Thanks Doug. Pleasure to join you for this chat tonight and welcome to BillsZone.com.
I would also like to thank the Seattle Seahawks for a last minute interception
that made every Bills fan’s Sunday afternoon. The only thing better than
a Miami loss is a Buffalo Bills victory.
I'd love to sit here and
say the Bills are the "best 4 and 6 team in the league" but that probably
is not true. It is a team that has a Jekyll and Hyde personality. After a slow
start, with the help of the weather and a strong defense, they are 4-2 at home
and looking very strong. However, when the Buffalo Bills get on the road, where
they are 0-4, the team falls apart. It is not like they don't show up. Rather,
they start off fine but as soon as adversity hits them, they crumble.
The Seahawks have displayed the inverse of that phenomenon. After starting the
season 3-0 (validating the positive preseason predictions so many had for them),
they faced the Rams at home in game four, blew a 17-point lead with mere minutes
left to play and lost that game in overtime. Since the Rams debacle left them
at 3-1, they're 3-3 and raising a lot of questions. The Seahawks have actually
done pretty well on the road this year (3-3 away from home), but that Rams game
really affected them. Players have admitted that it took a few weeks to get
over the shock.
I remember seeing the end of that game against the Rams and was surprised at
the outcome. It really looked like the Seahawks sat back and rested on their
laurels instead of playing the full 60 minutes.
That, unfortunately, is a valid point, and one that rears its ugly head more
than any of us would like. The Seahawks at their best are capable of just terrorizing
any defense. Last season, they had a freakish game in which they put 40+ points
up on the Ravens’ vaunted defense (Ray Lewis was talking to himself on
the sidelines) but lost in overtime (again) by blowing a huge lead in the fourth
quarter (again). Both Mike Holmgren (head coach and offensive guru) and Ray
Rhodes (defensive coordinator) do occasionally kick it into a mellower gear
at the wrong times. Holmgren has a tendency to sit on a lead and Rhodes will
run ridiculous prevent coverages at the end of every half. What Bledsoe could
do to a soft zone scares me.
The Bills, on the other hand, try to play more conservatively. They don't want
to have to trust the offense to win the game by blowing out the other team or
by having to come from behind. This team is full of young players who, maybe,
are just learning to win. Early in the season the offense was as bland as vanilla.
It wasn't until the injury to Travis Henry and the emergence of Willis McGahee
that the offense began to be really productive. That being said, this team is
still terrible on the road. They have not scored more than 14 points in a road
game this season.
I believe the Bills are 29th in the NFL in total offense. While your defense
and special teams are very impressive, should we get the ugly part out of the
way first? The offense - Mike Mularkey is in his first year as the Bills' head
coach and he was the Steelers’ offensive coordinator from 2001 to 2003.
What does he have to work with, and what is he doing with it?
Inspector Gadget, as he was called in Pittsburgh, is trying to slowly overhaul
an offense that has been adrift since the midway point of the 2002 season. Obviously,
all offenses start with the offensive line. It seems as if the Bills have had
problems up front since Jim Kelly retired almost 10 years ago. Except for a
three-year stint in which Doug Flutie hid the weaknesses of the line, various
QBs have had trouble finding time to direct an efficient and successful drive.
Mularkey hired renowned offensive line coach Jim McNally to coach the line and
so far the line is getting better.
The offense, however, takes
its spark from Willis McGahee. As most fans know, McGahee is still recovering
from an almost career-ending injury suffered in his last game at Miami University
in 2002. McGahee has been a breath of fresh air since replacing Travis Henry
at the Halfback position. He has 610 yards and three TDs in just five starts.
He runs hard and has yet to put the ball on the carpet.
Why is McGahee so much more effective than Travis Henry?
Simply, McGahee has better field vision, quickness and strength. He hits holes
and cuts back whereas Henry is a straight-ahead runner. McGahee, even though
he is not 100%, still has more down field speed than Henry. Finally, McGahee
doesn't go down on the first hit. Rarely does a defender get a clean hit on
him and even then McGahee breaks the initial containment because he is much
Mularkey has stressed getting
as much from Drew Bledsoe as possible without making Drew win the game. For
the most part, Drew has found his touch at home. However, many consider that
his playing days on the road are well over. Rather than a reclamation project,
Drew, at this point, is being asked to merely hold the ship until rookie JP
Losman is ready.
Interesting. Two other first-year players that the Bills are looking to with
their future are the aforementioned Losman and WR Lee Evans. What does Losman
bring to the table, and where do you see Evans in his progression as a pro?
Losman is an interesting kid. He doesn't fit the "Buffalo stereotype"
like Jim Kelly did. Losman is cool and cocky like Kelly but he is not blue collar
and at this point does not appear to be rugged like Kelly. Also, it has been
difficult to gauge Losman because he suffered a broken leg during training camp
and has yet to get back to 100%. The season, at this point, may be lost for
Losman. He might not see playing time until the Browns game on December 12th.
