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13 Aug 2012

Andy Benoit Previews the Bills

by Andy Benoit

(Ed. Note: Thanks to The New York Times for allowing us to re-run Andy Benoit's annual team previews. Please be aware that these previews are more scouting-oriented than what we run in Football Outsiders Almanac 2012, and they represent one man's opinion so they may differ from the forecast from our statistical team projection system. -- Aaron Schatz)

Over the years, many analysts –- including yours truly –- have succumbed to the temptation of over-thinking the Buffalo Bills.

We’ve all wanted to solve the mystery of why this once-proud franchise has failed to reach the postseason each of the past 12 years. Our sleuthing has generally morphed us into armchair economists. We’ve broken down the impact of playing in a small market. We’ve tried to extrapolate deep meaning from the Bills’ annual Toronto venture. We’ve even gone meteorological, attributing some of this team’s perils to the supposedly dreadful weather in Buffalo.

It’s foolish to make something that’s easy hard. The Bills aren’t a mystery: they’ve missed the postseason 12 straight years because they’ve lacked talent. Nothing more. They seemed to survive their "small market" just fine when they were reaching Super Bowls in the 1990s. Some say that the market and the weather haven’t made Buffalo a "natural landing spot" for free agents, but if there were such a thing as natural landing spots, then wouldn’t Seattle, Green Bay, Minnesota, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Oakland all have problems? And wouldn’t teams from the supposedly desirable cities like Phoenix, San Diego, Miami, New Orleans, Atlanta and Dallas be cleaning up continually in free agency?

The Bills haven’t won because they haven’t gathered enough talent. We can have a discussion about who is to blame for this (Ralph Wilson? Management? Coaching staff?). But what good does backtracking over the past decade do for painting a picture of the 2012 Bills? This team is entering its third year under the leadership of general manager Buddy Nix and coach Chan Gailey. Though these two did not ignite the organization into a contender overnight, they have done a stellar job in getting things on the right track. Nix has drafted relatively well and, this past off-season, he roped in the biggest defensive free agent on the market, defensive end Mario Williams. (It’s amazing how much more desirable a city and its weather can be when there’s $50 million guaranteed involved.)

OFFENSE

Last season, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, playing in a spread offense that Chan Gailey and the coordinator Curtis Modkins tailored for him, posted 14 touchdowns and a passer rating of 97.8 in leading the Bills to a 5-2 start. Wanting to get the 29-year-old Fitzpatrick locked up before his value climbed even further, the Bills signed him to a seven-year, $62 million contract extension, $24 million of which was guaranteed. What followed, of course, was a 1-8 faceplant.

Most likely, Fitzpatrick did not get content after his big deal –- he just got figured out and exposed. Call it Tommy Maddox syndrome. Often, mid-level quarterbacks who find themselves in the right scheme will flourish early on. Teams will study them more closely and eventually solve the scheme. No coach in the history of football has ever concocted a scheme that befuddled an entire league for years and years.

Fitzpatrick simply does not appear to have the talent to be an elite quarterback. His arm strength is just OK. His accuracy runs hot and cold. Because he mixes these traits with a gunslinger’s mentality, he can be somewhat prone to mistakes. The Bills are hoping that extensive off-season work with new quarterbacks coach David Lee will smooth some of Fitzpatrick’s flaws. (Being from Harvard and spending the bulk of his early career as a fringe backup, Fitzpatrick had never had anyone diligently work on his mechanics before.) Perhaps it can help, but at the pro level, players generally are what they are. For example, perennial "change of scenery" mention Vince Young has reportedly struggled to learn Buffalo’s offense and will most likely fail to supplant Tyler Thigpen.

A coach can only work with the players he has. Give Gailey credit for recognizing what Fitzpatrick truly is and adapting his offense accordingly. Gailey could have built a conservative system that minimized his quarterback’s impact, but he realized that Fitzpatrick’s limitations do not extend to the mental side of the game. Unlike most so-so-armed passers, Fitzpatrick reads the field fairly well. Because he tends to play fast when his pocket quivers, he is better reading things before the snap than after the snap. So, Gailey built a horizontal spread offense. A horizontal spread often involves quick-strike decisions off three- and five-step drops, which means the quarterback can often determine where the ball goes before the snap.

This type of quick-strike system can help mitigate the effect of defenses figuring out how to exploit Fitzpatrick’s limitations. But Fitzpatrick isn’t the only limited player. A big reason Buffalo got figured out last season was their wide receiving group wasn’t very good. It still isn’t.

