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Fitzpatrick, 'D' send Bills back to last place

Posted Dec. 19, 2011 @ 2:39 p.m. ET
By Kevin Fishbain

Oct. 30 seems like years ago in upstate New York.

On that day, the Bills pounded the Redskins 23-0 in Toronto. They recorded 10 sacks in the win and improved to 5-2, leaving them in first place in the AFC East. It set up an important game with the Jets, and that's where the wheels began to come off.

Since the win over Washington, the Bills have lost seven in a row, falling to 5-9 and going from first to worst in the division. Injuries have been a factor, as the team's three best players — RB Fred Jackson, C Eric Wood and DT Kyle Williams — are on injured reserve, but it also has been a smack back to reality that this Bills team has plenty of holes that need to be filled.

In a 30-23 home loss to the Dolphins in Week 15, the same problems we have seen since Oct. 30 surfaced. Ryan Fitzpatrick's poor arm strength is being exploited, as is the lack of weapons on offense. The defense that survived the first half of the season by creating turnovers is not much better than last season's 24th-ranked unit. Sunday, Dolphins RB Reggie Bush ran for 203 yards, including a 76-yard touchdown.

There were few bright spots, however. C.J. Spiller had his best game as a pro, rushing for 91 yards and hauling in 76 receiving yards against one of the league's best run defenses. Rookie CB Justin Rogers provided a spark on kickoff returns, but that's about it. With two games left, against the Broncos and Patriots, the league's best story from September and October could finish with a nine-game losing streak.

The PFW Spin

Let's break this tale of two halves by the numbers. Warning: Bills fans, you might want to shield your eyes.

 

First seven games

Last seven games

Points per game

30.1

14.3

Points per game allowed

21.0

32.0

Turnovers committed

9

17

Turnovers forced

18

8

Fitzpatrick's numbers

14 TDs, seven INTs

Eight TDs, 12 INTs

This list could have gone on, looking at more statistical categories where the Bills have fallen off, but Bills fans have suffered enough. And it isn't the whole story on Fitzpatrick, either, whose completion percentage has dropped 10 points since Oct. 30.

The boo birds came out in Orchard Park on Sunday for Fitz, and head coach Chan Gailey wasn't too happy about it. It is easy to point a lot of blame to Fitzpatrick, who has slumped since his contract extension, giving the Bills fans little confidence in the team's signalcaller going forward.

The offense, though, does not need nearly as much work as the defense this offseason. The Bills' O-line came together this season. Scott Chandler emerged as a threat at tight end. The backfield is solidified. An extra playmaker at receiver would help, but the tools are there.

The defense is 26th in the league and 29th against the run. Rookie Marcell Dareus has been a bright spot, along with fellow rookie ILB Kelvin Sheppard. ILB Nick Barnett proved to be a good signing and S George Wilson was having a Pro Bowl season before he got hurt.

But the cornerbacks have not played well. The front seven has not slowed anyone down and the team has the league's worst pass rush (21 sacks — only 11 if you don't count the Redskins game). The Bills used their first four picks in April's draft on defensive players and three are starting. Their strategy come this April will have to be similar.

Things got worse on Sunday when a report from the Bills' radio broadcast said that assistant head coach/LBs Dave Wannstedt, not defensive coordinator George Edwards, was calling plays. Gailey denied that in the postgame press conference, but you have to wonder about Edwards' future.

Wannstedt told PFW in August that he planned to use both 3-4 and 4-3 looks this season after the 3-4 failed in Buffalo in 2010. This defense needs an identity and better personnel.

Gailey is not on the hot seat, yet — this team is young and showed a lot of promise early in the season, when it was healthy. But the way this season is ending shows how much work will need to be done this offseason, especially now that the team's fans have gotten a taste of success and will be growing restless.

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