Lee Evans is showing very
positive signs of being a future star for this team. He has come along very
well. At the beginning of the season, it appeared that Josh Reed would hold
the number two WR position behind Eric Moulds, but injuries and poor play have
led to his demotion behind Evans. Evans has great downfield speed and appears
to show no ill effects from the injury he suffered at Wisconsin. He has become
a solid number two with good hands and can break a pattern long.
Eric Moulds is really the primary guy, right?
Yes. Eric is still the number one WR and Bledsoe's favorite target. He is coming
off a groin injury that slowed him down last year but has shown to be a solid
receiver in his 9th year. However, he has struggled a little this year with
drops at critical times.
Drops at critical times? I think we Seahawk fans know something about that!
Although further along than the Bills (the Seahawks are 7th in the NFL in total
offense), Seattle's offense is a vexing mix of unlimited potential and inconsistent
Our offensive line features
the best left side in football with LT Walter Jones and LG Steve Hutchinson.
Beyond that, it's a mix of gritty overachievers like Robbie Tobeck and Chris Gray and youngsters like Pork Chop Womack and Wayne Hunter. Chris Terry, an
excellent RT at his best, is a question mark both on and off the field at times.
The strength of your offense is really with Shaun Alexander. He’s already
an elite RB in the NFL, but what does the future hold for him. He is a free
agent at the end of the year, correct?
The focal point of the offense this year has indeed been Shaun Alexander, the
NFL's leading rusher with 1151 yards. He is a free agent at the end of the year,
and his walk year has been his best by far. Since the Seahawks will also be
dealing with the impending free agency of Matt Hasselbeck, Walter Jones, Chike Okeafor, Ken Lucas and others, I don’t know if they'll be able to retain
Alexander. There has been talk in the past that some of the Seattle coaches
were less than enamored with Shaun's hesitant running style, but he's blown
those criticisms to bits this season.
He seemed to be a little inconsistent in previous years. He could be electrifying
one week and score 3 touchdowns and then disappear for two weeks. His 5.1 yards
per carry average is almost staggering and his 10 TDs have not come in bunches.
His consistency this year appears to be his biggest asset.
In the past, he had a tendency to look to break the big play all the time, which
led to a lot of train wrecks in the backfield (think Barry Sanders). However,
this year he has been running far more decisively in the context of a drive.
Without him, I don’t know if the Seahawks would be a .500 team right now.
I’m quite sure that Shaun and his agent are aware of that! He might wind
up being the NFL’s prize free agent in 2005 – there’s no question
he’ll get a lot of great offers. Seattle might wind up franchising him.
How about the QB spot? Matt Hasselbeck was having a terrific year. Mike Holmgren
brought him to Seattle from their days in Green Bay. Hasselbeck has really been
able to move the ball around in that seven Seahawks have at least 10 receptions
this season. Do the Seahawks depend on his arm to win them games like Holmgren
depended on Brett Favre in Green Bay?
Hasselbeck is not a Favre, Elway, Kelly type, where you can put the whole offense
on his back. He's a system QB. That’s not a knock on him – after
all, you could call Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger “system QBs”
as well. On the other hand, he's quite a bit more than a "just don’t
lose the game" guy, like a Kyle Boller. When he sticks to the game plan
(and when the game plan makes sense), he's very effective.
That is kind of what the Bills expect out of Drew Bledsoe right now.
However, this year has been a mixed bag for Hass. Holmgren has him calling a
lot more audibles this year (primarily to change the protection predicated on
the defensive scheme he’s facing), and it's been a real mess at times.
Holmgren has backed off and simplified the variables over the last few weeks,
but this will not be Hasselbeck's best year. Hasselbeck has shown a worrisome
trend this season to make strange decisions under pressure, but he also hasn't
been helped AT ALL by a stable of wildly inconsistent receivers.
Trent Dilfer started for Hasselbeck last week and was able to lead the team
to victory over the pitiful Miami Dolphins (pitiful added to the joy of Bills
fans, not to the detriment of the Seahawks). What is the status of Hasselbeck
for this week?
He’s still struggling with a very deep right thigh bruise which he suffered
when he collided with Alexander in the first play of the Rams game two weeks
ago. He's still having problems planting on his right foot, which is not very
good news for a right-handed QB. Here in Seattle, we refer to it as "The
Mother Of All Charley Horses". Given Buffalo's very strong defense, I would
expect Hass to make every effort to start, but I'd guesstimate that he's about
50/50 as this goes to publication. Dilfer is a great backup, but the Miami game
was his first regular-season start in two years.
