By BBD Staff Writer: Eric Samulski
The wait is over; the 2012 NFL season is upon us. It was a long and, at times, frustrating preseason for the Bills, but we’re sticking with the old adage that the preseason means nothing. So, things start from scratch with week one against the Jets. The Bills have a re-invented defensive line, a healthy quarterback, running back, and center, and there is a brand new positive attitude among Bills fans.
However, there will be no warm-up period for the new look Bills. They travel to New York to kick off the season against the division rival Jets; a team with some turmoil of their own. This first game could go a long way to deciding who pushes the Patriots in the AFC East.
Question One: Which Fitz Will Show Up?
We’ve all heard the media criticism about the contract and Fitz’s tendency to implode down the stretch. However, last year the Harvard gunslinger was off to a strong start until he cracked two ribs and had to play behind a beat-up offensive line. If the Bills offense is going to do any damage this year then the first half Fitzpatrick needs to show up. This can’t be a quick slant offense that allows the safeties to creep up into the box. He has to show that he can beat people over the top while also being economical with his passes and not trying to fit them into impossible windows. If he can play like he did at the beginning of last season, the Bills could be a playoff team.
Question Two: Can Spiller and Jackson share a backfield?
This was a question throughout the preseason, and one that was never really answered. The Bills want to get these two playmakers on the field at once. It’s why they only kept five WRs (six now). Chan needs to put his game plan where his mouth is and show that both of these guys can be effective when the other one is healthy and playing well.
Question Three: Are the Bills too thin at corner and wide receiver?
The Bills made waves when they cut both Roosevelt and Hagan after strong training camps. It seems as though they were happy to go with four true wide receivers and run Brad Smith out as a fifth WR. Although they’ve recently re-signed Ruvell Martin, this is still a thin position for a team that likes to run a lot of four-wide sets. If one of their guys underperforms, or goes down, they’re going to be using a lot of fringe NFL talent on the field.
The same depth concerns can be had for the cornerback position. In a league that features lots of multiple wide receiver sets, the Bills five corner backs are comprised of a rookie, two second-year men, a disappointing former first-rounder, and a veteran who can’t seem to stay on the field. With Ron Brooks out, McKelvin needs to step up. If he can prove to be a valuable slot man then they may be able to hang with teams that throw a lot.
Question Four: Just how good is the defensive line?
We saw flashes of dominance during the preseason, but these guys were just getting to know each other and the best way to play together. It’s easily the most talent the Bills have had on the line since Bruce Smith was around and is capable of being one of the top units in football. If they can come together and learn to play off each other’s strengths, it could be a great year. The week one opponent is a great starting point for the Bills since the Jets have been struggling to find a RT that can keep anybody away from the quarterback. That just happens to be the position that will face off against Super Mario.
Question Five: Can the rookies step up?
The Bills will start rookies at two crucial spots on Sunday: Cordy Glenn at left tackle and Stephon Gilmore at cornerback. The two have shown fairly well during preseason, but the regular season is a whole new game. Rex Ryan is going to bring a lot of blitzes at Glenn and he needs to show that he can read a scheme and adjust. The Jets don’t have any real playmakers to make the Bills secondary nervous, but that’s all the more reason to not allow any big plays.
Question Six: Is Brad Smith worth his roster spot?
After a dreadful preseason passing the ball and limited usage as a wide receiver, Brad Smith needs to do some work to convince people that his place on this roster is worthwhile. Chan has been adamant that the Wildcat formation will work, but it’s time to show some actual results. Especially since they are going up against the new Wildcat King in Tebow. If neither offense can get success out of the package it may help spell the end of the Wildcat era.
Question Seven: Should the Bills have kept two kickers?
Another player who needs to prove he earned his spot is Potter. Even though I was a fan of the Bills keeping two kickers, many dislike the choice. Potter needs to consistently put the Jets on their own 20 or closer and show the value of field position in the NFL game. If the Jets are able to return his kickoffs for good field position, it’s going to put more pressure on the Bills D and the young kicker.
Prediction: Bills 16 Jets 10
The Bills offense didn’t look good in the preseason, and I’m not entirely convinced that they have the weapons at receiver to really hurt teams. However, the Jets offense looked even worse. This is going to be a grind-it-out game dominated by the running backs. That’s a big advantage for the Bills who have the better backs and, arguably, the better defensive line. It’s not going to be a pretty game, but if the Bills can limit their mistakes, they should come out on top.