2011 NFL Division Preview
Better or Worse in 2011: The same
I wasn’t going to include the Bills in my previews this year because I thought they had finally made their move to the CFL. When I saw them still on the schedule this season I was confused, don’t they play in Toronto now?
Oh well, if they’re still here then we’ll go over them.
Once again they’ll be bad. Shocking, I know. Not enough analysis for you? Alright, they’ll be really bad.
The only reason I don’t think they’re going to be the worst team in the league is because there are teams out there actually starting people at quarterback like Tarvaris Jackson and Rex Grossman, and Ryan Fitzpatrick is actually a half decent quarterback. Not good mind you, but actually one of the 32 best signal callers alive, which is more than I can say for some other team’s week one starters.
That quarterback, a solid running game, and a defense that was surprisingly good against the pass last year will mean they’ll win a few games, but not much more than that.
Important Acquisitions: Brad Smith
Toughest Player Losses: Lee Evans, Jonathan Stupar
Key Player: C.J. Spiller
The “If” Factor: Kinda high here, this offense could be better than it looks
2010 Offensive Ranking: 24th Passing, 18th Rushing
If I told you that there was a professional football team that had a starting quarterback from Harvard, a starting running back from Coe College (it's real), and a number one wide receiver from Kentucky, would you believe me?
Welcome to the world of the Buffalo Bills. And the best part is all three of these guys are underrated. Ryan Fitzpatrick is capable at quarterback, Fred Jackson consistently gains yards on the ground, and Steve Johnson is a legit top level deep threat. This is starting to sound pretty good, right?
Don’t get ahead of yourself, it goes downhill pretty fast from there. Their next two receivers aren’t very good and their offensive line is mediocre at best.
The one thing that could make a difference for them is if their last year’s first round pick, running back C.J. Spiller, has his breakout season. It’ll be tough for him to be a top back with the Buffalo offensive line in front of him, but he has the raw skills to be a dynamic playmaker.
This Buffalo offense will move the ball, but unless Spiller can provide some big plays, they’ll again struggle to put up many points.
Important Acquisitions: Kirk Morrison, Nick Barnett, Marcell Dareus (R)
Toughest Player Losses: Paul Posluszny, Donte Whitner, John McCargo
Key Player: Shawn Merriman
The “If” Factor: Low
2010 Defensive Ranking: 3rd Passing, 32nd Rushing
I’ve always wondered why Buffalo doesn’t build it’s team around a strong defense, it seems like the kind of city that should. It’s cold, windy and snowy there. Wouldn’t they be one of the few teams that would actually benefit from forcing visiting teams to play against a strong, run stuffing defense? It couldn’t hurt right?
Instead, when I think of good Buffalo teams I think of the K-Gun offense, a squad and a system way ahead of their time that dominated through wide open multiple receiver sets and a dominant quarterback. But that was a long time ago, so why hasn’t this team tried to bulk up on their defensive ranks? The answer is they have. Tried to at least.
Looking at their defensive roster the only player that stood out as a first round pick (by Buffalo) is this year’s pick, Marcell Dareus. But then I look up the actual numbers and was shocked to find that 5 of the last 8 first round picks made by the Bills, dating back to 2006, have been on the defensive side of the ball. So it’s not that they haven’t tried to build through the defense, it’s even simpler that they’ve just failed on so many top draft picks. And to make matters worse, they failed to re-sign starters Donte Whitner and Paul Posluszny, two of their best defensive draft picks in recent memory.
So what does all this leave us with? A weak defense that has very little chance of stopping anyone. Last year they were the worst team in the league at stopping the run, so they can’t get worse there, but they might in reality be worse against the run without tackling machine Posluszny patrolling the middle of the field. Somehow they were 3rd against the pass last year, but I’m guessing that was mostly because other teams quickly got leads on them and then just ran the ball the rest of the game.
This defense isn’t going to do their average offense any favors, and the Bills are going to struggle to get wins this year.
Better or Worse in 2011: Worse
It was only two years ago that the Miami Dolphins “revolutionalized” the league with the wildcat formation, but now that defensive coordinators have proven that it was actually not that hard to stop they’ve fallen right back to the bottom of the NFL.
The rule still stands that if you can’t gain chunks of yards through the passing game your going to have a really hard time winning games. The Dolphins will have one of the worst passing games in the league this year because neither of the two quarterbacks on the roster have the ability to stretch a defense when needed. The running game will be solid, but that only keeps you in games, it doesn’t win them for you.
The defense will help keep them in those games but also won’t be dynamic enough to win them on their own. Miami will be in enough close, low scoring games to win maybe 4 or 5 of them, but that’s about it. But they do get to play Buffalo twice, so that will help the win total.
Important Acquisitions: Marc Columbo, Reggie Bush, Daniel Thomas (R), Matt Moore
Toughest Player Losses: Ricky Williams, Ronnie Brown
Key Player: Reggie Bush
The “If” Factor: Low
2010 Offensive Ranking: 16th Passing, 21st Rushing
The games this Miami team will win they’ll win the old school way, by controlling the clock through the ground game, limiting the number of opponent’s offensive possessions, and hoping that their quarterback can stay away from game killing interceptions.
And that’s where the whole thing breaks down. Chad Henne is a turnover machine. He tossed 19 picks last year compared to only 15 touchdowns. That type of sloppy ball protection just totally submarines a game plan that will be based on low scoring, ball control offense.
Aside from Henne, the rest of this team isn’t that bad. Reggie Bush is a huge upgrade in the playmaker department. He gets a lot of heat because he hasn’t, and never will, live up to the future hall of fame billing he had coming out of USC, but if you look at him honestly he’s still a threat to score when he gets the ball in space.
The Dolphins have quietly built a strong offensive line, including one of the best left tackles in football, Jake Long. They added Marc Columbo from the Dallas Cowboys this offseason, and first round draft choice Mike Pouncy has the makings of a really good pro.
Brandon Marshall is a top tier playmaker at the wide receiver position, but once again it all comes down to the guy throwing him the ball, and Chad Henne just isn’t good enough to take advantage of his best wideout.
Why the Dolphins didn’t pull the trigger on a better quarterback like Orton or Kolb this offseason I don’t understand, but the guy they’re left with isn’t good enough to get them into the playoffs this year.
Important Acquisitions: Kevin Burnett
Toughest Player Losses: Channing Crowder, Will Allen
Key Player: Koa Misi
The “If” Factor: Actually, kinda high, will still be worse than last year though
2010 Defensive Ranking: 8th Passing, 7th Rushing
The Miami defense has been a sneaky good bunch for a few years now. I tried to figure out why but, really, I can’t.
At first I thought it was because they got a couple of really good years out of Joey Porter, but he wasn’t there last year and they were still a top ten defense. It’s not the secondary, that’s been average at best, and they don’t have any dominant defensive lineman either.
The thing that leaves is the scheme, and then things start to make sense. The Dolphins run an aggressive, pass rushing 3-4 system. This is the type of defense that has dominated the league in the past decade, and Miami has been one of the teams at the forefront of this transition.
So they have the scheme, but in the end the players still have to be good enough to execute it, and this Dolphins squad doesn’t have enough top level talent to do so. The two guys to watch who could make that jump this year would be outside linebackers Cameron Wake and Koa Misi. Both have talent and have shown promise, but they still need to prove that they can be consistent difference makers.
In the end, the Miami defense be good enough to keep the team in some games, and if the offense doesn’t make too many mistakes they can steal a few wins in 2011.