Last offense question. What has the addition of Jerry Rice done for the offense
and for the team as a whole?
I think Holmgren wanted Rice to come to Seattle for two reasons. First, as a
reliable insurance policy in case Koren Robinson lost the appeal on his four-game
suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy (he lost the appeal
last week and the suspension started Monday the 22nd). Second, I believe he
really wants Rice to mentor the team’s young receivers like Robinson,
Darrell Jackson and Jerheme Urban. These guys are amazingly talented in theory,
but in the real world, it's a different story a lot of the time. If Holmgren
didn’t want a mentor, it probably would have made more sense for the Seahawks
to trade for Keenan McCardell.
Now, Rice did well in the
Miami game, catching his first TD pass as a Seahawk. And while he may have seen
his best days, I won’t add my name to the list of people who have made
themselves look stupid by doubting Jerry Rice. He’ll be an integral part
of the offense during Robinson’s suspension.
Let's turn to the defensive side of the ball. Seattle has the 15th ranked defense
in the NFL. They have given up 325.5 yards per game and are ranked 8th against
the run but 21st against the pass. What are the defense's strengths and weaknesses?
They’re very strong against the run - McGahee is in for a tough day. They
have two fine DEs in Grant Wistrom and Chike Okeafor, and a solid DT rotation
with Cedric Woodard, Rocky Bernard, Antonio Cochran and 1st round draft pick
Marcus Tubbs. Wistrom, in particular, makes the difference. The guy is a Tasmanian
Devil who occupies multiple offensive linemen, allowing other defenders to slip
through. When he was injured in the New England game and missed the next four
games, the defense really felt his absence.
The linebacker position
is the real bugaboo right now, OLB Anthony Simmons is out for the year with
a wrist injury. Chad Brown is out for at least the regular season - he may or
may not be back for the playoffs if the Seahawks get there. Versatile 'backer
D.D. Lewis was put on IR before the season even started. This is the weakness,
personnel-wise. The starting three will likely be Orlando Huff in the middle,
with Isaiah Kacyvenski and Solomon Bates on the outside. The second wave could
be easy meat for the Bills.
The secondary is the defense's
real strength. Ken Lucas is the best cover corner in the NFC, and his battery
mate, CB Marcus Trufant, leads the team in tackles with 58. Trufant has been
burned a bit of late, but that's partially due to a lack of safety help. Safeties
Ken Hamlin and Terreal Bierria seem to have issues with deep help and zone pickup,
although Hamlin can be great in coverage and is a devastating hitter. Bierria,
although a good run stopper, has been the local whipping boy for his pass coverage
The freakish surprise has
been the play of rookie nickelback Michael Boulware. Boulware was an OLB at
Florida State, and the Seahawks are looking to convert him to safety over time.
In the "tweener" position, he already has 4 INTs - two of those were
game-savers, including the 63-yard TD return in the last minute of the Miami
game. Boulware was just named Defensive Rookie of the Week. When he gets used
to his new position, an Ed Reed-style impact is not out of the question.
Yes, the interception that helped AJ Feeley steal defeat from the jaws of victory.
A great thrill for everybody over at BillsZone.com and Bills fans everywhere.
Ray Rhodes is a decent defensive coordinator, but he has been criticized for
an infuriating predictability at times, as well as a penchant for backing the
defense into Cover Four or Cover Zero schemes and letting teams just waltz back
into games. Seattle’s defense was the best in the NFL after the first
three games of the season - now people have caught Rhodes' picture show and
are starting to adapt. Common theme with him...
Let's talk about your defense.
What are the strengths and weaknesses there? Overall, they’re very impressive,
and it was fun watching them scare poor Marc Bulger to death!
Doug, the Bills currently have the 6th-ranked defense in the NFL. Coincidently,
they are also ranked 6th against the run and pass. Up front, defensive tackles
Sam Adams and Pat Williams lead the Bills defense. That combination, along with
middle linebacker London Fletcher, makes it extremely hard for opposing teams
to run up the middle on them.
Since his benching in week
6 against Miami, Sam Adams has been a monster inside. On the ends the team is
a little light. Aaron Schobel anchors the RDE position and the LDE is rotated
between Chris Kelsay and disappointing Ryan Denney. Schobel is a decent pass
rusher but the LDE supplies little heat on opposing QBs.
The LB crew is as solid
as the DL. Led by the aforementioned Fletcher and OLBs Takeo Spikes and Jeff Posey, the LBs play strong run defense and Posey takes a down stance in passing
Former Seahawk Sam Adams also has the best nickname in the NFL: “Big Poppa
The Show-Stoppa”! Are they running a 3-4 or a 4-3 most of the time?
The Bills play mainly a 4-3 but switch to 3-4 with Posey in a down position
in obvious passing situations.
