Dec 29, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone watches from the sideline as they take on the New England Patriots during the first quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Last season saw the Bills struggle to a dismal 6-10 record, finishing 4-8 after starting off the season 2-2. Reason for the Bills woes in 2013 can be traced back to multiple factors, however the main factors were QB injuries and their defenses inability to stop the run. In 2013, the Bills pass defense was phenomenal, allowing only 204.4 yards and 1.75 passing touchdowns per game and only 5 games of 300+ yards to opposing quarterbacks. Now where the Bills really struggled though was their permeable run defense. All season long the Bills front 7 allowed an average of 128.9 rushing yards per game to opposing teams, including 11 games of over 100 yards. In their last 7 games of the season, the Bills managed to give up an average of 137.28 yards per game along with 8 rushing touchdowns to opposing backs. While their 28 passing touchdowns allowed wasn’t the greatest statistic this season for the Bills, I think they need to help out their front 7, particularly their line backing corps if they’re going to improve next season. Where the Bills could most use their #9 overall pick would best be at the OLB position. This season weak side LB Nigel Bradham was less than stellar, tackling opponents a combined 51 times with 0 sacks. Although sacks aren’t indicative of a LB true performance, the Sophomore LB (selected in the 4th round in 2012 out of Florida State), Bradham didn’t record a single tackle for loss, nor a single interception or forced fumble. It’s about time the Bills select a play-maker on defense who can get to the running back early and stopping the run at it’s origins, while breaking up potential touchdown passes over the middle.
For the Bills, their offense definitely has the talent, it is just a matter of that talent producing the way it is expected to. Former 16th overall selection E.J. Manuel was injured early on in the season, leaving the Bills passing game in the hands of untrustworthy Thaddeus Lewis and Jeff Tuel. It is no wonder that the Bills averaged the 5th-least passing yards per game (193.9 yards per game) this season. Had Manuel not gotten injured, then perhaps the Bills would have had a decent chance at making the playoffs this past season. In Manuel’s first four games before his injury, he averaged 214 yards per game along with a passing touchdown in every single game. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still a definite work in progress, seeing as though his play has been rather inconsistent this season. Against New York and Atlanta, Manuel completed 63.3% of his passes for 200 yards and 1.5 passing touchdowns per game as the Bills split the two-game stretch. On the flip side however, Manuel has had poorly played games as well, most notably weeks 10 and 14 where Manuel completed just 55.45% of his passes for 169.5 yards and one single touchdown, while throwing an atrocious 5 interceptions against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, respectively. In reality there was a lot that Manuel could have improved on in his rookie season, but I believe if he has a lot of good talent surrounding him, he can turn the NFL and this Buffalo ball club on it’s head.
With that said, the Bills need to concentrate on loading up in the draft and going out and getting that surrounding talent. For instance the Bills most definitely need to go out and get a stout offensive lineman, perhaps Jake Mathews (if he’s not already picked) of Texas A&M or Cyrus Kouandjio out of the University of Alabama. Whomever they go with on the offensive line, the Bills need to protect their QBs who were sacked 48 times last season (ranked 4th-most in the NFL). If the Bills are going to be able to win some games this season, they need to beef up at the offensive tackle and guard positions, which will in fact give Manuel more time in the pocket and help out this Bills’ explosive running attack (ranked 2nd in the NFL with 144.2 yards per game). On the other hand, the Bills run defense allowing 128.9 yards per game is not acceptable. They have one of the most talented defenses in all of football with inside LB Kiko Alonso (159 total tackles, 11 tackles for loss and 4 interceptions), future hall-of-fame defensive end Mario Williams (13.0 sacks, 5 tackles for loss) and former 1st-round pick and Troy Trojan Leodis McKelvin (20 total passes defended). This Bills defense had no problem getting to the QB, sacking opposing signal-callers 57 times (2nd-most in the NFL this season). The real problem has been the defenses ability to protect the pass over the middle and stopping the run. If the Bills can add perhaps another defensive tackles and outside linebacker, I see them going far this upcoming season. Look for the Bills to get LB-DE Khalil Mack (ironically out of the University of Buffalo) or UCLA LB Anthony Barr in the early rounds to strengthen their line backing corps and help stop opposing running games.