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Bills: Not a bunch of Mularkey

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  • Bills: Not a bunch of Mularkey

    By Rob Hurtt


    Buffalo headed into 2003 with playoff hopes; its 6-10 season was an obvious disappointment. So shortly after the season, the team did what many disappointing teams do: It fired the coach. New head coach Mike Mularkey will have largely the same cast as former coach Gregg Williams. The message from the front office is clear; Mularkey's job is to get this team to play up to its ability.

    The organization hopes Mularkey's experience as Pittsburgh's offensive coordinator makes him the perfect guy to improve an offense that finished 30th in both total yards and points last season. He'll have a bit more to work with than Williams did. Running back Willis McGahee, the Bills' top pick in the 2002 draft, will be back on the field after rehabbing his knee all of last season. Buffalo also hopes rookie Lee Evans can fill the hole left when Peerless Price headed to Atlanta last year. As long as Eric Moulds stays healthy and Drew Bledsoe stays off his backside, this team will have a chance to post its first winning record in five years.


    Travis Henry, RB. When grandpa starts yapping about how players today are weenies, remind him of Henry. He played 15 games last season despite tearing rib cartilage in September. That cracked bone in his foot couldn't have felt too good, either. Henry's play didn't drop off drastically, and Henry put up numbers -- 1,356 yards and 10 scores on the ground - worthy of a No. 1 fantasy back. Henry's running style illustrates his toughness; he's best suited for taking the ball and running up the middle. That bulldozing style makes Henry option No. 1 in the red zone, so he'll often get a score even in games that he does little else. Henry's value could decline later in the season when Willis McGahee starts stealing work, but Henry still will be a solid fantasy starter.


    Eric Moulds, WR. It's an even year, which means Moulds will play well. Check Moulds' career stats and you'll notice an obvious on-and-off pattern. His off years have been odd years. He appeared set to break that streak with a solid 2003. Then in October, he suffered a groin injury and never fully recovered until the offseason. When healthy, Moulds is an elite receiver who will produce nearly every week. Make him your No. 2 and don't worry about that spot all year.


    SLEEPER: Willis McGahee, RB. The rule of thumb is it takes a running back two years to return to pre-injury form after tearing knee ligaments. McGahee is roughly 18 months removed from surgery. Reports so far have been positive, but owners can't get caught expecting too much from McGahee. The offense is in capable hands with Henry, so the Bills have the luxury of bringing back McGahee slowly. He'll get his share of touches and might even line up in the backfield with Henry at times, but he won't be the team's star just yet. If the Bills fall out of the playoff hunt, though, don't be surprised to see McGahee get a test drive in the feature back's role.

    Takeo Spikes, LB. Don't be fooled. While the No. 51 jersey seems to be all over the field on every down, there is just one player wearing that number: Spikes. One play, the guy is flushing the quarterback from the pocket. The next, he's chasing down the speedy back trying to turn the corner. Spikes' speed and instincts always put him around the ball, which is exactly what fantasy owners want in a linebacker. He'll put up strong tackle numbers, and he'll hold his own when it comes to creating turnovers and sacks.

    Defense/special teams. The Bills have two top run-stuffers in Sam Adams and Pat Williams. Aaron Schobel is a pass-rusher on the rise. London Fletcher and Spikes are dominant defenders, and Jeff Posey is a solid player to round out the linebacker corps. Buffalo lost top cornerback Antoine Winfield in the offseason but replaced him with perennial Pro Bowler Troy Vincent. Lawyer Milloy is also doing business in the secondary. With all of that talent, how is this group not a top 10 fantasy option? Point one finger at the offense, and point three at the team's inability to create turnovers. The offense's 2003 flop forced the defenders on the field more than they would have liked. Still, that doesn't explain why an aggressive defense has somehow finished last in turnovers two straight seasons. If the takeaways go up, so too will this unit's value.


    Drew Bledsoe, QB. Bledsoe is a cannon in a football uniform. He can zip balls into tight spaces and launch them down the field. Unfortunately, he also takes forever to aim and fire - he has the mobility of a giant hunk of metal -- so he'll miss his mark when rushed. When the pass protection is lacking, as it often was last season, it spells trouble for this stationary signal-caller. Losing Peerless Price (Falcons) and basically losing Moulds (groin) left Bledsoe with few options when he did have time to throw last season. Bledsoe holds the key to Mularkey's immediate success with Buffalo. He doesn't have the same power for fantasy owners, so don't plan on him as anything more than a borderline backup.

