Ah contrast. For the last three seasons the Buffalo Bills, the Rams opponent this week, struggled, never topping .500, and playing in a division featuring a de facto champ year-in nad year-out. The year the Rams made their last playoff appearance, 2004, was the last season the Bills finished with a winning record, sand in the eye for a team who's most memorable franchise moment - Wide Right - became a plot point in a Vincent Gallo movie. Fortunes have changed, as the Rams scramble desperately to avoid irrelevancy, the Bills have jumped out to a 3-0 start and with Tom Brady's knee ending his season, they look like favorites to capture their division crown and a good bet for the AFC title too.
As we try to do every week, I swapped QnA with Brian over at SBN's Bills blog, Buffalo Rumblings.You can read my QnA here.
1. The Bills have really emerged this season, to the point that right now it's hard not to favor them for the division crown. What's behind the turn around?
What's behind any turnaround? Solid, consistent quarterback play and good run defense. I'm going to talk a bit about Trent Edwards in the next question, so I'll use this one to gush over Marcus Stroud. Simply put, Buffalo's run defense sucked in 2007; simply put, Buffalo's run defense has been outstanding early in 2008. The difference is Stroud - his mere presence commands a double-team, and it's freed up guys like DT Kyle Williams and LB Paul Posluszny to become excellent run-stuffers. The Bills are giving up under 100 rush yards per game (as opposed to over 124 last season), and they've done it against some pretty good rushers (Fred Taylor, Maurice Jones-Drew, Darren McFadden, Michael Bush).
I'm not getting ahead of myself and crowning us yet (ah... memories of Dennis Green). It's a long season, and health - especially with Edwards, and something the team struggled with last season - is paramount.
2. Trent Edwards has looked pretty good so far, but with only 12 games on his resume is it possible he's playing over his head? How about his supporting cast, helping, hurting, etc?
I suppose it's possible, but I don't think it's likely. Edwards has that "it" factor that so many experts talk about. Consider that he's 8-4 in his 12 career starts, and of those 8 wins, three of them have been of the fourth-quarter-comeback variety, including the last two. He's a very intelligent guy that understands the offense, understands how to avoid pressure (he had 4 years of practice in doing just that at Stanford), and he gets all of his guys involved.
His supporting cast has been great. He's getting his running backs much more involved as receivers - Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson are on pace to combine for 85 receptions - and he's averaging 7.8 yards per attempt, one of the higher averages in the league. Lee Evans is averaging over 20 yards per reception. Five guys (with a possible sixth, depending on the production of Roscoe Parrish when he returns from injury) are on pace to catch at least 40 passes. We can't ask for much more currently, but this group has the potential to get even better - and it starts with Edwards.
3. On paper, this doesn't look like much more than a practice game for the Bills. How does a struggling team like the Rams find a way to beat the Bills? Where are there most likely to be glaring mistakes by the Bills? What's the team's weakest spot?
The Rams need merely watch some tape of last week's 24-23 victory over Oakland. There again was a team that the Bills were supposed to rout - the Raiders are a joke of a franchise, and the game was in Buffalo. But the Raiders - who in my opinion have a heck of a young coach in Lane Kiffin and a lot of talent, particularly offensively - played physical football, got after Edwards, and controlled the game until the fourth quarter.
I'm not sure the Bills have a weak spot - they're quite good everywhere - but they're not overwhelming in any particular area. If St. Louis can play physical defense, limit big plays and get after Edwards, they have a chance to shut down our O. They'll need to make some plays through the air offensively to win, however, as you can bet your bottom dollar that the Bills will key on Steven Jackson. Good special teams play won't hurt, either - poor field position killed the Bills against Oakland, so Donnie Jones will play an important role, especially with Roscoe Parrish out. The Rams make me a bit nervous because y'all are so desperate for a win, and you've got some talent. This is definitely going to be a test for the Bills, because it's exactly the type of letdown game that the Bills have lost in past (few and far between) years of success.
Notice the difference, notice the role draft picks like Trent Edwards, Lynch, Paul Posluszny are playing in the turnaround? And do you wonder what might have happened if the Rams signed DT Marcus Stroud?