Could Buffalo become Pittsburgh North?
Amidst the upheaval at One Bills Drive this winter, is there something worth hoping for emerging from the rubble of the utterly forgettable 2000s?
I think so. You may not, dear Bills fan. Can't say I blame you. But after all, hope is all we have left nowadays: hope, that Buddy Nix and Chan Gailey are legitimate football guys. That a solid draft in April can produce two, maybe three players who can step in and contribute immediately. That somewhere out there is a quarterback who can succeed where so many others have failed.
For me, the biggest hope now is that after a decade of blind flying, the organization might finally be committing to a football philosophy. It's not hard to figure out, either, although any combination of Tom Donahoe, Tom Modrak, Marv Levy, Gregg Williams, Mike Mularkey, and Dick Jauron have navigated that path as well as a fifteen-year-old girl getting her first driving lesson while Twittering the experience to her friends.
That hope, misguided as it may be, comes in the form of Doug Whaley, who comes to the front office from Pittsburgh. Is there a better example of an organization that knows what its philosophy is, stubbornly sticks to it, and most critically, drafts and signs players to fit that philosophy? You ask for conceptual continuity on the gridiron, and I'll give you the Steelers as Exhibit "A."
Could Buffalo become Pittsburgh North, modeling itself after a proven example? Because Donahoe is a living example of why not? (OK, fine, you got me there ... touche!). But remember, Donahoe didn't do too badly except in two crucial areas: coach and quarterback. One hopes--and remember, "hope" is the key word here—that Whaley won't make the same mistakes. He'll have Nix, whose record in San Diego is at least respectable, to help.
Both men must realize that Buffalo's a cold-weather town, where a mighty aerial attack and "play-making" defense in September doesn't do much good in November or December. Yet denial-ridden Bills front offices have forked over $15 million to Lee Evans and Terrell Owens, put their eggs in the basket of a brittle California kid who looks as out of place in inclement weather as a Polynesian belly dancer, and habitually brought in undersized defenders whose only big plays come during garbage time.
What works as well in week seventeen as it does in week one is a running game, and while Freddie Jackson and Marshawn Lynch are in the stable, neither does much good with a patchwork offensive line. The Bills have so often stalled inside the ten yard line; one wonders how many field goals could've been touchdowns if a legitimate offensive line were in place.
Buffalo's getting a second chance in that department, and drafting Eric Wood and Andy Levitre, with the signing Geoff Hangartner, was a good start. It's time to make up for guargantuan free-agent misfires like Derrick Dockery, Langston Walker, Bennie Anderson, Eric Whittle, and the rest of the unimaginably ineffective gaggle that's come and gone in the interior line.
Building a line starts at the draft; always has and always will. There will be plenty of starting-quality left tackles for the taking, the type of player who can lead the way on first-and-ten and protect the quarterback's blind side on third-and-long.
Who will it be? Who knows. Leave that to someone who still watches the college game, or better yet, Nix and Whaley. They're getting paid for those guys, not to write blogs about it.
I'm also optimistic about the team's decision to go with a 3-4 defense, if only because it forces the front office to go after big bodies on the line. The tiresome charade of having lightweight "playmakers" like Aaron Schobel, Chris Kelsay, Ryan Denney, John McCargo, and Aaron Maybin man the trenches has been an abject failure. None of them give you run-stuffing, AFC East-style power, and it's time to return to the days of hulks like Ted Washington and Pat Williams—well, younger versions of them, anyway. Perhaps Marcus Stroud or Kyle Williams can bulk up and become a formidable nose tackle. If not, cut the cord with them and find someone who can.
Apart from a quarterback and left tackle, the biggest needs come at defensive end and linebacker (yeesh, there's quite a laundry list here, huh?). The Bills might have to live for a year or two with Schobel, Kelsay and Denney on the end, but they can no longer fool themselves into believing there isn't a glaring need at outside linebacker. I'm OK with Kawika Mitchell, Paul Poszlusny, and possibly Maybin back there, but what's missing is a centerpiece linebacker; a bear who punishes opposing runners and disrupts the opposition's ability to run. He's out there somewhere, whether it be via draft or free agency. I can't name that player (See: guys who get paid well to make those decisions.)
What fans can no longer accept, year after year, is seeing tomato cans like Keith Ellison, Jeff Posey, and Marcus Buggs being passed off as legit NFL starters. Would any of them even make the final August cut on Steelers' special teams units?
Here's hoping some fresh faces in the front office suites know that running and stopping the run, not lighting millions ablaze on clowns like T.O. to make a splash, builds winning teams. Want to make a splash with fans? Bring some playoff football back to this franchise.