– Evan Sally
The Buffalo Bills have been a laughingstock in the NFL for a long time. When you fail to make the playoffs for 15 straight years, that tends to come with the territory. But it’s not just because of the losing. It’s because all of the things that make Buffalo sports fans proud: the snow, the cold, the idea that Buffalo is the small guy competing in a league full of huge markets, the passion with which we support our teams, sometimes bordering on fanaticism. Those outside of the Bills fan base mock us for them. It burns Bills fans up to have to deal with it; we long for respect, we long for our team to be feared again.
That’s why the 2015 season is so important. The Bills have an opportunity unique in the past 15 years. In the past, during the playoff drought, we’ve had expectations, but never anything past hoping to sneak in the playoffs with 9 or 10 wins. Perhaps the team could surprise with a fast start like in 2008 or 2011, but even during those years, you’d never hope for anything more than just holding on to try to get a wild card. The 2015 Bills are different. This team not only has the expectation to make the playoffs, but to be truly great. One of the most valuable commodities in football is an elite pass rusher; the Bills have 4, all ranked in the NFL Network top 100 players in the league. One of the league’s top defenses returns almost every starter and will be coached by an elite defensive mind in Rex Ryan to get even more out of them. On offense, the Bills have skill players reminiscent of a Madden fantasy draft. Shady McCoy. Charles Clay. Percy Harvin. Sammy Watkins. This opportunity isn’t limited to the talent on the roster either. As of right now, Tom Brady and his 23-2 record against the Bills will be out 4 games, with one of them against the Bills, in Ralph Wilson Stadium no less. It’s a perfect storm.
What obstacles stand in the Bills’ way to success? Unfortunately, it’s the biggest obstacle of them all: poor QB play. Rex Ryan and offensive coordinator Greg Roman have to find the best out of bad options. Will it be Matt Cassel, who hasn’t had a good season in 5 years? Tyrod Taylor, who’s spent 4 years behind Joe Flacco in Baltimore and is a complete unknown? Or EJ Manuel who, while he maintains an air of mystery around him because he’s only started 14 games, also had a QBR of 30.9 ranking 61st in the league out of all players who threw a pass last season. (There are only 32 teams in the league by the way.) One of these 3 men will get the keys to the Lamborghini that is the talent-laden 2015 Bills roster and be told not to crash. While I’m sure the Bills staff hopes one of these 3 asserts themselves as the clear starter, what if no one does? What if no one wins the job? What do the Bills do then?
One cold night a few months ago, after the Bills had their frenzy of moves and fans were reveling in their new found wealth of skill talent, I was hanging out with my friend Jerry at his house. We were talking about how crazy the offseason had been so far and talking about the possibilities the next season had in store for us, as any Bills fans would. Of course, not too long into this conversation, the topic of QB came up. We proceeded to rationalize reasons why each guy could work while simultaneously realizing how limited each of them are. In the middle of this conversation I blurted out, “Why does just one have to win the job? If they all aren’t very good, why not use them all?”
Jerry looked at me sideways.
“Tyrod is really athletic right? Really fast?” I continued. “Cassel is pretty good at short to intermediate passes, Manuel has a strong arm and could throw deep balls. Why not use all 3 in different situations?”
Jerry looked slightly less confused.
“You know, that just might be crazy enough to work,” he admitted.
At the time, I was kind of joking. Everyone’s heard the saying “If you have 2 quarterbacks, you have no quarterbacks.” And by that logic, having 3 is even worse. I tend to agree. Of course, every Bills fan wants someone to emerge from this craptastic quarterback situation to throw for 4000 yards, have a 2-to-1 TD to INT ratio and lead them to the playoffs. Of course, this is also extremely unlikely to happen. The Bills have to pull out all the stops and use what they have to their advantage. Use Tyrod Taylor’s speed in the read option with LeSean McCoy. Let Matt Cassel use play action to burn a defense. Allow EJ Manuel to use his combo of size and (relative) speed to pick up tough first downs. When you have a defense as good as the Bills do, 23 to 25 points will be enough to win most games. It doesn’t matter how you get the points, just get them.
Trust me, I know it’s a wild idea. But the fact remains that almost every other position in the league substitutes based on match ups. If there’s another player on the bench that better suits a situation, coaches will use them without hesitation. Most every coach preaches the importance of consistency from the QB position, for reasons of getting rhythm with receivers, getting used to his cadence, etc., etc. Those things don’t matter if your consistent QB is consistently bad. Simply put, Rex Ryan and Greg Roman cannot allow bad quarterback play sink this golden opportunity just because they stick to the usual rules of how to handle their quarterbacks . They need to pull out all the stops and leave no idea unused and no page unturned. That’s what this team and this city deserves.
– Evan Sally (@Evan_Sally)