Ryan Fitzpatrick got off to a hot start in 2011 and, in following his lead, so did the Buffalo Bills. Seven games in, the Bills sat at 5-2 and looked to be a real playoff contender. Then Fitzpatrick cooled and the team ran off seven losses in a row.
So who are the real Bills? Does Chan Gailey have this team on the right track? Or will Buffalo and the team’s fans struggle to climb from the basement of the AFC East once again in 2012? Brian Galliford, editor-in-chief of BuffaloRumblings.com, shared his thoughts with Zoneblitz.
Zoneblitz: Bills got off to a hot start and then fizzled as the season wore on, resulting in a 6-10 finish and a two game improvement from last season. Is the season a success, a failure or somewhere in between and why?
Brian Galliford: I tend to side with generic coach speak opinion on this matter: any season with a losing record and no playoff berth can’t be categorized as anything but a failure. No NFL team has gone longer without a playoff appearance than the Bills, and searching for hidden gems in a 6-10 season can’t sugar coat the fact that the team is still a ways away from ending that drought.
Zoneblitz: What are your thoughts on the job Chan Gailey is doing as coach?
Galliford: He’s done a great job with Buffalo’s offense, which is now respectable after being downright horrific during the Dick Jauron era. As a head coach, he’s average – perhaps slightly below average – and had a slew of questionable personnel and game-management decisions this past season. No coach gets all of those calls right, but Gailey needs to start making more of them correctly.
Zoneblitz: Can Dave Wannstedt turn the defense around?
Galliford: Not without more talent and better luck on the injury front, no. Bill Belichick is considered a defensive mastermind, and the Patriots had one of the worst defenses in the league this year because they’re aging, thin and not overly talented. Coaches can only do so much; they need players to succeed.
Zoneblitz: Ryan Fitzpatrick was signed to a long-term deal this season and then his play fell off dramatically. Is he the Bills’ quarterback of the future?
Galliford: Fitzpatrick signed his deal and then shredded the Redskins; then his play fell off dramatically. He is the Bills’ quarterback of the foreseeable future; I seriously doubt that the contract he signed will prohibit the team from drafting a long-term guy if they like one, particularly given the rookie wage scale.
Zoneblitz: Fred Jackson started off as one of the league’s best backs before getting hurt. What is his status going into next season?
Galliford: The day after the regular season finale, Jackson told reporters that he was less than two weeks away from being cleared by doctors to begin running again. He’ll be healthy going into next year, and he does everything so well that it’s still tough to imagine C.J. Spiller eating away too many of his reps. The big question regarding Jackson is whether or not he’ll get the lucrative contract extension he’s sought (and earned).
Zoneblitz: Jackson’s injury did give the Bills an opportunity to take a long look at CJ Spiller. What were your thoughts on his season?
Galliford: He looked good and was productive with the ball in his hands in the final six games of the season. It’s also clear, however, that Gailey doesn’t trust Spiller nearly as much as he did Jackson, as Tashard Choice took a lot of Spiller’s pass-blocking and red zone reps. It’ll take a lot more than that six-game stretch for Gailey to believe Spiller can be a No. 1 back capable of handling a full work load.
Zoneblitz: Where would you like to see the team focus its resources in the draft, free agency and other portions of the offseason?
Galliford: They need to get significantly better at doing the things winning teams do: stop the run, rush the passer and play quarterback. Every team tries to upgrade in those departments every year, however, which makes it tremendously difficult to accomplish those tasks. Beyond that, they just need better players and more depth across the entire roster. Beggars can’t be choosers.
Zoneblitz: The Toronto series expires after next season. Will that be continued?
Galliford: All indications are that, yes, the Toronto series will be extended.