No. 1 receiver Stevie Johnson can play, but even he has distinct shortcomings. (He was drafted in the seventh round for a reason.) Johnson is not particularly fast and he offers only "deceptive quickness." That’s at least better than "no quickness," especially since it comes from fine-tuned mechanics and feints (attributes that can be learned and augmented). Still, Johnson is a top receiving option who does not command constant double teams, which is tough on a passing game.

The Bills tried to upgrade at receiver by pursuing Robert Meachem in free agency, but he ultimately signed with San Diego. Hey, maybe the weather does impact some free agents after all ... or, maybe a proven offensive system like Norv Turner’s and a cannon-armed quarterback like Philip Rivers are good lures. The pursuit of Meachem may have rubbed Donald Jones the wrong way, but there are more important thing than Jones getting over hurt feelings. For one, he needs to bounce back from the severe ankle injury he suffered last November.

Third-round rookie T.J. Graham figures to challenge for Jones’s starting spot. At 5-11 and 180, it’s easy to view Graham as a slot contender. However, the Bills like to align bigger bodies inside, which is why guys like third-year pro Marcus Easley (6-foot-3, 216 pounds), journeyman Derek Hagan (6-foot-2, 217 pounds), sinewy David Nelson (6-foot-5, 210 pounds) and special teamer Ruvell Martin (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) are on the roster. The Bills are committed to having big guys inside; when 5-11 running back C.J. Spiller lined up at wide receiver last season, he was usually kept outside, even though that was a much tougher transition than playing the slot.

Of course, part of the reason Buffalo kept Spiller wide was that they love to throw him bubble screens. With all of the above receivers lacking acceleration and quickness, Spiller’s explosive burst and agility can be like a gulp of ice water to this otherwise dehydrated passing attack. He still has a lot to learn about playing wide receiver, though, and he may get fewer reps at that spot given the improvements he showed in pressing the hole and letting inside blocks develop as a ballcarrier last year.

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Then again, the Bills can keep Spiller wide as long as Fred Jackson is healthy. Though Buffalo started to shrivel before Jackson’s season-ending fractured fibula last November, there’s no arguing that the Pro Bowl-caliber veteran is a key to this offense. Not only is he a proficient inside and outside runner, but he’s also adept as a pass blocker and dangerous in the short passing game. It’s rare to see a team give a three-year contract to a 31-year-old running back, but at $10.75 million, the Bills got an absolute steal.

Though not regarded as fast, Jackson brings value because he handles the ball well out of a single-back set. Spiller does, too. This gives Buffalo’s spread offense a running dimension, which is vital considering the mediocrity of the wide receivers. The Bills could get even more dimension to their spreads by making Brad Smith a full-time slot weapon, but for whatever reason, they seem bent on grooming him into a Wildcat specialist.

Another reason the Bills go with the spread is that they have an offensive line that is rich in agility but poor in power. Joe D’Alessandris does a great job coaching this unit. Injuries have been a problem, players have been new to their positions, and sheer ability has been scarce in some spots. Yet the Bills’ front five was phenomenal at times last season in recognizing complicated pass protection assignments and playing as a unit.

Buddy Nix identified left tackle as a problem area this past offseason. To fix it, he gambled by spending a second-round pick on Georgia’s Cordy Glenn. The 6-foot-6, 343-pounder has obvious upside, but he spent the vast majority of his collegiate career at guard. The plan is to keep agile 2009 second-rounder Andy Levitre at the top guard spot. And the Bills would rather fill the right guard position with Kraig Urbik. Unless Glenn self-destructs, he’ll be groomed for the long haul at left tackle. The hope is he can supplant last year’s heavy-footed fourth-round pick, Chris Hairston, right away.

If Urbik struggles as he did in Pittsburgh, serviceable run-blocker Chad Rinehart could find himself back with the first unit. Rinehart doesn’t have great natural ability –- which may be why the Bills used a sixth-round pick on Mark Asper -– but he survived well enough as run-blocker when Urbik had to fill in at center after Eric Wood tore his ACL last November. The hope is that Wood can fully recover from a serious injury for the second time in his four-year career (you may recall the horrific compound leg fracture he suffered in 2009). The question is: can Wood recoup the mobility that makes him so effective in this space-oriented blocking scheme?