    Rookie to watch: Lee Evans, WR. Some observers were surprised when the Bills used the 13th overall pick to select Evans. Those folks shouldn't be surprised when Evans slides in to fill the team's need for a speedy No. 2 receiver with good hands. Evans isn't a big receiver, but Steve Smith and Santana Moss have shown that smaller guys still have a place in this game. The Bills hope Evans eventually plays up to the level of those stars. In his rookie season, the team will be content with numbers worthy of a bench spot in fantasy leagues.

    Josh Reed, WR. In his second NFL season, Reed was expected to make the transition from handy third receiver to star starter. Reed wasn't ready for that giant leap, and his struggles only made the team miss Price more. Evans' arrival will allow Reed to slide into a more comfortable position in the slot. He could top his 2003 numbers even though he's not starting. Fantasy owners should play it safe and save Reed for the final rounds.


    Rian Lindell, K. Lindell is automatic ... as long as he isn't asked to kick from 40-plus yards out. He made just 3-of-9 kicks from that distance. Another problem is Buffalo's climate isn't as friendly as the one in Seattle, where Lindell used to kick. The Seahawks don't have to worry about lake effect snow; Lindell does. The third reason Lindell will be nowhere near your roster is the Bills' offense stinks. OK, it's not awful, but there are loads of safer options available.

    Bobby Shaw, WR. Four scores and 732 yards ago, Shaw began his time as the Bills' No. 3 receiver. As the numbers show, he was solid in that role. As a whole, the Bills' receivers disappointed, though, so the team added a top receiver (Evans) in the draft. You can't please all the people all the time, but you can't even please some of the people some of the time as a team's fourth receiver.


    Mark Campbell, TE. In his fourth year in the league -- his first in Buffalo -- Campbell compiled a career-high 339 receiving yards. Combine that production with his one touchdown, and fantasy owners are ready to look elsewhere for help at tight end. Mularkey, a former tight end, wants to get the position more involved in the passing game. Go ahead and wait to see if that actually happens; Campbell still will be sitting there on the FA list if you want him.


    Coaching: To get this offense moving again, Mularkey will focus on its new strength, the running game. Gone are the days of Bledsoe attempting 40-plus passes every week. Henry won't have to shoulder the entire load; getting McGahee involved will allow the Bills to keep pounding opponents. On the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator Jerry Gray was retained. He's probably busy right now scheming of ways to up the team's turnover total.

    Offensive line: Right tackle Mike Williams is the kind of behemoth offensive players want on their side. His size (6-6, 370) and athleticism make him an elite run blocker, and the unfortunate defenders in his path will be lucky to lay a finger on Henry and McGahee. Williams still has room to improve in pass protection. Given Bledsoe's tendency to run the revamped Statue of Liberty play - the one where Bledsoe stands as still as a statue while defenders crash through the line - the team's entire line will have to work harder on pass protection. Left tackle Jonas Jennings, center Trey Teague and new right guard Chris Villarrial should be up to the task. The big question mark is at left guard, where a handful of players will compete for the starting job.

    Schedule analysis. Any schedule with one-fourth of its games against New England and Miami can't be beneficial for offensive players. Other than a Week 2 contest against Oakland, most of the first-half road is treacherous. October will be especially brutal; a game in Baltimore follows showdowns with each of the AFC East rivals. The Bills are rewarded with a Halloween treat against the Cardinals in Week 8, though. Four of the team's final six games are on the road, and late-season home games against Cleveland (Week 14) and Pittsburgh (Week 17) could be snow-filled affairs. Fantasy Strength of Schedule: 8th toughest.

Related Topics


  • evil disco man
    "Rebound" Nothing New To Bills' Moulds
    by evil disco man
    By Bills Insider Lou Paone - July 5, 2004
    Entering last season, Eric Moulds had no idea things would go so bad.

