Saturday, February 10, 2007

Don't Take Your Guns to Town

He runs this city.

J.P. has some nice guns. And his numbers look almost as good. After his 9-game starting gig in '05, his QB rating was a paltry 64.9, with 8 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. In '06, after Dick Jauron gave him a vote of confidence and started him all 16 games, his QB rating was 84.9, the 11th best in the league (out of 32). He 19 to 14 TD to INT ratio is still too high - he still finds occasion to panic in the pocket and force things downfield, but that became rarer and rarer as the season wore on. In short, don't believe this guy:

It was a tale of two seasons. After the week 7 loss to New England, the Bills looked lost with a 2-5 record. The offensive line was a sieve, especially Mike Gandy at left tackle, giving Losman no time to throw the ball, which in turn left the undersized defense on the field too long - and by the end of the game teams trampled all over them.

Jauron made a change during the week 8 bye, switching the team's best O-Lineman, Jason Peters, from right to left tackle (which protects Losman's blindside), moved Mike Gandy to right guard, and inserted green rookie Terrence Pennington at right tackle. This switch paid swift dividends, as they compiled a 5-2 record the next seven weeks, flipping their fortunes and shockingly putting them back in the playoff race. The run defense was still highly suspect, but played a surprisingly successful bend but don't break defense, as offenses racked up huge yardage numbers but not points.

It also helped that this was a relatively easy stretch of the schedule, with wins over Green Bay, Houston, Miami, and the overrated Jets. But they did beat the Jaguars, and played eventual Super Bowl champ Colts extremely tough, losing by one point 17-16, in a game that showed how far the team had come. Another hard fought loss (24-21) against a phenomenal Chargers team was a further sign of encouragement.

The only game I attended this year was against the Titans, and it proved how far the team still had to go - for while the offense looked very good, bouncing back every time the Titans took the lead, the defense collapsed. Vince Young had a 20+ yard TD run to end the half, and the second half was dominated by their run game - with ex-Bill Travis Henry decimating the defense's paltry front four. It was a heartbreaking 30-29 loss, and eliminated any scant playoff hopes they had.

This offseason the team has a lot of work to do. They're likely to lose starting middle linebacker London Fletcher and starting cornerback Nate Clements to free agency, while still needing a major upgrade at the defensive tackle position. Willis McGahee, the underachieving running back and stand-up guy, sounds like he's going to hold out at the beginning of the season unless he gets a lucrative contract extension. It's going to take a great draft, some smart signings, and a lot of luck, for the Bills to become an elite team next year. But with Losman and receiver Lee Evans getting more comfortable in the system, I expect the team to pull out 9 or 10 games next year and be on the edge of the playoff picture.

Oh, and aren't my cousins cute?


Blogger Arlo Ogg said...

Unfortunately I've neglected the Bills' for the past few seasons and cannot comment on this great post (except to say that your cousins are cute).

11:54 AM  

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