Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Ball of the Foot

In comments to this post, Roger points out that I haven't talked much about the Buffalo Bills lately, even as they've been playing quite a bit better compared to their first month of this season (when they were mildly OK), or the second month (when they descended into the Pits of Suckitude). I still enjoy football, and I still root for the Bills with all the lustiness my lungs can summon, but I figure that since the team's problems are pretty much the same as they've been for the previous four years I've faithfully blogged the Bills, why keep repeating myself?

But to sum up anyway, I'm encouraged by JP Losman's play over the last five or six games. After a couple of horrible outings (against the Bears, who are very good, and the Lions, who are very not) in which Losman played about as badly as an NFL quarterback can play without getting benched, he's shown a lot of maturity in addressing his weaknesses, in leading the team on the field, in making good decisions with greater frequency and consistency. I can't look at Losman and definitively state that he could be the guy to eventually bring this team a championship, but I don't for one second think that he's guaranteed to be crappy either. For me, Losman's earned the reins in 2007. He's learned, he's grown, he's rebounded from some very bad games, he's executed a couple of successful comebacks (and narrowly missed on a couple of others).

Put it this way: even if Losman is right now as good as he's ever going to be (which is possible, I grant, since I'm unable to predict the future), he's still not in the top three of the problems the team's management will need to address this coming offseason.

Much press was made about a month ago when the Bills' coaches decided to shuffle the offensive line, stacking things so their best players are at least all on one side of center (the left side, actually), so at least theoretically they could rely on that side to get things done. That's worked fairly well as sacks have gone down, rushing yardage has gone up, and Losman's had time to look at the field and find open receivers (Lee Evans, more often than not). But I don't want to oversell the line right now: it's become "adequate". There's some encouraging stuff going on there, but I still believe that offensive line has to be a major priority this offseason, either in the draft or free agency (preferably, both).

Defensively, the team seems to give up lots of yards but make enough big plays to stay alive in games. That kind of defensive philosophy can make games fun to watch, but rarely will you win with a "bend but don't break" approach to defense. (I've always believed that Walt Corey's "bend but don't break" D was the prime culprit in the Bills losing four Super Bowls in a row.) They've got to get tougher at the line of scrimmage, preferably with some kind of big guy who can stuff the run in the middle and let those speedy ends do their thing.

What of Nate Clements, the soon-to-be free agent cornerback who's almost certain to leave this year? I'm fine with him going. He's a very good player and he'll be tough to replace, but I've always found him inconsistent and very much of a "Me!" type of guy. And besides, if the Bills can make the defensive line significantly better going into next year, that will somewhat accomodate the departure of the team's best CB.

As for all the bad vibes in the air right now about the increasing suspicion in these parts that the NFL is pricing itself out of cities like Buffalo, I'm just not in the mood to write about that right now, except to note that my optimism about this region is as high as usual, and that maybe if we can just figure it out in the short term, in a decade or so this region will again be rich enough that we won't have to worry so damned much about the future Toronto Bills.

I do think they should tarp over some of the seats at Ralph Wilson Stadium for next year, however. It makes no sense to me that, to take one example, Gilette Stadium (home of the New England Stupid Patriots) seats 68,000 people in service to a metro area (Boston, MA) of over 4,000,000 people, while Ralph Wilson Stadium has over 72,000 seats in service to a metro area of just over 1,000,000 people. (Over two million, actually, if Rochester, NY is included -- but still, we have more seats for far fewer people. Makes no sense.) I'm not one to get into handwringing over the fact that the Bills have failed to sell out their last three home games; fatigue over this team's mediocre results was bound to set in sooner or later, and the Bills occasionally had trouble selling out during the Super Bowl years (that famed Wild Card game in 1993, for example, when the Bills overcame that 35-3 deficit, was blacked out locally). The atmosphere at the Stadium has a fairly raucous reputation right now, the NHL Sabres are incredibly hot right now, and there was that wild storm in October that hit a lot of people squarely in their wallets. I don't think the recent spate of blacked-out games is something from which we can draw conclusions about this franchise's viability.

But hey, the Bills clobbered the Dolphins today. Hooray!

And I wasn't going to link this, but then five or six people e-mailed me the thing, so there it is. If life were a German opera, Tom Brady would be in the part of the story where the Devil comes back to exact the horrible price for the magic bullets he's just bought.

Finally, since I'm in the midst of a big football post, I may as well bitch a bit about the Football Outsiders site. The degree to which these guys are anti-JP Losman is really irritating. Each week, they have a column where they cover nearly every game -- except, in a few recent weeks, they've either made absolutely no mention of Losman at all in games in which he's played well (like the Jacksonville game), or not even mentioned the game in the first place (they managed to utterly ignore the Houston game, the San Diego game, and more). No real point here, but it sometimes seems that they feel they have to find a way to not saying anything good at all about Losman. Yes, I'm sure the reasons they didn't cover several of those games are perfectly prosaic in nature, having to do with the fact that nobody can watch every game and so on, but we Buffalo sports fans are a paranoid bunch, given to hypothesizing conspiracy theories whenever things don't go our way.

(Don't get me started about Ed Hochuli, the NFL's most anti-Buffalo official. Harumph!)

1 comment:

Bill said...

I'm curious: how is Hochuli anti-Buffalo? He lives in Arizona, so I can see how he'd be unhappy in this climate, but I don't know why you'd think he has a particular bias against the team.

Don't you wonder how much better J.P. would be playing right now if he'd started last season in those games that Holcomb played? I don't see this team in the playoffs, but they lost a couple of squeakers. A little more experience under center might have been the edge that would have made a difference.