    After 1287 yards and 10 scores in 2002--and the departure of Peerless Price to Atlanta--you would have expected his numbers to increase. Josh Reed was deemed ready to take over the second receiver spot, and Bobby Shaw was brought on just in case he wasn’t.

    But 16 games did nothing to prove that true. Moulds' 780 receiving yards, 1 TD, 12.2 YPC, and 10 receptions of 20+ yards were his lowest totals since 1997--his second year in the league during which he played third fiddle to Quinn Early and Andre Reed. But to the eight-year veteran's credit, there was a good reason for this crash.

    Moulds spent all of last year either injured or double-teamed. Josh Reed proved not ready for the 2nd receiver role, and Bobby Shaw wasn’t nearly the player the Bills had thought when they signed him. With nowhere to turn besides those three, the Bills’ pass-happy philosophy made their offensive attack predicable and ineffective.

    However, the addition of new head coach Mike Mularkey, and an off-season of healing—has placed Eric Moulds in a friendlier role.

    On the rebound.

    The reasons for hope are plentiful. For one, the two-headed running attack of Travis Henry and Willis McGahee—along with Buffalo’s new found commitment to rushing the football, will make opposing defenses look run first instead of pass. Thus, creating more room downfield.

    Secondly is the addition of Lee Evans. His height and speed makes him a Peerless Price clone. Although he is a rookie, the former Wisconsin Badger is said to be more ready for the pro game then Price was his rookie year. Even in a small role, Evans’ speed should stretch the defenses enough to open some space and eliminate teams doubling Moulds. The growth of second year pro Sam Aiken should help too.

    A third positive is moving Josh Reed to the slot. A receiver’s third year is usually a charm, and the odds are he will break out in 2004. The same role during his rookie campaign netted him 13.8 yards per catch and eight receptions of 20+ yards (compared to 10.1 and five last season). After learning from Moulds for the last two seasons, it’s time the student made the professor proud.

    And finally, but most importantly, the psyche and arm of Drew Bledsoe. Offensive coordinator Tom Clements and quarterbacks coach Sam Wyche have spent much of the off-season teaching Drew how to check down on his reads. Holding on to the ball less will put faith back in the passing game. Utilizing the short routes will make the corners and safeties creep up. It only takes a few big plays to change the complexion of a game, and Moulds is the guy who can do just that.

    Or is he??

    Much has been said about the health and skills of the eight-year...
    -07-06-2004, 09:00 AM
  • Nick
    Five Keys to the Game - Buffalo
    by Nick
    Five Keys to the Game - Buffalo
    Friday, November 19, 2004

    1. It is becoming almost cliché, but the same problem that has plagued the Rams defense all season is the same thing it needs to concentrate on Sunday. Running back Willis McGahee has come back from a knee injury with great success and is the kind of slashing runner that gives St. Louis trouble. The Rams have had trouble stopping the run all season and doing so against the Bills would go a long way toward a win. The key is for the linebackers to stay in their gaps, get off blocks and make sure tackles. That group has been much-maligned this season and, with the exception of Pisa Tinoisamoa, has been the most inconsistent unit on the team.

    2. Like in most games, a lot of the outcome is decided up front. Buffalo’s offensive line is one of the league’s largest. Even center Trey Teague is 6-foot-5, 300 pounds. The Rams defensive line has gotten a boost from tackle Jimmy Kennedy, who is starting to come into his own after suffering a broken foot in training camp. The giant Bills’ line is big, but certainly not the most talented the Rams have faced. Expect Buffalo to keep tights ends and fullbacks around to try to pound the running game and chip away at defensive end Leonard Little. Little’s speed off the edge could mean a big day against tackle Mike Williams, who is battling an injury and inconsistency.

    3. Buffalo’s defense is No. 5 in the NFL for a reason. The Bills have a pair of great leaders at linebacker (Takeo Spikes and London Fletcher), a massive defensive tackle duo (Sam Adams and Pat Williams) and a strong secondary that features Nate Clements and Lawyer Milloy. The Rams offense is equally good, but has struggled at times against some of the league’s better defenses (see Miami game). St. Louis will probably come out like coach Mike Martz wants it to, fast and furious. It will be the offense’s ability to get in a rhythm early against a hard-hitting, opportunistic defense that will determine a lot of which side comes out on top.

