A middle-of-the-road offense led by a quarterback who made too many mistakes and a defense that could not stop opponents doomed the Buffalo Bills to a 6-10 record, extending the team’s stretch of non-playoff seasons to 14.

But this is not a team devoid of talent. C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson could be a potent running back combo and Stevie Johnson is a solid wide receiver. Mario Williams heads a defense that is already getting reworked.

So just what kind of a project did new head coach Doug Marrone get himself into? Jack Goods, co-editor of BuffaLowDown tells us the Bills could be a quarterback away from being a pretty good team.

Zoneblitz: What did you think of the decision to fire head coach Chan Gailey and keep Buddy Nix as general manager?

Goods: It was surely Chan Gailey’s time to go. He invested all his stock into Ryan Fitzpatrick, and he turned out to be wrong. This team has had talent in his time here, but just never lived up to potential. They needed to try something new, and it started at the coaching position. Gailey was a very nice guy, he just made some god awful coaching decisions. As for Buddy Nix, although he hasn’t been fired it appears that he will be stepping down sometime this off-season to retire or take on another role in the organization. Assistant GM Doug Whaley is expected to step into the role after the draft.

Zoneblitz: What do you think of the hiring of Doug Marrone?

Goods: I’ve been a fan of the Doug Marrone hiring since day one. Sure, it wasn’t the flashiest move in the world, but I think Marrone is the kind of coach this team really needs. He’s a young, up-and-coming guy, a nice change up from the old men we’ve gotten used to seeing run this team. I’m optimistic that things will work out, but it’s obviously not a certainty.

Zoneblitz: What’s the future of Ryan Fitzpatrick and what does the quarterback position look like heading into 2013?

Goods: Like most fans in Buffalo, I think it’s time for Ryan Fitzpatrick to go. There were games that they lost simply because he wasn’t good enough. The only problem is that they have a lot of money tied up with him and the quarterbacks available in the draft aren’t up to par with the draft classes of the past. Even recently signed Tarvaris Jackson sounds better than another year of Fitz. Sadly, it’s starting to look more and more like he will be back.

Zoneblitz: How do you expect to see C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson used in 2013?

Goods: They will probably use both Spiller and Jackson in some way or another next season. Spiller proved last season that he is the better running back on this team and is much more effective when he gets a majority of the playing time. Gailey didn’t know how to use the new backs, but as we’ve seen around the league having two strong running backs isn’t out of the ordinary. It’s all about knowing how to manage them.

Zoneblitz: What else does the offense need to take a step forward?

Goods: For the offense to really get stronger, besides quarterback, they need to bolster the wide receiver unit. Besides Stevie Johnson, they lack a solid number two receiver. David Nelson will be returning from injury, which should help some. T.J. Graham also had a decent rookie season. The team has already announced that they will not bring back Donald Jones, who served as the number two receiver for most of last season. That creates even more of a hole, even if Jones wasn’t exactly the best in the world. What this team really needs is a big (as in size) receiver to line up across Johnson.

Zoneblitz: In a post on your site, you described the Bills 2012 defense as historically bad. What were the shortcomings and how does that unit get fixed?

Goods: The defense just couldn’t stop people at points last season. They couldn’t stop the run, and they couldn’t stop the pass either. They gave up a historical amount of yards in games against the Patriots and 49ers, and it came down to the players just not being good enough. Until the second half of the season, the defensive line wasn’t living up to expectations. The linebackers did live up to their expectations but sadly, those expectations were that they would be very poor. They recently released Nick Barnett, who many thought to be the best member of the group. They put a lot on their young cornerbacks, Aaron Williams and Stephon Gilmore. Gilmore showed signed of becoming a solid starter in the future, but he did struggle with penalties. Williams looked a bit more lost. Its a defense in transition, and a defense that certainly needs Jairus Byrd to be back next season.

Zoneblitz: How consequential are the losses of Terrence McGee, Nick Barnett and George Wilson, who have been cut since the season ended?

Goods: McGee and Wilson were dead weight. McGee has been injured a lot in the past few years, and wasn’t starting anymore. He wasn’t the player that he used to be. Wilson blew coverage on many occasions and dropped sure interceptions (which is funny for a former wide receiver). As I said earlier, Barnett is a little trickier. He was a solid signing when he was brought to Buffalo, and probably would have looked a lot better if the rest of the linebackers were better than they were. Now almost the entire unit is incredibly young, and in my eyes even worse than they were last season. I think things are starting to point towards a linebacker with the first overall pick and signing a free agent like Bart Scott for next season.

Zoneblitz: What went wrong with Mario Williams in 2012 and how does he come around going forward?

Goods: If you look at the year as a whole, Mario Williams was alright. His 10.5 sacks were decent, and in some games he really looked like the player that the Bills hoped he would. The problem was it wasn’t consistent. There were times where he was absolutely invisible. Hopefully new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine can make him look a bit better.

Zoneblitz: Are there any players on the current roster you could see having a breakout season in 2013?

Goods: I don’t think there are any real breakout players, but there are some guys who should be getting better. One player to watch out for is Kyle Moore, if he does return to the team in free agency. He really broke out last season when no one expected anything from him. He had a solid 3.5 sacks and 24 tackles. Not one of the big name defensive linemen, but he did produce.

Zoneblitz: What do you think the Bills should do in free agency and in the draft?

Goods: I’ve kind of already alluded to what I think the Bills should do this off-season. There isn’t a quarterback worth the eighth overall pick. They should take a linebacker or defensive back. If Jarvis Jones is available, they should definitely take him. If there are players available, they should answer the quarterback question in the second round. If not, they should try and answer it in some other way.

Zoneblitz: Just how far is this team from being a playoff contender?

Goods: I think this team is closer to the playoffs than many will give them credit for. When it comes to success in the NFL, it starts with the quarterback. If the Bills get a solid one, things will look a ton different. Solve a few of the team’s weaknesses, and they certainly could be in the conversation.

Zoneblitz: What do you think of the team’s decision to renew the annual Toronto home game?

Goods: Oh, Toronto. It’s not fun to see, but I can understand why the Bills do it. No one goes to the game, and as Eric Wood said last season it’s kind of a joke. I guess it is good for Bills fans to see that Toronto is proving they wouldn’t support an NFL team. That being said, it’s never nice to see that your team is losing one of their eight home games. They are trying to extend the brand, just like they did with Rochester. It doesn’t seem to be working though. I was surprised to see it extended, but it isn’t the most shocking thing in the world.

Follow Jack Goods on Twitter at: @GoodsOnSabres
Follow BuffaLowDown on Twitter at: @BuffLowDown
Follow Zoneblitz.com on Twitter at: @ZoneblitzCom

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