By Ed Kilgore
Bills GM Buddy Nix admitted at Monday's final Bills Quarterback Club luncheon downtown that the progress he thought would be coming last season and into this season has been slower than expected, but Nix also insisted he felt the Bills were improving and were "on the right track". That last phrase includes, without needing to give specifics, head coach Chan Gailey and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Nix repeated recent comments that he wants to have a "future franchise quarterback" in place before he leaves, and that qb will no doubt come via the NFL draft. He didn't exactly give Fitzpatrick a ringing endorsement, calling him "serviceable" before adding a couple other more positive comments, but said his priority was to build up the offensive and defensive lines before using an early draft pick for a qb.
It certainly appears he's getting that done, as the Bills offensive line has been quite good overall both in pass protection and in opening holes for running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. He said putting a young quarterback in there before they'd addressed the o-line would be a good way to "ruin" a young qb.
It also has a lot to do with the fact Gailey was able to run the ball an eye-popping 46 times on a brutal cold and rainy day at the Ralph in the 34-18 win over Jacksonville. No, Jacksonville is not even a good team with just two wins, but they had been playing better.
Gailey said he went with Fred Jackson more than Spiller because he felt Jackson would be better in these conditions, and Jackson's 109 yards on 26 carries bears that out. Spiller was held in check until he broke a 44-yard touchdown to ice the game in the 4th quarter, as the Bills rushed for a whopping 232 yards. Fitzpatrick had only 17 pass attempts, but did make a perfect throw on a T.J. Graham 51 yard reception to set up the game's first touchdown, and later had perfectly thrown balls to Stevie Johnson and tight end Scott Chandler for td's. He did throw an interception, but the Bills "d" bailed him out on that one.
One club member asked Nix about the 2011 draft when the Bills passed on Nevada-Reno standout qb Colin Kaepernick in order to take cornerback Aaron Williams early in the 2nd round. Kaepernick went to the 49ers two picks later and is now the starting quarterback for a team that might be good enough to win it all.
Nix said at that time Kaepernick was a product of a "pistol" formation system where he often had one receiver out, and if the receiver was open he threw to him and if not, he ran it. He and his staff weren't convinced enough to take him there, and Nix had seen him personally. After Sunday's 16-13 overtime loss at St. Louis where Kaepernick passed for only 208 yards and no touchdowns, Nix said it's still too early to call him an MVP candidate, but he admitted he may be a "good one".
Nix also defended the job Mario Williams is doing and said the Bills recent defensive improvement has a lot to do with how Williams is tying up blockers, and is not just about "Super Mario" racing up 5 sacks in the Bills last 3 games. The Bills actually have allowed the fewest yards per rush of any team in the league over the past four games.
While the Bills still cling to that hope they can run the table with their final four games to eke into the playoffs, I think the more realistic goal at this point is to hope for at least a split to get to seven wins. That's progress, although slower than anybody would like.
Since the Bills last made the playoffs 13 years ago, just seeing the team make progress is noteworthy, and means the Bills can keep some continuity until they are no longer making progress. Who knows, that may now even include defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt.