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Around the AFC East, Week 2: Buffalo Bills

Continuing our Around the AFC East weekly series, we start off with my questions for Buffalo Bills' head writer, Brian Galliford.

PP: Buffalo started off so strong last year and it seems many Bills fans finally had something to cheer about.  Then, well, we all know what happened.  In your opinion, what were the issues that led to this breakdown?  A followup question: what has the front office done to remedy those issues? (From Dave)

BR:
Oh, my.  Where to begin?  I'll say this right at the top: coaching won't be a part of this list, though if any Bills fan catches wind of that opinion of mine, I'll be hunted down pretty quickly.  Every NFL head coach makes strange game-day decisions.  Nobody is perfect - not even your own Bill Belichick.  There is a lot with the coaching that could have gone better last season in Buffalo, but I believe that the most critical shortcomings came from the player pool.  Three areas in particular come to mind:

No. 1 - The offensive line.  Buffalo's offensive line was grossly overrated last season.  They had their moments, but on the whole, they were pretty awful, particularly up the middle.  The sole reason the Bills were 0-6 in the division, in my humble opinion, is because the 3-4 defenses in the division manhandled Buffalo at the point of attack.  Buffalo averaged 12 points per game in the six division games as a result; that's obviously pitiful.  The line has been completely re-shuffled and will feature five new starters at five positions, including three players up the middle (LG Andy Levitre, C Geoff Hangartner, RG Eric Wood) that weren't with the team last season.  The Bills get an 'A' for effort in realizing this shortcoming, but they're gambling making such radical changes.

No. 2 - A lack of playmakers.  I firmly believe that the Bills have a very solid young core of a football team.  There's a considerable amount of talent on this roster.  Without that core, we wouldn't have raced out to a 5-1 start in the first place.  But the one shortcoming that kept us from competing with the big boys - even with an inexperienced quarterback - was a lack of playmakers.  We didn't have guys on either side of the ball that were threats to make big plays game in and game out.  We went out and got one of those players in controversial WR Terrell Owens; add in RB Dominic Rhodes and rookie TE Shawn Nelson and the Bills suddenly have enviable, play-making depth and potential at the offensive skill positions.  Rookie DE Aaron Maybin (12.5 sacks in one full year at Penn State) and FS Jairus Byrd (17 interceptions in three seasons at Oregon) were drafted to make big plays defensively.

No. 3 - A young quarterback.  I could have put Edwards first on the list and gotten away with it, but I believe that Edwards had too much on his plate last season in terms of the burden he carried.  Despite having an outstanding RB tandem, the Bills frequently abandoned the run and put the game on Edwards' shoulders (while he was throwing to a WR corps that featured only one legitimate threat in Lee Evans) - and, not surprisingly, Edwards buckled under the pressure.  It didn't help that his offensive line severely underachieved as well, and the defense didn't have the playmakers to routinely put the offense in advantageous situations.  Edwards has that help now, and he could be further aided with the installment of the no-huddle offense.  There are no more excuses for Edwards - but as long as he makes better reads, makes more consistent throws and becomes a bit more assertive on the field, he'll be just fine.

If the Bills can fix what Brian has mentioned above, they'll be a potent rival in the East.  It starts in the trenches with the pigpile and I think Buffalo's retooling of the offensive line was a good move for them.

Props to Brian Galliford for his most excellent info.  Check out Buffalo Rumblings for my answers to his questions.