Past brave adventures deep into the concrete jungles around Ralph Wilson Stadium have reminded us that the passion of Bills fans can turn normal folk into face-painted clown crazies. No really, that happens all the time, or so we’re told.
There are a handful of NFL teams that have consistently delivered an on-field product that’s directly linked to increased reports of alcohol poisoning among the locals, and it’s seriously saddening that two of those teams play their home games in front of some of the league’s most passionate fans. First there’s the Browns, where the Factory of Sadness in Cleveland has manufactured little more than tears and crippling depression. And then there’s Buffalo, where even the slightest optimism is run through the Bills emotional grinder every fall, and on the other end shattered dreams greet another cold, harsh upstate New York winter.
This is why C.J. Spiller’s comments today are scary.
Between the proximity of The Score’s ivory towers to Buffalo and The Bills Toronto Series, I’ve become quite familiar with a fan base that’s starved for good news, and has been ever since the Bills’ four straight Super bowl losses, and the wayward ways of Scott Norwood’s foot. So any talk of having a legitimate Super Bowl contending team in Buffalo will only raise those dreams and hopes that much higher before they’re inevitably crushed.
Spiller may have jump started that process today in late June. In an appearance on NFL Radio, the Bills running back said two magic words: Super Bowl.
“We split with New England. We had the Giants on the ropes. We are close to being a Super Bowl team. We have to protect the ball.”
The emphasis is mine, but the rest is all real talk.
Spiller evidently isn’t afraid to talk openly about the sky-high optimism in Buffalo right now that’s being powered by the perception that the Bills “won” the offseason. That’s probably true, although there’s only an award for winning the regular season. Just ask the Eagles.
The root of the excitement in Buffalo is the signing of marquee free agent Mario Williams along with Mark Anderson, both of whom will greatly improve a defensive front that sacked the opposing quarterback only 29 times last year, putting the Bills among the eight teams that averaged less than two sacks per game.
Put Williams and Anderson alongside a healthy Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus–the third overall pick in 2011 who had 5.5 sacks last year–and Buffalo’s defensive line will be rather frightening. What’s overlooked sometimes as the opposition shakes in their proverbial boots and as their quarterback losses his is that an improved pass rush also makes life far more enjoyable and easier for the secondary, a unit in Buffalo that was already a strong point after 20 interceptions last year, and highly touted first-round pick Stephon Gilmore was just added.
So the confidence of Spiller and the Buffalo fan base is easy to justify on the defensive side of the ball. But the defense still isn’t good enough to become some twisted reincarnation of the 2001 Ravens, the team that employed Trent friggin Dilfer as its championship quarterback. Therefore, while the defense may indeed generate points on its own and give the offense better field position, much of the forward momentum in Buffalo this upcoming season will depend on Ryan Fitzpatrick, and which Ryan Fitzpatrick shows up on any given Sunday.
Will it be the Fitzpatrick who averaged 7.9 yards per pass attempt during the Bills’ six wins, or the Fitzpatrick who threw 18 of his 23 interceptions during their 10 losses, complete with a 67.3 passer rating in those games. With Fitzpatrick the issue last year that saw one quarterback under center during Buffalo’s opening stretch of five wins over seven games and then an entirely different passer throughout their seven straight losses wasn’t something like decision making that can be easily corrected during film study. No, instead it was a fatal flaw with a fundamental skill that our own Alen Dumojic broke down last week:
Much of Fitzpatrick’s issues can be attributed to one specific fundamental skill: footwork. Fitzpatrick’s footwork was poor in many areas, ranging from his failure to step through his passes with his lead foot to the lack of rotation through his hips — both of which affected another aspect of his game: accuracy. When the domino effect began, Fitz’s balls started floating.
Be hopeful, Spiller and Bills fans. You should be, because being pessimistic is far too depressing and unhealthy, and it results in an overall hatred of life. But do it knowing that those hopes hinge on a two-faced quarterback.