Patriots, Belichick Expose The Bills

November 10, 2008

by Todd Morse… Ho Hum.

On a day when everything pointed in the Bills direction—no Brady, no legitimate running threat, good weather—the Patriots proved once again that their organization is just better at understanding what it takes to win.

With Matt Cassell at quarterback and street free agent BenJarvus Green-Ellis playing RB, the Patriots showed up, proving sometimes the team who wants it most actually wins.

Good teams know their talent, and the limitations of their talent, and coach to get the best from the eleven players on the field.

When Tom Brady went down, the Patriots didn’t ask Matt Cassell to be Tom Brady, they adapted the offense.  When three starting running backs went down, the Patriots didn’t ask BenJarvus Green-Ellis to be Laurence Maroney or Lamont Jordan, they adapted the offense.

The Bills are another story. They continually attempt to put square pegs in round holes.

When Aaron Schobel went down, the team rotated Ryan Denney and Copeland Bryan.  Denney is a fine rotational player, but Bryan is a consistent non-factor when he is on the field, and when either are playing, the defense remains out of sync.

When Josh Reed went down, neither James Hardy nor Steve Johnson were ready to contribute on the field, and as such, the offense has struggled mightily in both the running and passing games since Reed’s injury.

Also, good defenses usually have good middle linebackers, and Paul Posluszny’s reputation is much better than his actual play.

He consistently over-pursues the run, rarely is in proper position and is terrible defending the pass.  For weeks, the Bills have been relying on Posluszny to make the defense go, and in the end it has been a reflection of his game play: mediocre.

The same can be said on the offensive line.  It has been conventional wisdom for more than a year that Melvin Fowler isn’t good enough, but is the team in such dire straits that Kirk Chambers should be starting at right guard?

Once upon a time, the Buffalo Bills were 5-1, a lock for the post-season, and Trent Edwards was on his way to league MVP.  What a difference a month can make, as the 20-10 score indicates a game much closer than it actually was.

Yes, there is a lot more analysis which should occur from the game—from why certain players are even seeing the field to the complete lack of a running game.  Still, I am tired of seeing the Bills get simply outclassed, out-coached, out-played, and end up losing to a team who simply has their act more together.

Sure, the Patriots should always be considered a legitimate threat, but the Bills lost today.

In the NFL, teams must adapt.  Sometimes adaptation must happen during a drive, sometimes in games, and sometimes between weeks.

The Bills haven’t successfully done any.

Welcome to last place in the division; get used to it.

Bills Hot Start All About The Chemistry

October 3, 2008

by Todd Morse…

I’m not sure if anyone has noticed, but the Bills are undefeated a quarter way through the season.  As a Bills fan, its pretty nice to see.  Especially nice to see since they really haven’t played anything close to exceedingly great football yet. They’ve played good football, they’ve played bad football, and for the most part, they played average football.  In their four games, they’ve checked a lot of things off the list that good teams do:

be clutch
come back
make timely plays

Its neat.  It also doesn’t mean the checklist is complete. The Bills are winning right now for a few reasons.  Some of those reasons will continue, some of them wont.

Clearly Trent Edwards is a great quarterback.  When I say great, I mean it.  He is playing in something like his his 12th NFL game and shows incredible composure, awareness and a veteran-like ability to read defenses.  Also, the talk about Edwards not being durable, even if he does get injured sometime this season, needs to end - Buffalo fans have seen a few glass jaws and Edwards isn’t one. He has taken brutal hits this season due to some questionable offensive line play and has got up quickly and forcefully every time.

Edwards is not going to regress and become a bad quarterback.  He may not pull out a win every time the Bills are down by ten in the 4th quarter, but barring something catastrophic, he is the Bills QB until they leave Buffalo and become the Toronto Turkeys.

Next, the Bills are stopping the run - well, before Steven Jackson got to them, but lets pretend he doesn’t count.  They have a nice rotation, and while Marcus Stroud is getting all the accolades, Spencer Johnson and Kyle Williams are doing massive amounts of damage inside and are both playing really well.  Stroud, Johnson and Williams have really allowed Posluzny and Donte Whitner, the heart and soul of this defense, to fluorish.

Also, the Bills are stopping the pass.  It turns out Ashton Youboty is wicked good, Jabari Greer is  wicked good, Ko Simpson is on a mission coming back from his injury, and Terrence McGee is pretty ok. Thats good enough for the Bills, they are shutting teams down and stopping them when they need to.  They have a very interesting hybrid defense.  They play sack the qb/stop the drive bend but dont break defense when they’re winning, then they attack for turnovers and back off on the sacks if they’re losing.  Its a very interesting scheme coordinator Perry Fewell has and the players do good things in it.