    4. Bills quarterback Drew Bledsoe has struggled mightily this season, at times throwing the ball directly to the defender. The Rams defense has dropped some prime opportunities for interceptions and turnovers this season. If St. Louis gets some gift wrapped chances from Bledsoe, it must take advantage and finish the play.

    5. The second half of the NFL season started last week and the Rams did it in style, with a big win against division-rival Seattle. Now, they play four of the next five on the road and it all starts with Buffalo. A win against the Bills gives St. Louis added confidence that it can win on the road and do it in a hostile, possibly cold environment. Buffalo, historically, has been one of the league’s best teams at home. Regardless of how the Bills have played this season, this game is no gimme. For the Rams’ part, they must keep the emotion and intensity at the level...
    -11-20-2004, 02:04 PM
  • DJRamFan
    [Bills] Is there anything left to play for?
    by DJRamFan
    The Associated Press
    Drew Bledsoe watches from the sidelines Sunday night after being replaced by J.P. Losman the final two series against New England. Is it time for the 12-year veteran to take an early retirement? The Bills aren't mathematically out of the playoffs, but the season is realistically shot.
    [Day in Photos]

    The five W's
    WHO is starting to think about 2005? Bills fans should be because 2004 pretty much came to an end Sunday night in Foxboro. Mike Mularkey made reference to the Pittsburgh team he played on in 1989 that was 4-6 at one point in the season yet rallied to make the playoffs, so he's not going to give up. The rest of us can give up. This team is not making the playoffs.

    WHAT do we make of J.P. Losman's debut? Not much. The kid was terrible, but let's be fair. The game was hopelessly lost and the Patriots — the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots — were in a feeding frenzy. Still, two turnovers on five plays was not what Bills fans wanted to see from their QB of the future.

    WHERE was Drew Bledsoe looking when he threw that interception to Tedy Bruschi? He was trying to hit Lee Evans over the middle, but unless he has X-ray vision he couldn't have seen Evans because Bruschi was right in front of the rookie receiver. How many other 12th-year quarterbacks would have thrown that pass?

    WHEN is Mark Campbell going to re-surface? The Bills' starting tight end has gone three straight games without a pass reception. He has just 10 catches for 135 yards this season.

    WHY didn't the Bills try to make an early statement against the Pats? Last week on the opening series against the Jets, Mularkey went for a fourth-and-1 at the 12 and Willis McGahee scored a touchdown. Against New England the Bills had a fourth-and-5 at the Pats 35 on the opening possession. Too far for a field goal, too close for a punt. Why not go for the first down there? If they make it, maybe they go in and score and perhaps the game turns out different. Then again, maybe not.

    — Sal Maiorana

    Leo Roth and Sal Maiorana
    Staff writers

    (November 16, 2004) — Sal: It's ridiculous that we're asking this question in the middle of November about a team that clearly has talent, but when you're a team that can't win on the road, that's the plight the Bills face. Seven games to go, yet the season is basically shot. I don't think there's anything to play for except getting the team's young players ready for the future.

    Leo: I agree, although with seven games to go, there's still plenty of time to sell more beer, hot dogs and merchandise. I hear there's a No. 11 jersey clear-out sale this week.

    Sal: Didn't they already have one of those? Oh, my mistake, that was Rob Johnson's No. 11 jersey.

    Leo: Seriously, the Bills' goal these final weeks...
    -11-16-2004, 07:52 AM
  • Nick
    [Bills] What to Look for vs. Rams
    by Nick
    What to Look for vs. Rams

    John Tramontana

    Buffalo Bills offensive line vs. Leonard Little

    Defensive end Leonard Little is a player who can take control of the game. He leads the Rams with four sacks this season in addition to his three fumble recoveries. He's quick getting around the end and could disrupt the Bills passing game if he is not contained.

    "Leonard Little is a guy we need to stop," quarterback Drew Bledsoe said. "He's very quick off the ball and can put great pressure on the quarterback. He's a guy that can be all over the field making plays."

