New England Patriots: Can Any AFC East Team Challenge New England?
By Hal Bent
The Bills are coming off another disappointing season and jettisoned head coach Rex Ryan. Another seven-win season saw them unable to take advantage of their supposedly strong defense. After seemingly being primed to chase quarterback Tyrod Taylor out of town, the Bills were able to patch things up and bring him back (if only for one more season).
Taylor is basically on a one-year contract after taking a $10 million pay cut this offseason by reworking his contract. However, he is basically on a one-year contract and they again failed to go get him any weapons. With little improvement to the offensive line and taking a step backwards at wide receiver, the Bills will be overly dependent upon LeSean McCoy once again.
The Bills let receiver Robert Woods walk away and replaced him with the Raiders’ fourth receiver Andre Holmes. Holmes is expected to become the starter in Buffalo despite having only 28 receptions over the past two seasons. Speedster Marquise Goodwin walked away as well and currently the Bills just have special teams player Brandon Tate, Corey ”Philly” Brown and Jeremy Butler at wide receiver.
The Bills’ big transaction on the offensive line was keeping guard Ryan Groy and tackle Jordan Mills–two players that should have been pushed aside for upgrades at the positions. The wide receiver group is diminished, the disappointing Charles Clay remains at tight end, and the offensive line remains strong in the running game but weak protecting the quarterback. Mike Tolbert and Patrick DiMarco were brought in at fullback and back-up running back Mike Gillislee returned.
The top moves on defense for the Bills has been signing safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer. Aaron Williams has been injury-prone and he and Corey Graham were allowed to leave. Hyde is an upgrade at safety and is a versatile defender. However, the Bills need another cornerback or two as Stephon Gilmore signed with New England and Nickell Robey-Coleman is a free agent and not expected back. Leonard Johnson came over from Carolina and is expected to compete as the slot defender.
Ronald Darby is the top cornerback and the Bills currently have no one capable of stepping in as a starter opposite him. Top linebacker Zach Brown is still a free agent exploring other options and his loss would be a big blow to the defense. Preston Brown and Reggie Ragland will have a lot of pressure on them to perform in 2017 if Zach Brown is lost.
The Bills re-signed one-year wonder Lorenzo Alexander and are hoping he continues his post-30 year old resurgence (not likely). Defensive line was the strength of the defense last year and the return to health of Shaq Lawson should give the pass rush a boost in 2017. Jerry Hughes remains a pass rush beast and tackles Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus remain one of the best duos in the NFL.
New head coach Sean McDermott seemingly is bringing a fresh voice and a solid defensive voice. He brought solid veteran coordinators with him including Rick Dennison on the offensive side and Leslie Frazier on defense. The offense remains run-oriented and the defense looks extremely thin in the secondary.
The Bills were simply a poorly coached seven win team that–outside of their win at home against Jacoby Brissett and the Patriots–failed to win a game against a good team. In the offseason the Bills seem to have taken a step backwards on offense and are paper-thin in the secondary. They look likely to fall in the six win category in 2017 and no threat to the Patriots at the top of the AFC East.