It has been an interesting season for the Bills. Despite still being “in the hunt” at 3-4, there doesn’t seem to be much confidence from fans across Western New York. The defense hasn’t even begun to live up to their preseason hype, the quarterback play has led to preorders of Smith and Barkley jerseys and the coaching has left something to be desired as well. However, it isn’t all doom and gloom for the Bills.
There have been plenty of bright spots amongst the sea of darkness that has included historically bad losses to the Jets, Patriots, 49ers and a last minute heartbreaker to the Titans. Between the running game, the further development of players like Jairus Byrd and the long awaited renaissance of the offensive line, there are things to like about this team. In fact, if some of the shortcomings can be battled, the Bills may be a little closer to contending than they have shown at times.
Thunder and Lightning
The duo of Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller has been a dominant offensive force for the Bills this season. Their success has elevated the running game from an effective wrinkle to what should be the primary motor for the offense. Spiller and Jackson have been splitting time every two series and the results have been strong. While it isn’t an ideal situation – as both have voiced in recent weeks – they’re still producing impressive numbers. The development of the every two series rotation seems to have really helped Jackson get into the groove of each game and has made him a more effective weapon.
As the second half of the season commences, Chan Gailey needs to devote more of his offense to the run. Jackson and Spiller ground up 140 yards on just 20 carries against Tennessee but the run game disappeared when the Bills needed to milk the clock with a tenuous lead. If Gailey can swallow his pride and get the pair closer to 40 touches (30-35 being more realistic), his offense and winning percentage should be the beneficiary.
Out of the box stat: Spiller and Jackson have combined for 1,027 yards in total offense, which accounts for 45% of the Bills offense this year. It would also put them on pace for 2,200 yards.The 1,027 yards in total offense is more than Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster and Frank Gore have.
Jairus Byrd’s sophomore slump earned him plenty of detractors in Buffalo. But the evolution of his game last year and into the 2012 season has been a revelation. Byrd is easily Buffalo’s most effective defensive back and it shows on a weekly basis. He had two pivotal picks against Arizona and has been a visible contributor against both the pass and run. Byrd could potentially have even better numbers if the pass rush was contributing on a more consistent basis, but his numbers are still impressive on a defense that hasn’t been.
Another player I have liked is Stephon Gilmore. There have been a few occasions where he has looked lost this year, which is to be expected. However, his game has progressed quite well to this point in the year. I fully expect him to stand out for the wrong reasons against Houston and the Patriots, but I don’t expect it to be as glaring as the struggles Aaron Williams has had. Gilmore hasn’t registered a takeaway at this point, but I expect him to break the shutout before the season is out.
Out of the Box stat: Stephon Gilmore's 10 pass defenses are the most by a rookie and is only three off for the 3rd most in the NFL.
At long last, an offensive line
Not since the days of House Ballard, Will Wolford and Kent Hull has there been as impressive as an offensive line playing for the Bills. Even with the number of injuries the unit has dealt with, they have held firm. Play finally started to tail off in recent weeks. With Kraig Urbik set to return on Sunday and with Cordy Glenn having a chance to come back as well, the line could be back to full go this week. They will need the help against an aggressive Texans front seven.
What is more encouraging is what the development of this line could mean for the future. In my opinion, one of the main things that led to JP Losman’s demise (aside from his happy feet) was the lack of a consistent offensive line in front of him. Based on the glaring need for a franchise quarterback, I would have to think the Bills will be selecting one quite early in April’s draft. Putting a green QB behind a stout offensive line is going to do wonders for his development and should do wonders for the success of the Bills.
Out of the box stat: The Bills have given up only 31 sacks over their last 23 games. That's the least amount of sacks given up in the NFL during that span. They are also ranked 2nd in the league in yards per rushing attempt. Their 5.3 yards a carry is better than what the offensive line averaged during OJ's 2000 yard season in 1973.