Rounding out the offensive line is overachieving right tackle Erik Pears, who must guard his job from fifth-rounder Zebrie Sanders. Sanders showed a good football IQ and natural talent at Florida State, but dropped in the draft because of alarming bouts of inconsistency. Because he played the left and right side in college, he could serve as a utility tackle (though Hairston has the early lead for that role). The Bills aren’t big on employing six-man lines, though, and would probably be more inclined to use 270-pound tight ends Scott Chandler and Lee Smith for blocking reinforcements.

DEFENSE

Fifty million dollars guaranteed was too much to spend on Mario Williams, especially given that the seventh-year pro has battled injuries for much of the past two years, but it’s easy to see why the Bills splurged. An impotent pass rush was by far the leading reason this defense ranked 30th in scoring and 26th in yards allowed last season. The Bills spent a lot of time in their dime package, where then-coordinator George Edwards ostensibly preferred to get pressure from a natural four-man rush rather than blitz.

Edwards was let go after the season. Linebackers coach Dave Wannstedt –- you may remember him from when he sat on the proverbial hot seat as the head coach in Chicago and Miami -– was promoted to coordinator and immediately declared the Bills a 4-3 defense. They’ve changed to a 4-3 defense several times in recent years ... usually shortly before or shortly after changing to a 3-4. The hope is that the schematic vacillation will cease under Wannstedt.

Williams’s arrival should help foster schematic stability. Though he himself transitioned to a quasi-outside linebacker in Houston’s 3-4 last year, he is as natural a 4-3 end as there ever was. Not only is he capable of turning the corner on passing downs, but he’s also a staunch playside anchor against the run. In recent years, poor run defense in the trenches has often been the propelling force behind Buffalo’s schematic flip-flopping.

Williams isn’t the only free agent end coming aboard. The Bills spent $8 million guaranteed in a four-year, $19.5 million deal to get Mark Anderson. He’s a speed-rushing specialist coming off a 10-sack campaign with the Patriots (his first double-digit sack season since his rookie year with the Bears in 2006). There will probably be plenty of optimism about Anderson’s ability to play the run, but anyone with access to 2007-10 film knows better. The Bills have a serviceable veteran in Chris Kelsay who can play on running downs. They can also experiment with 2010 third-round defensive end Alex Carrington or Spencer Johnson, a fairly nimble veteran who is experienced at operating in traffic.

Whatever the Bills do with Anderson, the focus must be on maximizing his pass-rushing prowess. They don’t have much in the way of other resources outside, as Shawne Merriman is a shell of his former self and third-year linebacker Arthur Moats, who has at times been used as a pass-rushing specialist, is still a work in progress.

The remodeled defensive end position makes it easy to overlook this front four’s encouraging prospects inside. Last year’s No. 3 overall pick, Marcell Dareus, lived up to the hype. Dareus can create congestion as a nose tackle or get penetration as a three-technique. He has uncommon body control and fluidity for a man of his size and should only get better with experience. That’s frightening for opponents, considering that the veteran next to him, Kyle Williams, offers a similarly diverse tableau of skills. Williams, who was medically cleared in June from his 2011 season-ending foot injury, doesn’t have Dareus’s raw talent, but he compensates with tenacity and wisdom. It will be tough for Dwan Edwards or massive third-year pro Torell Troup to snag a lot of snaps from this duo.

The worst part about Buffalo’s poor pass rush was that it nullified what turned out to be a pretty decent secondary. It was a secondary that wasn’t quite good enough to regularly play man coverage across the board, but the hope is this will change with veteran cornerback Drayton Florence being replaced by first-round rookie Stephon Gilmore. The speedy South Carolina Gamecock will start immediately; many scouts believe he’s already refined in two areas in which most rookie corners struggle: zone coverage and run defense.

Gilmore is more comfortable in off-coverage, so he may not play a lot of press technique. Rangy free safety Jairus Byrd will be more inclined to cheat to his side, as the other starting corner, 2011 second-round pick Aaron Williams, is comfortable playing press. The Bills showed a lot of faith in Williams down the stretch last season, even letting him defend Santonio Holmes with no help. Williams can play the slot, but that figures to be a better long-term home for playmaking veteran Terrence McGee. Injuries are a concern with the 31-year-old McGee, though. He missed 10 games last season, seven the year before, and five the year before that.