Turk Schonert has had four really good days calling plays.  Lee Evans recently said in an interview that Schonert has a full game plan, he isn’t just making play calls. Meaning that plays in the first quarter setup plays in the fourth quarter.

Evans also said Schonert has been listening to the players about what to do and has been doing some of it and everything is great in coordinator - player relations.  Thats wonderful.  Talk to me after a loss.  Schonert’s game plans aren’t anything special.  I like them, but they’re beginning to be as predictable as the previous regime’s, just with different plays.  It took Drew Bledsoe eight games before he came back down to earth, then everyone remembered he was Drew Bledsoe and they game planned for him.

Teams haven’t seen film of the Bills and the Bills haven’t run the Ball successfully.  The passing game should be working now, its early, lets see if everything is hunky dory in week twelve.  Evans stated that the Bills haven’t applied all of their offensive sets and plays.  So that deep out sideline pass isn’t their only deep play?  I hope not, because at some point, a team will catch on and figure out how to defend it, despite Steve Tasker telling us that play is indefensible.  Whatever that means.

So far, though, the biggest key to the Billssuccess has been a combination between of their youthful innocence and their team chemistry.  Cliches maybe, but its still very apparent.  I could make a Marshawn Lynch pun here regarding the innocence, but I’m better than that…I think.  The Bills are made up of winners and guys who not only don’t accept losing, but seem to don’t understand losing.  There is a difference in those that everyone needs to understand. Edwards, Lynch, Evans, Hardy, Stroud, Posluszny, Mitchell, Whitner - they go on the field expecting to win, mostly because they’re incredible talents who have never lost in their life.

It seems like these leaders are angry when something goes wrong, are willing to recognize the consequences and repercussions of an on-the-field mistake, then won’t let it happen again.  That attitude isn’t something you create, its a lifestyle.  Its more than the zone.  Its something only people who exceedingly excel in their fields of work understand.

It has allowed the Bills to create an enormously magnificent sea change in the locker room. They finally have the right pieces together to have a team that can make a serious run at a Super Bowl for the next five years.

Incredibly talented on the field, and for the most part, good people.  This is the kind of team Buffalonians embrace, its the kind of team I was hoping for when I wrote my three piece article previewing the Bills in the preseason, but wasn’t sure we would get.

Now, the fun part begins, we get to see where they take us the rest of the way.

Bills’ Win Over the Raiders Was an Eye Opener

September 22, 2008

by Todd Morse…

As Scott Norwood lined himself up to kick the Bills to victory in Super Bowl XXV, the pressure was too much. As a 12-year-old in Buffalo, all I knew were the Bills; they were all I cared about, and this was Buffalo’s chance to turn things around.

I was agitated, anxious, and unreasonable, so while they prepared for the kick, I turned the TV off. It was an initial reaction to plan for the worst. My family immediately erupted with pleas for me to turn the TV back on, and I did, before the kick happened.

My second action was to ask God for help. My family had never gone to church, nor had we ever really been religious, so this was a strange reaction, but nevertheless, I prayed. “Hi, God? I know you’re busy, but I know we don’t really talk much. I never ask you for anything. Anything! If you do exist, and are real, please show me. Give me this. Please.”

We all know what happened next. Over the years, I have tried numerous versions of this. Appealing directly to the Football Gods—which resulted in the Tennessee Titans beating the Bills on one of the most ridiculous, and hilariously fun (unless you’re a Bills fan), plays ever constructed in football history, the homerun throwback.

I prayed to the Hockey Gods—which proceeded to end the Stanley Cup finals in the most controversial way possible, as well as squashing numerous requests for Sabres wins or comeback attempts.

I prayed to the Baseball Gods—who seemed to really really like Derek Jeter for a long time, who allowed two steroid kings to enter the record books as home run champions, who wouldn’t let my Tigers get out of the cellar for years, and who wouldn’t give good guys like the Atlanta Braves’ pitching staff a break.

As I have aged and experienced more hardships, I have slowly learned that maybe sports isn’t as important as I once ranked it. I promised myself I would be different, now, and try harder to prioritize. And yet, there I was, sitting in the stands at Ralph Wilson Stadium watching the Bills and the Raiders duke it out.

Going into the game, it seemed like the Bills should have won the game handily. With the Raiders going through off the field turmoil and facing player injuries, the Bills, coming off two well-rounded victories over two of the NFL’s upper-echelon teams, were easily in the driver’s seat.