    Little should line up against left tackle Jonas Jennings, though he could be moved if Jennings dominates the line of scrimmage. It wouldn't be surprising to see him move around and take some snaps against Mike Williams in order to find where he will be more effective. If the Bills can contain Little, Bledsoe should be able to get the ball to his receivers. If not, Bledsoe could be scrambling or be forced into getting rid of the ball before he wants to do so.

    Willis McGahee vs. the Rams defensive line

    The St. Louis Rams defense is ranked 28th in the league and they have struggled against the run this season. In four games a starter, Willis McGahee has rushed for over 100 yards in three of those and expect him to have another big day on Sunday. McGahee should be able to find holes in the Rams defensive line, which should allow the Bills to get their running game back on track.

    "We just need to get back to running the ball" McGahee said. "We couldn't run the ball (against New England) and we had trouble moving the ball. We need to get back to doing what we do and then we'll be successful."

    McGahee being able to run will take a lot of pressure off of Drew Bledsoe and gives Buffalo's offense more options. The important thing is for the Bills to not abandon the run, even if the Rams stop it early in the game. McGahee has shown his durability so far this season and as the game progresses, he should be able to wear down the Rams front four to tack on some big yardage late in the game.

    Buffalo's secondary vs. the Rams receiving corps

    The Rams have one of the league's most potent offenses, due mainly to their aerial attack. Marc Bulger has some of the game's best receivers at his disposal and a young Bills secondary may have trouble covering them. Eleven-year veteran Isaac Bruce leads the team with 55 receptions for nearly 800 yards. He may be aging a bit in terms of receivers, but he can still play the game and it still very dangerous to go downfield.

    "He's one of the best receivers of my time," said strong safety Lawyer Milloy. "He always shows up and he's still very fast. He's a tough guy to defend."

    Milloy leads a Bills secondary...
    -11-20-2004, 02:02 PM
  • DJRamFan
    [Bills] Bledsoe is still starter . . . for now
    by DJRamFan
    Mularkey won't give up on veteran despite loss to Pats


    Buffalo Bills coach Mike Mularkey still hasn't given up on his team's chances of making the playoffs this season, which explains why he isn't quite ready to begin the J.P. Losman Era any time soon. Drew Bledsoe will be the starting quarterback Sunday afternoon against the St. Louis Rams.
    After that, we'll see.

    Mularkey's reasoning Monday after the Bills' embarrassing 29-6 defeat to the New England was built more on mathematics than reality. The Bills are 3-6 with seven games remaining, including a five-game stretch that includes four road games. Ten teams in the AFC have a better record than Buffalo, and only Miami's is worse.

    Technically, the Bills can make the playoffs. Realistically, their chances are slim at best.

    "It's still too early to rule out where we're going from this point in the season," Mularkey said after meeting with his players. "There are seven games left. We're not out of it. Drew has proven in three (wins) of four (games) before this game that he was a big reason why. We'll start with Drew this week."

    Problems that had plagued Bledsoe for two-plus seasons resumed Sunday against the Patriots in what could have been the worst game of his career. He completed just eight of 17 passes for 76 yards, had three interceptions and failed to lead the Bills' offense into the red zone, let alone the end zone. His 14.3 passer rating was the lowest for any game in his 12-year career.

    "I think he just threw some poor balls," Mularkey said. "We had some guys open, and then we didn't and forced some things in there. Against that team, you can't afford to do that."

    Losman came off the bench cold as the third quarterback and wasn't much better in two series against the Pats. The Bills' first-round pick in April was sacked and fumbled the ball away on his first NFL drive and threw an easy interception on his second. He didn't exactly inspire thoughts he was the next Ben Roethlisberger, the rookie quarterback who has led the Pittsburgh Steelers to seven straight wins.

    But could Losman be a better option than Bledsoe?

    Mularkey said he merely wanted to take a peek at Losman knowing Sunday's game was basically decided, not kick-start a quarterback controversy. Mularkey wouldn't even say whether Losman, who is still not fully recovered from a broken leg, would be promoted to backup and therefore get more snaps in practice.

    "It was really just a matter of giving him some time," Mularkey said. "It was purely exposure. I don't think we put him in there to win the game. It would have been a tough comeback based on the number of scores we needed. It wasn't to start a controversial thing. It was to get a...
    -11-16-2004, 07:57 AM