Going by all the columns on the internet and endless fan rants on Twitter, you’d think the Buffalo Bills were winless after seven games.
The reality is Buffalo is 3-4 at this point and at least mathematically, very much in the AFC playoff hunt, in large because the conference mired in mediocrity this season. That of course is good for Buffalo, though the probability of being 3-6 and essentially out of the playoffs for a 13th consecutive season in a few weeks is anticipated by most, including yours truly.
I don’t think the issue most fans and critics have with the Bills right now is their record, but rather the manner in which they’ve lost. Entering the season the offense was the unit full of questions, yet they’ve already lost three contests in which the team has put up at least 28 points. Meanwhile the defense has been as bad as any team in the history of the league since the NFL merger (circa 1970) in allowing yards on the ground through seven games.
Ryan Fitzpatrick and Mario Williams are drawing the bulk of disdain from fans for their inconsistent play and in both cases are warranted. They’re the highest paid players and frankly calling them mediocre at this point would be considered a compliment.
But the team’s woes go far beyond their two marquee stars. Many players, guys being counted on to be key contributors simply aren’t playing up to expectations.
Here is a list of five players that through seven games, I expected a lot more from:
Kelvin Sheppard: I was extremely high on him before the draft and when he got on the field in the latter half of his rookie campaign last year, but clearly Sheppard hasn’t taken a step to the next level. At this point he’s on the field as a two-down linebacker and isn’t doing a good enough job at that. From what I see, Sheppard is often late to react to holes and is allowing himself to get engulfed by lineman coming out to get him. By no means am I ready to throw the towel in on him—the kid has talent and is a leader, but he needs to start showing better instincts if he wants to be a long term starter.
George Wilson: I’ve long thought Wilson was a better strong safety than Donte Whitner and proved it when he got on the field. Coming into this season Wilson had 12 interceptions, three forced fumbles and three and a half sacks in 75 career games while being a steady run defender. However, it seems perhaps that at the age of 31 his legs may be slowly going. There’s no denying Wilson appears to be at least a step slower in 2012 if not more. His failure to make a tackle on Chris Johnson’s 27-yard run late in the fourth quarter was bad, but not compared to dropping an interception on Tennessee’s second-to-last play that would’ve won the game for Buffalo. Wilson is a stand-up guy and one of the few true team leaders, but it seems that his level of play is slowing down.
Justin Rodgers: Based on his play late last season, Rodgers was on track to at worst be the team’s most reliable nickel corner. But after a promising 2011, Rodgers has taken a major step back through the team’s first seven games. Against the Titans last Sunday Rodgers was abused; getting targeted eight times and giving up seven receptions for 68 yards, including the game-winning touchdown. With Ron Brooks nearly ready to come back from his preseason foot injury, Rodgers could soon be pressed or playing time.
Erik Pears: Doesn’t it seem like every year the Bills find an unheralded overachiever that has a good season, gets rewarded with a nice contract extension and promptly goes into the tank? That’s been the case thus far with Pears. After signing a four-year, $9.8 million contract with Buffalo last December, Pears has been the team’s worst starting offensive lineman this season—by a lot. He’s been beat often in the passing game lately and has compounded his mistakes by taking tremendously boneheaded personal foul penalties. An holding penalty in the fourth quarter last Sunday following a 16-yard pass completion to Scott Chandler cost the Bills a potential game-clinching drive. With Cordy Glenn out with an ankle injury, Chris Hairston has had to take his spot. That may be a good thing for Pears because based on his mistakes, Hairston could take away significant playing time once Glenn is back.
Aaron Williams: No one on the team has had a more miserable beginning to the season than Williams. At the risk of sounding overly harsh, the second-round pick from 2011 has been as bad as it gets defensively. He’s been beaten for five touchdowns already and has looked completely clueless while doing so. Teams pick on him and with Stephon Gilmore improving each week, will continue to do the same. Unfortunately Williams is likely going to have to play his way out of his funk because Terrence McGee will never be healthy enough to be on the field for an entire game and no one in the organization trusts Leodis McKelvin for anything further than returning kicks. Aside from Ryan Fitzpatrick you could make a case for Williams being the Least Valuable Player on the entire team—a colossal disappointment considering the high draft investment.
There isn’t a day that goes by I don’t get reminded by someone that the Bills could’ve taken Andy Dalton, who went one spot after Williams. Just think—- that selection may have killed two birds with one stone.