One of the biggest questions surrounding the Buffalo Bills for the upcoming season is whether or not the offense will be able to take the next step forward and make the most of the extra possessions that will inevitably come with having a much improved defense. Finishing with a ranking of 14th overall last year was a big boost for a unit that is still trying to find an identity and grow into head coach Chan Gailey’s complex system.
The limited amount of personnel moves should come as a surprise to no one. It’s clearly evident that Buddy Nix and Chan Gailey whole-heartedly believe in their core group of players. Under Buddy Nix and Gailey, the Bills have implemented a strategic plan for identifying and developing the players on their roster that they feel can play specific roles. This has becoming increasingly more evident by the way their quick strike offense has been set up.
For three years now the team has started to collect big, stout offensive lineman who can attack the opponent’s defensive front seven. Several unheralded players such as Eric Pears, Chad Rinehart, Kraig Urbik and Chris Hairston join rookie 2nd round draft pick Cordy Glenn and mainstays Eric Wood and Andy Levitre, on a line that will continually physically wear down and “body” defensive lines all game long. What was just as impressive as their tremendous job of consistently opening up holes in the run game was the fact that this oft-injured (patchwork at time last year) line was able to keep QB Ryan Fitzpatrick upright, allowing the least quarterback sacks in the league last year. A large part of the credit has to go to the Bills effective utilization of their “zone blocking” scheme. The Bills employ a blocking scheme similar to the one that Mike Shanahan perfected with the Denver Broncos in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.
This particular type of blocking scheme calls for offensive linemen to team up to protect an area of the field, particularly against teams that stunt or slant to a defensive gap on the snap of the ball. For example, a tackle and guard may team up to block a linebacker and defensive tackle, the blocking scheme for each offensive player depending on whether the linebacker and tackle play straight up or the linebacker stunts inside. Zone blocking depends on the concept of team blocking, and its principles are built by getting movement off the line of scrimmage, blocking all gaps and seams, and securing an area to the play-side of the hole.
The end result of running the ball this way is that it allows for backs with great vision and patience to be especially effective. Anyone who regularly watches the Bills will agree that watching Freddy set up his blocks downfield is a thing of beauty. You can already tell that CJ Spiller has benefited exponentially from watching Jackson handle his business on the field. He thrived when he was thrown into the starting lineup last year after Fred went down with his leg injury. CJ has made strides in becoming an every down back. More than anything it’s his ball-carrying vision and patience that has greatly improved since his rookie year. You can bet the house that watching Jackson has had everything to do with it.
This year with Fred Jackson playing in his prime and CJ Spiller getting ready to explode onto the national scene, all while playing behind one of THE BEST offensive lines in the league, I fully expect this two-headed monster to terrorize the NFL. I believe this will become the year wear FredEx and CJ are passed the torch for best running back duo in the league.
PREDICTION: *Fred Jackson 1,375 yards rushing – 11 all purpose TD’s *CJ Spiller 939 yards rushing– 13 all purpose TD’s
One of the biggest surprises of the off season was the Bills decision to decline bringing in a proven #2 wide receiver. After a failed attempt to sign UFA Robert Meachem, the team never did more than even blink at the rest of the WR free agent pool. This told me precisely two things about the Chan Gailey and the Bills coaching staff. The first of which is that they really liked Bob Meachem and probably believed he was by far and away the best WR available fit for the scheme across from Stevie Johnson on the outside. After Meachem signed his contract with Chargers, their has been several other high profile, veteran receivers available including the likes of Braylon Edwards, Bernard Berrian, Mike Sims-Walker, Terrell Owens, Plaxico Burress all of which, to varying extents could serve as the team’s #2 receiver on at least a one-year contract/basis.
Chan Gailey has gone on record several times this offseason stating that both he and his coaching staff are A LOT higher on their receiving core than most people outside of the locker room are. Fortunately for us, that’s definitely a good sign of things to come for the current group. If we know one thing, it’s that Gailey and Nix are blunt to a fault. They tell it like they see it. Like I mentioned in my Defensive Season Preview, the two southern boys have done more than enough to have earned the trust of Bills fans.
