The Buffalo Bills entered the 2012 season with such high hopes. Headed into Week 13, their hope lies in the hands of what would be a miraculous five-game winning streak which, along with a little help from their AFC enemies, could allow them to edge into the playoffs.
The frustrations continue for an offense which has an explosive playmaker in C.J. Spiller with a head coach who refuses to utilize him properly, instead trusting an erratic quarterback to make plays he's gotten worse at making every year as the starter.
It's a mess right now, but there's hope to clean things up, and the NFL handed the Bills a pretty sturdy mop in the form of a favorable five-game stretch to close the season.
Can they capitalize?
Here's a progress report of where things stand for the Bills and where they could be headed from here.
Primary Talking Point
Whether it's Chan Gailey or Ryan Fitzpatrick getting the blame, it's becoming clear that this tandem should not be the future of the franchise.
The offense is far too limited with Fitzpatrick as the quarterback, and Chan Gailey is too stuck in his philosophy to embrace the fact that his best weapon is a running back whose performances this season indicate he is capable of carrying the load, a theory which is bore out through the numbers; his 6.9 YPA on attempts 1-10 barely exceeds his 6.6 YPA on attempts 11-20.
The Bills are the league's fifth-best rush offense in Football Outsiders' DVOA, but rank 22nd in passing DVOA.
You don't have to be an X's and O's aficionado to see that the offense is at its best when Spiller is the focal point. Getting away from that has led to many frustrating moments for Bills fans, and unless the Bills turn things around in a hurry, it should also lead to Gailey's ouster as the head coach.
There is still no update on the status of Mark Anderson, who remains listed as "out indefinitely," while cornerback Aaron Williams has recently been upgraded from doubtful to questionable on the team's injury report. Williams has not played since Week 9 against the Texans.
Defensive line: Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams and Mario Williams all graded out positively, according to ProFootballFocus.com. They pressured Andrew Luck on 16 of his 44 drop-backs despite sending a blitzer just three times.
Stevie Johnson: Had the team's second-longest reception of the season on a 63-yard reception where a double move caused Darius Butler to bite harder than a bulldog on a T-bone, allowing him to get wide open down field. Johnson isn't a "deep threat" in the purest form, but he is physically talented, and his unique route-running makes him difficult to defend.
Ryan Fitzpatrick: Fitzpatrick had his lowest completion percentage and passer rating of the season against a Colts defense that ranks 31st in Football Outsiders' passing DVOA, which accounts for strength of opponent.
He has been erratic to say the least; just look at this chart of his passer rating by week this season:
What's more, he is incapable of executing the deep pass consistently, as we looked at earlier this week. The Bills are extremely limited in how far they can go with Fitzpatrick at quarterback.
Justin Rogers: Had his first interception of the season on a pass that was deflected into his hands, but was beaten on 5-of-8 throws in his direction and allowed the Colts' lone touchdown pass from Luck to receiver T.Y. Hilton. Also gave up a 23-yard pass interference penalty to Reggie Wayne.
- How was Reggie Wayne able to get so wide open against the Bills? Well, besides the fact that he's an elite receiver, the Bills did an awful job of scheming for him. Luck found him matched up on safeties time and time again. In fact, ProFootballFocus.com attributes four of his eight receptions to safeties in coverage. The Colts ran some route combinations that allowed him to get open over the middle and put him in motion to maximize that matchup advantage, but the fact that the Bills were unable to adjust is an indictment not just on the players, but the coaching staff.
- Here's a stat to chew on: The Bills have given up 147 yards per game on the ground this season, but have given up 147 yards on the ground in their past two games combined. They have considerably improved since they were on pace to break records for futility against the run. It comes back to a defensive line that is getting a much better push up front than what we saw from them earlier this year, allowing the linebackers to make the plays in space.
- Fitzpatrick has been comically bad throwing the ball deep this year, but that's nothing new. In his three years with the team, his highest accuracy percentage—that's (drops + completions) / attempts—is 35.7 in 2010, and that number has gone down in each of three years as the starter. He has regressed into a 20-yard cushion; it's like the Bills are constantly playing red-zone offense, with defenses crowding that area.
- Taking the opponent into consideration, this is the Bills' best defensive performance of the season. This was Andrew Luck's third-lowest passer rating of the season at 71.9. It was also his third-lowest YPA at 6.49. The majority of the Bills' problems, as stated above, came from their inability to cover Wayne. As a unit, though, the defense has improved significantly over the past few weeks.
- C.J. Spiller is criminally underutilized. He didn't touch the ball once in the final 13:33 of a seven-point game against the Colts. His 6.7 rushing YPA leads the NFL, and he blistered the Colts for 107 yards on 14 carries (7.6 YPA) on Sunday. He averages just 11 carries per game. He also had just one reception for minus-four yards; he averages 10.4 yards per catch, a number that compares favorably to a lot of wide receivers. Gailey made it a point to say that Spiller will still get the majority of the workload, but he didn't even get the majority against the Colts (36 snaps to Fred Jackson's 38). Spiller may be the rallying cry for the "Fire Gailey" movement (if there is one).
The Bills have been invoking the tale of the 2011 Giants, who were 7-7 before pushing their way into the playoffs and eventually to the Super Bowl.
There's a few problems with that, though:
- Chan Gailey is not Tom Coughlin,
- Ryan Fitzpatrick is not Eli Manning and
- the Bills are not 7-7; they're 4-7.
With three home games against the Jaguars, Rams and Seahawks (a combined 12-20-1), the Bills certainly have a chance to get there, but have the Bills shown the consistency necessary to pull off three straight solid performances at any point this season?
A remaining schedule that pits the Bills against teams that are a combined 21-33-1 gives them a puncher's chance, and the Jaguars have been the cure for the common slump this year, so there's an opportunity to be had.
If they're going to make a run, they can't squander it.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained via team press releases.