- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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THE BELIEF If the Bills can get third-year quarterback J.P. Losman playing like an All-Pro, many of their problems will be solved. No one was handing him the job, mind you--there'd be actual competition for the position.
THE REALITY The competition was supposed to come from veteran Kelly Holcomb, who stepped in after Losman faltered early last season. Holcomb averaged 9.7 yards per completion, a dink-dunk number, and who can forget the hitch he completed to Eric Moulds for zero yards on fourth-and-eight when Buffalo had a chance to upset New England? It's not the kind of passing offense you want when you've got downfield threats such as Lee Evans and Peerless Price, the latter back with the club for a second tour.
That's why everyone's happy that Losman, who averaged 11.9 yards per completion, won the job. "Did I lose faith last year?" says Losman, who got a few more starts midway through the season. "I'd get in bad situations and not know how to get out of them. Now I think I know."
A deep passing game would be a nice grace note in the Bills' operation but not its defining element. Ever since they stopped running the K-Gun with Jim Kelly, they've been a blue-collar team--not much pizzazz but lots of tough running and defense. New coach Dick Jauron is a defense guy who believes in a trimmer playbook and a lot of effort.
Buffalo was at its best last year when it was controlling the ball with tireless running back Willis McGahee and letting the superior defense supply the finishing touches. And there are some fine athletes on that unit: Nate Clements and Terrence McGee, as good a pair of cover corners as there is in the league; free safety Troy Vincent; Aaron Schobel, a high-energy pass rusher; an excellent and swift linebacking corps. "Our basic defense will be the Tampa 2," Vincent says. "A Cover 2 zone, but the twist is the linebackers will be given freedom to get downfield."
But it's the special teams outfit that sets the tone and makes the Bills unique. McGee led the NFL in kickoff-return average (30.2), and little Roscoe Parrish had the highest punt-return average (13.3 yards, though too few to qualify). Punter Brian Moorman was tied for No. 1 in gross average and second in net--in one of the league's worst wind tunnels. Kicker Rian Lindell was 3 for 3 from 50 and beyond.
The coverage units, whipped to a frenzy by their dynamic coach, Bobby April, are some of the most feared in the league, and Buffalo's overall special teams ranking, based on the 20-category system used by most NFL coaches, was No. 1 last year. "The guy who grades highest each week gets his picture on the front of the playbook," says linebacker Mario Haggan, one of the wedge busters along with linebacker Josh Stamer. "Last year Josh had the most tackles. I had the most pictures."
Is it possible for a club to actually ride into the playoffs on the shoulders of a special teams unit? Has it ever been done? "When I coached the Redskins' special teams in 1972, our first Super Bowl year," says new Bills general manager Marv Levy, "we allowed 39 yards in punt returns--total, for the season. We set the tone for the team. But don't forget we had guys like Sonny Jurgensen and Charley Taylor too."
Ah, yes, talent. It always seems to come back to that, doesn't it?