1. Another slow news week in Buffalo, aside from that tidbit of news regarding the coaching change. What can we expect to see from a Perry Fewell coached team on Sunday?
Definitely some major changes sweeping through One Bills Drive. And there is plenty more on the way. Owner Ralph Wilson said this week that he is open to actually hiring a general manager. Go figure! For now, Fewell will take the reins as head coach. He's well-respected within the organization and has done a fairly good job as defensive coordinator this season. Possibly no unit in the league has suffered more injuries. Things got so bad last week Fewell needed to play a strong safety (Bryan Scott) at weak-side linebacker.
What can you expect? That's anyone's guess. Fewell didn't say too much about what he'd do differently as head coach schematically. He did have the Bills practice in pads for two days in a row this week — something Jauron never did this season. Like Mike Singletary last year, Fewell wants to inject toughness and accountability. He almost has to be the anti-thesis of Dick Jauron to have any shot at winning the job outright down the road. That means taking more chances offensively and making more adjustments defensively. You'll definitely see a team that has nothing to lose. I'd expect some trickery throughout Sunday's game.
2. Fewell made the move from Trent Edwards to Ryan Fitzpatrick. Both quarterbacks defeated the Jaguars a year ago, why was this move made and can Fitzpatrick be a legitimate upgrade over Edwards?
Neither quarterback has shown much upside this season. The Bills must be regretting not signing a more capable veteran last offseason. Edwards has regressed to new lows each week, prompting Fewell to go with Fitzpatrick. I like the move. Fitzpatrick is definitely an upgrade over Edwards. The numbers may not show in. In just over three games of action, he has a 49.8 QB rating. But the big difference is that Fitzpatrick is willing to go deep, willing to take chances downfield. Edwards has adopted the nicknames "Captain Checkdown" and "Trentative." Patience has run thin in him. Meanwhile, in back-to-back wins over the Jets and Panthers, Fitzpatrick developed a nice rapport with Lee Evans and made a conscious effort to get the ball to Buffalo's top two receivers. Edwards' year-long reflex has been to dump it down to his backs. If the Bills establish the run, I think Fitzpatrick could have a solid game this weekend. He's much better than people think.
3. The Bills haven't stopped the run very well at all this season. What can we expect to see from the Buffalo defense to counter the dynamic Maurice Jones-Drew?
Buffalo's only shot at stopping Maurice Jones-Drew is if MJD decides to take kneel-downs every other carry. In sum, the Bills' run defense is vile. Blame injuries. Blame the scheme. Blame ineffectiveness. It doesn't matter. Buffalo's front seven is getting mauled at the point of attack each game. Injuries have forced a safety and a street pickup (Chris Draft) into starting roles at linebacker. Aaron Maybin has been a bust so far. And the results have been ugly — 173 rush yards allowed per game. Jacksonville should ram the ball right at the Bills all day. To counter, Buffalo will try to rely on quickness at linebacker. Scott and Draft are shifty, if not big. The Bills will try to fly around to beat blockers before they come. Will it work? No way.
4. T.O. has been inconsistent at best this season. Are his skills beginning to erode or is it the guys that are trying to get him the football?
Definitely a mixture of both. Terrell Owens (and Drew Rosenhaus) would never admit it, but he has certainly lost a step. He isn't getting separation on corners like he used to and has dropped several passes at critical junctures this season. Trent Edwards has been a massive disappointment this season, too. Buffalo's supposed face of the franchise was hampered by a reluctance to throw the ball deep before and after his concussion. As a result, T.O. is producing like a bargain-bin pickup. Not a guy making $6.5 million. He's on pace for a whopping 46 receptions and 651 yards. I'd expect the Jauron firing to help him. Sure he toyed with a no-huddle offense, but Jauron never really could shed his blasé, ball-control ways. Fewell will encourage more creativity on offense.
Just don't lose any sleep over Owens. He is a fringe NFL starter at this point in his career. After Rosenhaus spewed off on the Bills' offense a couple weeks ago and Owens threw a temper tantrum on the sideline, it's clear that he will not be here next season. Expect an ugly breakup to Jon and Kate-proportions. All Owens is playing for at this point is one last multi-million deal with another team. Good luck. I smell Allen Iverson all over this situation.
5. Jairus Byrd has been amazing this season as he's proven to have a certain nose for the football. Do you expect teams to begin to throw away from him or will this unbelievable interception streak continue?
It will be awfully difficult for teams to avoid the Byrdman. At free safety he is flocking to almost every ball in his vicinity and robbing tipped balls. I don't think he'll slow down any time soon. At corner in college, he found a way to pick off 17 passes in three seasons. Now at safety in the pros, his opportunities at jump-balls has doubled. An awakening of sorts.
Byrd has the speed to close in faster than most safeties. And of course, there's the pedigree of his father, Gil Byrd. It's going to be awfully hard to quarantine him out of the passing game like teams do to Oakland's Nnamdi Asomugha. In deep center, Byrd is reading and reacting beyond his years. Byrd has single-handedly kept the team in games this season.
6. The Jaguars defense has played better in recent weeks, but it may have just as much to do with the level of competition as it does actual fundamental improvement. How do you believe the Bills will try and attack offensively, especially with cornerback Rashean Mathis out.
You're definitely catching this offense at the best possible time. The Bills have failed to total at least 300 yards of offense in seven straight games—the longest stretch since 1968. Even with Rashean Mathis, I don't think Buffalo will wing the ball around the field too much. Expect a lot of Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch with some occasional shots deep. Fitzpatrick is no slouch. The Bills will look to stretch out Jacksonville's defense. But Jauron poorly mishandled the Jackson/Lynch duo. I'd expect the Bills to pound away at the run early to loosen things up. Jackson, in my opinion, is one of the best-kept secrets in the NFL. In three years, he's been sorely underutilized in Buffalo. Since ripping Tampa Bay for 163 yards on 28 carries in Week Two, Jackson hasn't received 20 carries in a game.
7. Please give me an under the radar type of player for the Bills who could make a big impact in Sunday's game.
Steve Johnson. The second-year wideout got the shaft in this whole T.O. nonsense. Last year as a seventh-rounder, Johnson flashed a rare ability to go across the middle of the field and catch the ball in traffic. Most rookies simply do not do that. After being a healthy scratch through most of this season -- due to Buffalo's crowded receiver group -- Johnson has finally cracked the rotation. Look for Fewell to get Johnson more involved. Buffalo needs to see what its young receivers have. Barring a miracle, T.O. will not be in Western New York next season. Johnson and former second-rounder James Hardy must see the field more. Both are possible long-term starters. In Fewell's first game, don't be shocked to see Johnson as the No. 3 receiver in third-down situations.
8. Certain teams have a great burst of energy under a new coach, and some quit. What's your gut feeling on which route the Buffalo Bills will go?
Fewell is already rocking the boat. The intensity has tripled. I'd expect a short burst of energy. Players liked Jauron a lot, sure. But he inspired no confidence. Fewell will pump some life into this team. Unfortunately, the talent simply is not here. The defense is a mess. The offensive line is banged up and severely inexperienced. The team lacks a legitimate starting quarterback. Pick your area of weakness. This team is smeared with black eyes. That being said, it would not surprise me to see the Bills steal a win in Jacksonville. Buffalo was right there with Houston and Tennessee the last two weeks before caving in the fourth quarter (by a combined 46-0 outcome). If Fewell can provide some late-game leadership, Buffalo could very well win Sunday. Just don't expect a playoff run. The flaws are too engrained.
Behind Enemy Lines II: Jaguars/Bills
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