That brings us to the secondary
that has been a source of worry since Troy Vincent went down with an injury
earlier this season. Nate Clements and Terrance McGee lead the CBs. Clements
is a solid CB that has a penchant for overplaying and showboating rather than
making the right play. McGee is young but has made strides. The safety position
has been a major concern all year. Lawyer Milloy missed the first quarter of
the season with a broken arm and is now just coming back up to par. The FS position
has been a huge worry all season. The Bills have tried four different players
at the position and are now starting undrafted free agent Rashad Baker.
So...up the middle, strong like bull. That's what it looks like! It also looks
to me like DC Jerry Gray has been a key factor in turning this defense around.
What are your thoughts on him?
Gray is very good at adjusting, especially at halftime. The Bills defense has
been extremely stingy in the second half of games. However, early in the season
Gray had the habit of having the defense play prevent at the end of each half.
A practice that got this team in trouble and probably lost them the games against
Jacksonville and the NY Jets in the Meadowlands.
Prevent at the end of each half? Oh, boy! Dueling prevents! Could be a shootout
towards the end there...
Anything to keep us in a game on the road. I'll take it!
The area in which the Bills have the distinct advantage is special teams. Buffalo
acquired ST coach Bobby April after the Rams cashiered him at the end of last
season. Tell us about Buffalo's special teams and the difference April has made.
For the past couple of seasons Buffalo's special teams had amounted to Punter
Brian Moorman's leg. The special teams were non-descript at best. This year,
April has inserted some starters to the units and they have responded. Rian
Lindell, a former Seahawk, is still shaky from outside of 40 yards but has been
consistent when called upon.
The return game has been
where Buffalo has excelled. Nate Clements and rookie Jonathan "Fast Freddie"
Smith have each returned a punt for a TD this season. The biggest surprise has
been kickoff return man Terrance McGee. He is second in the AFC averaging 25.9
yards per return. The play of the special teams has shortened the field, added
points and brought excitement to almost every game.
How do you get "Fast Freddie" out of "Jonathan"?
Oh, good question. Guess it goes back to when he was a kid. He used to watch
the Flintstones before going to school in the morning so his family gave him
the nickname and it stuck. He prefers to be called Jonathon. The funny thing
is it was his lack of speed that pushed him down in the draft to the 7th round.
The return units really put the Rams six feet under, didn't they?
The teams went into half time tied at 17 and the punt return team helped set
up a TD and scored another on successive punts. It really changed the game.
The Seahawks' special teams have not been at all special this year. At the end
of last season, the team decided to part ways with highly regarded ST coach
Pete Rodriguez and tapped assistant coach Mark Michaels to replace him. The
results have not been impressive, although I'd place some of the blame on Holmgren's
seeming inability to understand that you need specialists for the return game.
The Seahawks are 27th in the NFL in punt returns and 13th in kickoff returns.
Kicker Josh Brown has difficulty
getting long kickoffs going, so Seattle often has a handicap regarding field
position. However, Brown has been virtually automatic with his field goal tries.
Rookie punter Donnie Jones had punts of 19, 23, 20 and 30 yards against Miami
and was just waived. The Seahawks signed former New England punter Ken Walter
to replace him.
It seems that many teams around the league have had a turnover at the ST coaching
Well Doug, I'd like to take
this time to thank you for the session. I know the readers at BillsZone.com
will be interested in the preview of the game this weekend. Any predictions
I think that Dilfer will start, and that Holmgren will simplify the offense,
running more screens and short passes. Rice will see a lot of action. Buffalo
will key on Alexander and dare the passing game to beat them, a gameplan I think
Seattle had better get used to. On defense, Bledsoe will have some success,
but I think Rhodes will be calling blitz after blitz as he did in Miami. Bledsoe's
lack of mobility will lead to a turnover or two that will be the difference.
Bledsoe is about to get to know Grant Wistrom a lot better…
Seattle 23, Buffalo 20.
How about you?
The Bills have been putrid on the road this season, playing just one good quarter
of ball against the Jets, and that was after Mike Mularkey blew a gasket on
the sidelines. The offense has to come out and eat up clock. Long, sustained
drives full of running by McGahee is the answer. The Bills cannot depend on
Drew Bledsoe to win the game.
They cannot put the game
on his shoulders; one mistake and he unravels on the road. The defense has to
come up solid and stop Alexander. If the Seahawks run up the middle they are
as good as dead. That being said, it is tough to pick the Bills on the road.
The fact that the game takes place on Thanksgiving weekend, across the country,
does not help.
I see it Seattle 27, Bills
I think I like your prediction better than mine! Well Frank, I'd like to thank
you as well for this very enjoyable chat. Take care, and best of luck to your
Bills (after this game, that is!)
Good luck to the Seahawks
and have a great Thanksgiving holiday!