Looking Back to Move Forward: Storylines of the First Half of the Buffalo Bills’ Season

Many Buffalo Bills, including rookie quarterback EJ Manuel, have been bit by the injury bug this season. (Photo: Ron Schwane — USA Today Sports)

First-Half Negatives

Injuries, Injuries, and More Injuries

As the record suggests, it hasn’t been all positives for the Bills in 2013, and much of that can be attributed to the injury bug, which has bit the Bills hard this year.

Kolb and defensive end Alex Carrington have both been lost for the season with injuries. Gilmore and free safety Jairus Byrd missed the first five games. Manuel is back practicing this week, but is set to miss his fourth consecutive game due to injury Sunday. Goodwin and backup cornerback Ron Brooks each missed four games, while many other key players, including running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, wide receiver Stevie Johnson, cornerback Leodis McKelvin and outside linebacker Manny Lawson have all missed or had to leave games early because of various injuries.

While most of those players are back healthy now, the combinations of injuries have left the Bills short-handed at some positions throughout the season, forcing some players off the bench into the starting lineup. The most drastic example of that was with cornerback Justin Rogers, who likely won’t make the Bills roster next season and has been inactive for their past three games, but was in the starting lineup for Buffalo’s first five games with Gilmore out.

Offensive Line Concerns

Despite Cordy Glenn’s aforementioned strong play, the Bills’ offensive line as a whole has been a relative weak spot this season. If you pay attention watching the Bills to their offensive line, it is easy to see how often their linemen get pushed back and force the quarterback to escape from a collapsing pocket.

When the Bills let left guard Andy Levitre walk in free agency, many people questioned how the team was going to replace his value. The team decided to let Colin Brown and Doug Legursky compete to start, and chaos ensued. Brown started the first five games of the season but played atrociously, letting defenders practically walk to the quarterback, and he was subsequently cut after Week 6. Legursky has been an improvement since returning from injury and taking over the starting job, but has still been nothing more than an average starter at best.

Another spot starter in the lineup is right tackle Erik Pears, filling in for Chris Hairston who was unable to recover from offseason surgery and was placed on injured reserve, ending his season before it ever began. That has left Pears, a guy who some thought would be cut, as the starter.

The subpar play at left guard and right tackle, coupled with a disappointing start to the season for center Eric Wood, has led to the Bills playing inconsistently on the offensive line.

Poorly-Timed Mistakes

This season has also been one of poorly-timed mistakes for the Bills. Despite having a plus-five turnover margin, the Bills have committed 12 of their 13 turnovers in their own half of the field, consistently giving opponents prime opportunities to score. It’s difficult to win games if you give opponents such a short field.

In addition to the ill-timed turnovers, the Bills have shot themselves in the foot numerous times with penalties. The Bills were the sixth-most penalized team in the NFL for the first half of the season, which combined to give up 528 “beneficiary yards,” the third-most in the league, according to NFLPenalties.com.

The Bills have committed 11 pre-snap penalties on defense, the fourth-most in the league, and are the league’s most common offender in neutral zone infractions. Small errors like that are almost indefensible, and can contribute to extending opposing offenses’ drives and keeping the defense on the field, two things the Bills have had a problem with so far.  

Clock Management and Scheme

Much like many of his young players, first-year Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone has to continue to improve. (Photo: Brad Mills — USA Today Sports)

I didn’t mention Doug Marrone in the positive section, so I don’t want people to think that his inclusion here means I think he was a bad hire. Overall, I like the attitude and presence that he has created in Buffalo, but there are some things he and Nathaniel Hackett need to address.

One that has been mentioned often enough is clock management. The Bills are intent on being a fast-paced offense, but that sometimes comes at the expense of quality game management. In Week 1, their up-tempo offense gave too much time for the defense to fend off Tom Brady from leading the New England Patriots offense on a game-winning drive. In Week 4, the Bills almost allowed the Baltimore Ravens to come back in the same manner. In Week 7, the Bills allowed the Dolphins to cut a halftime lead to three points when their offense moved too quickly and allowed the Dolphins to get the ball back late in the first half with enough time to drive the field and score.

Another area where the team might need to show more flexibility is in their offensive scheme. The Bills have claimed they want to run C.J. Spiller often, but even when Spiller has been healthy, the Bills have not shown enough plays designed to get him into space. Too many of the Bills’ runs have been draws directly up the gut, forcing Spiller to jump cut to break into space. He’s most effective as a dynamic, home run-hitting threat, but it seems like he is not put in a position to use those skills.

Similarly, when the Buffalo Bills went into New Orleans last week with Spiller sidelined, Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan dialed up numerous blitzes to bring consistent pressure on Thad Lewis. Yet I don’t think the Bills called more than two or three screen passes to counteract the aggressive defense. The coaching staff has been seemingly hesitant to adjust its approach based upon opponents’ defense, but that is something that would benefit the team in the long run.


Second-Half Prediction

Overall, the Bills have left their fans with more to be happy about than years past. The team has young talent, competent people running things, and a desire to compete, both on and off the field, that hasn’t been seen to this extent in Buffalo in more than a decade.

With Manuel likely not back until after the Bills’ Week 12 bye, and both Spiller and Johnson still banged up on the Buffalo offense, the Bills aren’t likely to push for a playoff spot. However, with six of their last eight games coming against teams who have losing records (Pittsburgh Steelers, Jets, Atlanta Falcons, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Dolphins), and young players still improving, the Bills could be set up to win some games in the second half of the season and push toward a .500 season. If they can do that, they can build positive momentum going into 2014.

Final Record: 8-8

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Tags: Buffalo Bills, Clock Management, Colin Brown, Cordy Glenn, Doug Marrone, Doug Whaley, EJ Manuel, Injuries, Kiko Alonso, Marcell Dareus, Marquise Goodwin, Midseason, Midseason Review, Nathaniel Hackett, Penalties, Robert Woods, Storylines

One Response to “Looking Back to Move Forward: Storylines of the First Half of the Buffalo Bills’ Season”

  1. Duncan says:

    Great article, I agree 100%

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