Depth at corner isn’t supposed to be an issue given that the Bills spent a first-round pick on Leodis McKelvin in 2008. However, McKelvin’s tendency for giving up big plays landed him on the pine last year, playing behind vulnerable seventh-rounder Justin Rogers. The Bills would presumably love for this year’s fourth-round pick, Ron Brooks, to beat out both McKelvin and Rogers.

Linebacker is the soft spot on this defense, which is why it wouldn’t be surprising to see Wannstedt copy predecessor George Edwards and play dime instead of nickel on passing downs. That would bring safety Bryan Scott on the field and take one of the linebackers off. Scott, who years ago lost some confidence after suffering a concussion, has regained a hold of his career as a specialty passing-down linebacker. He can’t rest on his laurels, though, because 2011 fourth-round pick Da’Norris Searcy got some valuable experience filling in for injured veteran George Wilson last November. Wilson, by the way, is one of the more underrated players in the game. He’s not fast, but he’s heady in the box and has a knack for getting around the ball.

As for the men making up this iffy linebacking unit: veteran Nick Barnett doesn’t quite play as fast as he used to, but he’s still serviceable on the strong side. He’ll be challenged by Arthur Moats, especially in the nickel package. Weakside man Kirk Morrison figures to struggle simply because, well, he has struggled for years now. Don’t be surprised if rookies Nigel Bradham or Tank Carder push him out. In the middle, second-year pro Kelvin Sheppard has a feel for attacking downhill, but a lack of flexibility in space may force him to the bench on third down.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Bills have long had one of football’s surest veteran kicking duos in Rian Lindell and punter Brian Moorman. There are rumblings that Moorman could be challenged by undrafted rookie Shawn Powell, which seems odd considering the two-time Pro Bowler averaged a career-high 48.2 yards per boot last season, but raw numbers aren’t everything with punting. In the return game, it’s weapons galore, as Justin Rogers, Brad Smith, C.J. Spiller, Leodis McKelvin and Terrence McGee have all been big playmakers.

BOTTOM LINE

This will be a telling year for the Bills. We’ll find out if they can truly win with a crafty scheme but limited quarterback. The defense should improve now that the front four has teeth, but a lot of young players will once again be adjusting to a new scheme.

Posted by: Andy Benoit on 13 Aug 2012

4 comments, Last at 18 Aug 2012, 2:31pm by Category5

Comments

1
by LifetimeBillsFan (not verified) :: Tue, 08/14/2012 - 3:08am

I could write a book about the things that Andy Benoit doesn't know or chose to ignore about the 2012 Bills.

First of all, Benoit fails to mention that Fitzpatrick's play last season deteriorated after he suffered broken ribs right after signing his contract extension. Fitzpatrick continued playing in part because he wanted to show that he was worthy of his contract extension and in part because the Bills were hit by a rash of injuries on both sides of the ball. This may have been foolhardy, but it one the respect of his teammates. The fact that Gailey stuck with Fitzpatrick speaks more to how bad Tyler Thigpen was/is as his back-up than to how bad Fitzpatrick is. Fitzpatrick is not an elite QB by any means--he's average, not horrible, but not great--but teams can win with an average QB under the right circumstances.

Benoit cites the lack of speed in the Bills' receiving corps as a reason to consider them mediocre at best. If he had checked their 40 times at The Combine in the years when they came out, Benoit would have discovered that Donald Jones, Marcus Easley and new additions David Clowney and TJ Graham all ran between 4.36 and 4.38. That's not blazing speed, but it is fast enough to get deep and keep defenses honest. The problem the Bills had last season was that they lost Easley for the season to a heart ailment right before the first game of the season and Jones after the sixth game. The loss of Jones, their only speed receiver coincided with the beginning of Fitzpatrick's decline as a passer. Without Jones to stretch the defense, opposing defenses were able to make the windows that Fitzpatrick had to throw through on the short and medium range routes in the Bills' passing game much smaller.

As for Brad Smith playing wide receiver, Benoit apparently didn't notice that the Bills tried Smith at WR last season and he was horrible. While Smith converted all but one of his third down attempts as the Wildcat QB before shifting to WR when injuries ravaged the Bills' receiving corps, he had trouble separating from coverage and showed such inconsistent hands as a wide-out that he was replaced by Derek Hagan two weeks after Hagan was signed off the street. While Smith has been adept at converting short yardage situations in the Wildcat, he is at best an emergency sixth WR. However mediocre Benoit may think the Bills' wide receiver corps may be, the Bills have at least seven (possibly eight) wide-outs in camp who are considerably better wide receivers than Brad Smith. For Benoit to think otherwise shows utter ignorance of Smith's performance at WR last season and his potential at the position in relation to the other receivers on the roster.

