd seems to be having a pretty good season, but people don't pay much attention because of the team's record. How big have his contributions been, and what do you expect from him from this week and the rest of the season?
Dunne: Surely, Jairus Byrd is the answer to barstool trivia everywhere. Hard to believe the rookie from Oregon is leading the NFL in interceptions. Buffalo drafted the cornerback with the intentions of moving him to safety, and the decision has paid off in a big way. Byrd swarms to every tipped ball, constantly giving the offense juicy field position. He definitely takes after his father, Gil Byrd, a former ballhawk himself in the NFL.
Tom Brady must keep a wary eye out for Byrd. He really roams free in deep center. With corners Terrence McGee and Drayton Florence playing so well, Byrd has the green light to freelance. And his instincts take over. During the summer, Byrd told me its impossible to explain. He doesnt know how or why he is able to get his mitts on so many passes but ever since high school its been his second nature to him. Id expect a few more interceptions from Byrd and postseason honors. For once, the Bills uncovered a gem.
9. Tell us a little more about the Bills defense. It appears to be the strength of the team. What do you think they'll do to slow down the Patriots 2nd ranked (passing, total yards) offense?
Dunne: The strength of Buffalos defense is the secondary. Byrd, McGee, Florence, George Wilson, Donte Whitner, you name it. This group is loaded with playmakers. The Bills 25 interceptions lead the league and theyre second in the entire NFL against the pass. While the run defense is gashed weekly by opposing backs, the secondary has given the offense a chance to win every week.
To slow down New England, Buffalo must cave Tom Bradys pocket. In Week One, the Bills applied some pressure and flustered Brady early on. Aaron Schobel (seven sacks) and Chris Kelsay (five sacks) wont be mistaken for speed rushers but both have forced quarterbacks out of rhythm this season a big reason for Byrds breakout season. If Buffalo can minimize Laurence Maroneys impact on the ground and force Brady into mistakes, the Bills can pull the upset. The Patriots should look to Wes Welker Sunday. Buffalos linebackers are not good in coverage. If Welker can motion into such matchups, Brady should have no problem dissecting the Bills.
10. Did the Bills improve their team via this year's Draft class? Who do you think will be the main contributors from that group in the future?
Dunne: First-round pick Aaron Maybin has been on the outside looking in ever since holding out all of training camp. Buffalo expected Maybin to be its savior on the edge, needing somebody to disrupt Brady. The one-year wonder from Penn State figured to the be the answer. So far, Maybin has been a huge bust with 14 tackles and zero sacks. He sees 15 plays a game if hes lucky.
Outside of this colossal question mark, the Bills draft class has some promise. Byrd is already the face of the defense and guards Eric Wood and Andy Levitre have played well. Unfortunately, Woods future is murky. After suffering a horrifying leg injury at Jacksonville, its unknown when (and if) he will play again. Players say he has been in the training room and his spirits are high. Levitre has been solid, if unspectacular, at the other guard spot.
Fourth-round tight end Shawn Nelson has flashed potential. At 6-foot-5, he is a huge target. To this point, he may be most known for costing the Bills a touchdown. Against the Jaguars, his hold negated a kickoff return score by Jackson. Personally, I thought the Bills were better off drafting Brandon Pettitgrew in the first round. The giant from Oklahoma State is an extra offensive tackle in the running game in addition to being a budding passing threat. So far, he is already developing into a safety blanket for Matthew Stafford. Nobody should give up on Maybin yet. He has rare speed for a defensive end. But this offseason, Maybin must add 15-20 pounds. Otherwise, hell get flicked away like a fly by tackles in the big leagues.
Look for Buffalo to fight. Players have played with more fire under Fewell mainly because jobs are on the line across the board. The coaching switch was definitely a team-wide wake-up call. Still, New England has too many weapons to lose this one. Expect big days from Maroney and Welker. Somewhere Rex Ryan and Tony Sparano curse out the Bills.
Patriots 27, Bills 23
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Tyler Dunne covers the Bills for Buffalo Football Report on Scout.com. Dunne also contributes to Packer Report Magazine, the Buffalo News and the Olean Times Herald.
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