In his 3rd year in Gailey’s spread system, cerebral QB Ryan Fitzpatrick orchestrates a quick strike passing offense in which Fitzpatrick deftly distributes the ball to his receivers in a similar fashion to that of a point guard in the NBA. It has become a perfect system for the Bills field general to take advantage of his strong points. The offense, predicated by timely throws to receivers in space to maximize yards after the catch, is a great fit for Fitzpatrick’s ability to dissect coverage and his quick release on throws. It’s that quick release and stellar play of his offensive line that should allow him to remain relatively clean. If the offensive line can begin to jell and grow as a unit, don’t be surprised to see the Bills take more shots down the field this yard. Better pass protection and the arrival of young deep threats like TJ Graham and Marcus Easley, should balance a passing game that has generally been more of a horizontal attack by creating some big play potential down the field. With the improvement of his throwing mechanics under the tutelage of new quarterbacks coach David Lee, Fitzpatrick may finally have the necessary touch and accuracy to make him a certified gunslinger in the NFL. Let’s hope so, because the Bills are already paying him like one
PREDICTION: *Ryan Fitzpatrick 4,214 yards passing –33TD’s, 15INT’s
In terms of the production the Bills look for in their wide receiving corps, players that see the field are expected to know every receiver position, be an able blocker, and have the timing of their routes in sync with the quarterback. “The horizontal timing concepts allow the quarterback to make quick reads. Horizontal timing concepts allow Buffalo quarterbacks to get rid of the ball very quickly, a plus for the quarterback and the offensive line.”
Second, as Buffalo Rumblings pointed out in article earlier this summer, Gailey likes to allow his playmakers a lot of freedom to win one-on-one matchups with defenders. Horizontal timing requires quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to throw to a spot on the field. The receiver’s job is to be there at a specific time. How he gets there is up to the receiver. Gailey preaches “beat the man.” Part of that is beating the defender in coverage to the spot. Beating the man begins and ends with Stevie Johnson. The past two seasons have shown that SJ13 is a legitimate number one receiver in the NFL. Stevie who is one of the best route runners in league put up his second consecutive 1,000 yard+ season facing every team’s best cover man, all while playing with a partially torn groin. The scary part is that he has yet to reach his full potential. Look for Stevie to increase has consistency and build on his numbers from the last two seasons finding himself in the Pro Bowl at year’s end. (A lot of you know that Stevie owns Revis, few of you remember he’s owned him since his rookie year.)
PREDICTION: *Stevie Johnson 92 REC 1,316 yards –12 TD’s
Donald Jones could be the one Bills player primed for a breakout season. Jones has the speed and size to effectively make plays on the outside with the strength to break tackles, and being a great blocker in the run game. The former undrafted free agent from Youngstown State should be able to take advantage of a ton of single coverage on his side.
PREDICTION: *Donald Jones 63 REC 789yards –5 TD’s
For all intents and purposes David Nelson serves as the teams #2 wide receiver. Operating out of the slot allows for Nelson to consistently beat defensive coverage down the seam and be a reliable 3rd down target for Fitzpatrick with his height and his strong hands.
PREDICTION: *David Nelson 79 REC 894yards – 7TD’s
Scott Chandler is the poster child for under the radar pick-ups by the Nix and Gailey regime. The two managed to pry Chandler out of Dallas by attempting to sign one of the Cowboys other young tight ends knowing there was a good chance they would leave Chandler susceptible to being picked up through waivers. The plan worked and the Bills brass ended up with the big, sure-handed tight end that they coveted. Chandler is a good safety valve when plays break down and a great red zone target.
PREDICTION: *Scott Chandler 41 REC 487yards -6 TD’s
The jury is still out on H-back Dorin Dickerson. The former Pitt Panther seems to really have caught on with the Bills after spending times with three other teams in his young career. Gailey likes what Dickerson offers as a receiver out of the backfield and as a blocker. He’s freakishly athletic at 6’2, 227lbs. and still runs in the 4.4 range. Expect Dorin to be used in a Chris Cooley-esque way this season. His speed alone could make for a few big receptions this season.
When all is said and done, the 2012 season should see the Buffalo Bills offense, become a top 10 unit in the NFL. Stay tuned for more in depth analysis as the season goes on, by yours truly “Vagabonds”.