Moving on: Benoit doesn't have much good to say about the Bills' offensive line, even though it gave up the fewest sacks in the league last year and allowed Bills running backs to have one of the highest average yards per carry in the NFL, despite the fact that the Bills not only lost their starting center, Eric Wood, and left tackle, Demetress Bell, and were forced to shuffle their line for a couple of games before Chris Hairston took over as the starting left tackle as a rookie. One player who was a key to success of the Bills' offensive line was Kraig Urbik, who may have struggled in Pittsburgh, but had a fine season last year, even though he moved from right guard to take over as the starting center when Wood was lost for the season.

In talking about Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller, Benoit fails to mention that Jackson was second in the NFL in total yards per game when he was lost for the season with a broken leg. Or, that CJ Spiller averaged 5.0 yards per rush after replacing Jackson as the starting running back. Running the ball is critical in the cold and windy weather in Buffalo in October (when it is windy), November and December and the Bills have a solid running game with two very good, if underrated running backs. But, as good as those backs are, they wouldn't be able to be as productive as they were last year if their offensive line, banged up as it was last season, wasn't better than Benoit gives it credit for being.

Obviously Benoit hasn't been paying attention to what has been happening with the Bills' defense since training camp began, either.

Kyle Williams, who is a former Pro Bowl DT, has been raising havoc since his Achilles injury has healed following the surgery that ended his 2011 season less than a quarter of the way in. Shawne Merriman has also recovered from Achilles surgery and has been showing flashes of his former self as a situational player. The fact that the Bills did not have the services of both of these players by midseason in 2011 goes a long way to explain why their pass rush was so enemic. With Dave Wannstadt playing his defensive linemen in waves, their return to health and the additions of Mario Williams and Mark Anderson should give the Bills a much better pass rush and improve their ability to stop the run.

Nick Barnett, like Marcel Dareus, was one of the few bright spots in the Bills' front seven last season. If Benoit had watched more than one Bills' game last year, he would have seen that Barnett was all over the field in most games. In addition, he was an emotional leader as well. He looked very much like the player that he was in Green Bay before injuries sidelined him for the previous couple of seasons. Kelvin Sheppard, a leader of LSU's national championship team, was slowed by injuries in training camp, but moved into the starting lineup by the sixth game. Sheppard is more of a natural fit at middle linebacker in a 4-3 defense than in the 3-4 defense that the Bills ran last season. However, because Barnett is still excellent in pass coverage and the Bills have Bryan Scott, Benoit is correct in concluding that Sheppard won't play in nickle coverages. Scott, a former safety, will be playing linebacker exclusively this season and will be a specialist in the Bills' nickle and dime packages. Scott's ability in pass coverage will be an asset in a division where all three of the other teams have excellent tight ends. But, Benoit missed the fact that Arthur Moats appears to have finally found a position, taking the lead in the fight for the starting strong-side linebacker position over Kirk Morrison. Barnett will be a three-down LB, playing WLB in three LB sets. Sheppard, at MLB, and Moats (or Morrison), at SLB, will play in three LB sets, too, but will give way to Scott when the Bills go to their nickle and dime packages. Scott McKillop, Nigel Bradham, Tank Carder and Chris White will fight for the back-up jobs with Morrison/Moats. McKillop and White both have shown themselves to be excellent special teams players in the past before suffering injuries.

D'Norris Searcy is NOT a linebacker. He is a strong safety. Although only in his second year, at present he is the only "veteran" safety on the Bills' roster behind Jairus Byrd and George Wilson. While the Bills have a couple of rookie safeties in camp, Buddy Nix and Chan Gailey have both stated that they would like to add another veteran safety once rosters are reduced. Byrd made it to the Pro Bowl as a rookie based on the interceptions that he made, but actually had a better all-around season last year as he improved his tackling and in run-support.

