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Bills still taking 'pass' on aerial upgrade

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Posted April 19, 2010 @ 2:32 p.m. ET
By Michael Blunda

The Bills say they are content with their current situation at wide receiver. And they wonder why they haven't made the playoffs in a decade.

As the NFL moves toward being more of a passing league, Buffalo has refused to get with the times, trotting out lackluster passing attacks year after year and subsequently missing the postseason each and every time, last qualifying in 1999.

In the past seven seasons, the club has finished in the league's bottom six in passing six times. Not surprisingly, the best they've ranked in total offense in that span is 25th. What they're doing isn't working, yet they won't bother to change.

One doesn't need to look very far to see the importance of a successful passing attack in today's game. Last season's two Super Bowl participants, the Saints and Colts, finished fourth and second, respectively, in passing yards. Indy couldn't run worth a lick, ranking dead last in that category, but it didn't matter because it could move the ball through the air with ease.

In recent years, the Bills have made haphazard efforts to improve their passing game, but they haven't given it the full commitment it deserves. While Lee Evans has been a solid staple since being drafted in Round One in '04, he's never had the luxury of lining up with other impact wideouts in their prime.

Eric Moulds was a good player but far from a superstar. The same goes for Peerless Price. Josh Reed was a nice slot option, but his abilities were limited. And while last season's addition of Terrell Owens was a nice try, it was basically a one-year failure.

The draft would seem to be the perfect place for Buffalo to add receiving talent, but the squad has barely addressed the position since its last playoff appearance. Only Evans, Reed, Roscoe Parrish and James Hardy have been taken in the first three rounds from 2000 on. Of those, Hardy has done absolutely nothing thus far, and Parrish has proven to be a much better punt returner than pass catcher.

Now, GM Buddy Nix and head coach Chan Gailey, both in their first year on the job, are saying that they will likely allow Hardy and third-year unknown Steve Johnson to compete for the vacant starting job opposite Evans. Sure, they'll probably add a wideout at some point in the draft, but regardless, they will enter the 2010 campaign with maybe the worst crop of receivers in football. Couple that with an ugly mess at quarterback, and the Bills' passing game might actually get worse this year, which is hard to imagine.

It's not as if Nix didn't have chances to upgrade the unit. Both Antonio Bryant and Nate Burleson found new homes through free agency during the past couple of months, and elite talents were certainly available via trade. Anquan Boldin was shipped to Baltimore in March, and just this past week, two of the Bills' division rivals gave their receiving corps serious boosts, as the Dolphins acquired Brandon Marshall in a blockbuster deal with the Broncos, and the Jets picked up Pittsburgh's Santonio Holmes for pennies on the dollar. To counter, Nix picked draft bust Chad Jackson off the scrap heap.

The Bills can say all they want about how the Buffalo weather isn't conducive to a prolific aerial assault, but it simply isn't true. Conditions aren't exactly ideal in New England, yet the Patriots have no trouble passing the ball because of the immense talent they've stockpiled. And while the climates in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are far from perfect, both those teams had top-10 passing units in '09. Good players can overcome harsh conditions any day of the week.

At least the Bills have put together one of the best secondaries in the league. They're going to need it if they hope to slow down the improving passing attacks of the AFC East while they stay stuck in the Stone Age.

 

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