But that is why they play the games, I guess. The Bills’ passing offense didn’t click for the first three quarters and the Bills’ running game, while somewhat better, continued to prove fairly anemic. Trent Edwards didn’t hit his short game early and clearly couldn’t find a rhythm, thus disallowing the Bills to sustain drives and keep the Raiders off the field.

But the Raiders got their chances, and did enough to score 23. The way the Raiders scored was very much like how the Bills scored against Seattle—fake. None of their scoring drives, save for the big TD pass, was longer than 27 yards. A couple of big returns setup some short drives for field goals. A couple of turnovers gives the Raiders the ball in good field position and they capitalize.

Lucky for the Bills, the Raiders’ quarterback was JaMarcus Russell, and he is just bad. If the Raiders had J.P. Losman running that offense, they would have killed the Bills. Killed them. Also lucky for the Bills.

[Side Note: The Raiders ran a few plays with McFadden at QB and they worked fairly well. McFadden just handed the ball to Michael Bush. I couldn’t understand why they worked, as it was fairly obvious he wasn’t going to throw. It's little things like these which annoy me about coaches.]

The Bills did good things. Overall, they contained the Raiders’ rushing attack and held them to under 100 yards. The Raiders got their yards at times, but the defense was stout. The offense wasn’t as good. I think I was wrong when I said the Bills don’t face a real defense until late; the Raiders’ defense is good, and Rob Ryan is a good coordinator. He did what I said and had Edwards both pressured and somewhat confused for three quarters.

Strangely, he backed off somewhat in the fourth quarter, and this changed the game. I don’t know if he backed off because the guys were tired, because the Bills changed schemes, or because the Bills just figured it out, but the game changed significantly. The Bills began exerting their will, and drove 96 yards in 16 plays on the suddenly porous Raiders.

Maddeningly, the Raiders struck back almost immediately, on a third down quick slant to Johnnie Lee Higgins. The Bills were clearly thinking run, and Higgins outran everyone to the house. Interestingly, Donte Whitner was flagged for a penalty for tackling Huggins five yards into the end zone as Huggins as showboating into the end zone and dancing it up after the TD, and Whitner wanted to do a “not in my house” play.

One has to wonder the impact of that play on the Bills psyche, as the Bills immediately punched back again and drove 69 yards, mostly on the arm of Edwards, for another touchdown.

After the next kickoff, the Bills held the Raiders to a quick three and out, to one of the loudest crowds I can remember. The only louder crowds I remember were Monday Night 2007 against Dallas, and, of course, the Houston comeback game in the early ’90s.

It became pretty clear how the game was going to end when Edwards and offensive coordinator Turk Schonert, as in the previous two drives, began orchestrating another harmonious drive. They gashed the Raiders for a good 25 yards to get to the 21-yard line, then, as they had only one time out left, that was close enough for Lindell.

It wasn’t perfect, but it worked. I would have liked to have seen the Bills try to score a touchdown, as they clearly had all the momentum and had the Raiders on their heels, but Dick Jauron is Dick Jauron. He isn’t Manny Ramirez.

Even though the Bills were down two, the looks on Raiders’ fans faces around us made it feel inevitable. For many Buffalo fans it may have felt inevitable, but for me, knowing Buffalo’s history, it is never over until the clock says zero.

Waiting for the clock to count down for the Bills to call timeout seemed like forever. So many thoughts were running through my head. I had seen the New England-Miami score already; Miami killed them. If the Bills win today they are alone in first place in the division. Seriously! The Bills are about to go 3-0!

Lindell is the Bills’ most clutch kicker and most accurate kicker ever. Edwards has already shown his clutchosity. This would be another comeback victory for him. Nine points down with four minutes to play? Are you kidding me? These are how his days at the office are going to be.

I wanted to close my eyes, look up and ask. I do this thing, where I kind of zone everything out and just sort of think internally. I can’t really explain it.

With my arm around my fiancée to my left, and my sister standing next to her, and my son under my arm to my right, I took a moment and enjoyed everyone. I looked at the score, the Bills fans anticipating a win, and the Raiders fans anticipating the loss. I looked at the field. There stood 22 behemoths paid millions of dollars to play a game we all love to watch, wager on, write about, dissect, and argue about.

I strangely thought about how great of a game Josh Reed had. The same Josh Reed who fans hated and wanted the Bills to cut played his heart out, and made at least four or five critical catches and a few key blocks. I thought that this Bills team is a team that the fans of Buffalo who have been holding onto the mentality that we’re still a blue collar town with a blue collar attitude should love, but has enough nuance and flavor for everyone. Things felt alright.

“God?” I asked.

Then I paused.

“No, never mind, it’s just football,” I thought.

And with that, the kick sailed directly through the middle of the uprights.


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