Benoit must have had Stephon Gilmore and Aaron Williams mixed up or hadn't watched (or read about) the Bills' in training camp so far. Gilmore has drawn rave reviews from all of his teammates not only for his coverage skills, but also for his physical play. Aaron Williams, on the other hand, may be a big cornerback, but he has struggled at times in camp. Leodis McKelvin, however, seems to have found a spot playing in the slot with Terrance McGee still recovering from offseason surgery (McGee has just begun to take team reps). Ron Brooks has taken advantage of his opportunities, snagging an interception in the Bills' first preseason game and garnering praise from Chan Gailey for his progress so far. Brooks, who has blazing speed, couldn't beat out Patrick Peterson, Morris Claiborne or Tyran Mathieu for a starting spot at cornerback at LSU, but he has talent, as evidenced by the fact that he was the first CB off the bench for the excellent LSU defense. He and Justin Rogers, who flashed ability as a rookie, provide good depth for the Bills' defense. With Kyle Williams and Shawne Merriman back and healthy and the additions of Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, the Bills' young secondary should also be helped by a better pass rush--a point that Benoit barely chose to infer.

While the points that I have mentioned in correcting Benoit's analysis of the Bills may seem small, taken together they present a significantly picture of the team and its prospects. Fitzpatrick will have to integrate the changes in mechanics that David Lee has been teaching him and play more like he did before being injured in the Washington game. He will be greatly helped if Donald Jones and TJ Graham, who has a long way to go but has sparkled in camp, can stay healthy and, along with either Derek Hagan or Marcus Easley, can keep opposing defenses honest. Cordy Glenn will undoubtedly have his bad moments as a rookie LT, but, if he can play as well as Hairston did as a rookie and the rest of the offensive line can stay healthy, the Bills will have a very good running game. If the defense can gell and the young players can take the step up that should be expected from them, particularly after having a full offseason that they did not have before last season, the Bills should be greatly improved.

The Bills lost more man-games from their starters than any other team in the NFL except perhaps one last season. That forced the team to play a lot of young players who now have some experience under their belt. While the Bills still need to add more talent to become serious title contenders, the team has more depth and talent that it has had in years. If the Bills can stay healthy, they have a chance to take the next step up and be in the mix for a playoff berth.

Much will depend on Fitzpatrick who will likely see the Bills draft his replacement in next year's draft if he doesn't step up his game and display more consistency. But, Buddy Nix and Chan Gailey have been slowly but surely adding talent and building this team back to respectability. The team had a taste of winning early last season before all the injuries struck, now the team must learn to win consistently and sustain the winning throughout the season. That won't be easy, but, contrary to Benoit's analysis, the team appears to finally have the talent and depth needed to begin that process.

2
by Dean :: Tue, 08/14/2012 - 9:08am

Wow. The funny thing is, when I read the column, I walked away thinking that Benoit must be a Bills fan.

4
by Category5 (not verified) :: Sat, 08/18/2012 - 2:31pm

I think your analysis doesn't deviate too much from what Andy wrote. I'll preface this comment by revealing that I'm a Jet fan, but capable of seeing the division rivals with an unbiased eye. Andy, correctly in my view, sees the Bills' receiving corps as mediocre. They get a lot of mileage because Chan Gailey has designed a system that accents the strengths of the QB ( mental quickness, lack of downfield arm strength ) and the lack of a vertical threat at WR. They've done very little to change that this offseason. I agree with you about Brad Smith, he's a marginal pass receiver, but very effective as a kickoff returner and a wildcat formation player. But don't hang your hopes on Donald Jones, TJ Graham, Marcus Easley and David Clowney. David Clowney? Really? We had him here in New York. He's a great player in August but when it counts he won't be. The other receivers have good timed speed, but that means nothing during games. MAybe Jones can step it up--we'll see.

I like their defense a lot. That line, if healthy, is INSANELY good. The secondary is fine and the linebackers are solid. They'll have to lean on their defense because the O has too many unresolved limitations. They'll compete with the Jets for second place in the division. If the Jets implode, they might sneak into the playoffs, but I wouldn't bet that way.

3
by justanothersteve :: Tue, 08/14/2012 - 4:51pm

Ah, the optimism of pre-season. All below average teams are at least average. All average teams can make the playoffs. Good teams are all favorites for the Super Bowl. Last year's rookies and new starters will make the leap to all-pro. The top draft pick will finally fill that hole at (fill in position), even though he was picked because he was the best player available regardless of position. That fourth round pick was a steal who dropped because of character issues/low Wonderlic score/less the expected athleticism at the combine. The sixth round pick will make an impact as the #3 WR or change-of-pace RB. The wily veteran who was banged up with injuries for the last two years is healthy and playing like he's 24 again. The coach says this is the best team he's ever coached. Everybody is wearing their team color glasses (mine are green and gold). Damn, I love this time of year.