Sunday, September 25, 2016

WWM Flashback: Bye, Bye, Brian

(Editor's Note: Believe it or not, the greatest Buffalo Bill of the Drought Era was released four years ago today. The following was originally posted on Sept. 25, 2012.)

The Buffalo Bills cut the best punter they have ever had on Tuesday.

By any measurable standard, Brian Moorman outkicked Chris Mohr and Paul Maguire, the only other  two Buffalo punters in the conversation, by a good distance.

Moorman was three games into his 12th season in Buffalo, putting him more than a year ahead of his predecessor, Mohr, on the Bills’ punting longevity chart. Moorman’s replacement, rookie  Shawn Powell, will be only Buffalo’s third punter since 1990.

He did not merely hang around, though. Moorman’s ability to kick long, high and to precise spots on the field made him Buffalo’s most valuable player in more than a few games, particularly during the depths of the Mularkey-Jauron years, which spanned the second half of the preceding decade.

While this says at least as much about the feebleness of those teams as it does about Mohr’s ability to kick a ball that he had just intentionally dropped before it hit the ground, he routinely provided a field-position advantage to teammates who desperately needed it.

Moorman’s value earned him a prominent place in a column I wrote long ago, and far away.

Back in August, while walking up to Ralph Wilson Stadium for the exhibition game against Cincinnati, I noticed that the ticket provided by Gary, BillStuff's gracious host for the evening, bore the image of Brian Moorman.

Usually, such high-profile placement is reserved for the quarterback, or running back, or a star defender. Not the guy who only gets to do his job when his teammates have failed at theirs.

"You know, putting your punter on the tickets doesn't exactly instill confidence," I said.

"No," Gary said. "No, it doesn't."

Moorman more than earned such recognition in the game I was writing about, Buffalo’s 16-6 win over Miami in September 2006. Five of his six punts landed inside the Dolphins’ 20-yard line, with four pinning them inside their own 10.

There were more than a few days like that. He also kicked with a consistency that kept him around for more than 11 years. He was also the greatest fake-field-goal holder the Bills have ever had, throwing a touchdown pass in 2008 and another in 2009, giving him a perfect passing rating of 158.3 for both seasons.

His off-field work with various local charities, particularly his own foundation to benefit children with cancer and other serious diseases, helped make him as popular as a punter could possibly hope.

This summer, he almost lost the punting job to Powell, a first-team All-American at Florida State last year, in training camp. Evidently, the Bills decided this week that Moorman had lost a few feet on his kicks, or could no longer place the ball exactly where it would be most beneficial to their coverage schemes.

The 6-foot-4, 248-pound Powell has a big leg, averaging 44.8 yards per kick in the preseason. Moorman’s value, though, came just as much from his consistency catching the ball, on punts and field goal attempts, and kicking it away quickly (just two blocked punts, nine years apart, blemish his statistical resume. Like Mohr before him, he thrived in the swirling winds and icy rain and snow of late fall in Western New York.

Can a guy who has done all of his big-game punting in the relatively balmy American Southeast bear up as well under the weather? The answer will be as important as the strength of Powell’s leg in determining whether he lasts nearly as long as the best punter in Buffalo’s football history.

Rex Honestly Answers Questions Not Asked

"Probably not real good," Rex Ryan said in answer to a question after Friday's walk-through in preparation for Buffalo's increasingly ominous-looking game against Arizona on Sunday.

He was talking about the likelihood of Sammy Watkins taking the field against the Cardinals after the wide receiver's already-balky foot got stepped on earlier in the week, causing him to miss each ensuing practice.

Given the state of his 0-2 football team, which managed to lose both a defensive struggle and an offensive shootout by identical six-point margins within a five-day span to open the season, Rex could have answered any number of questions using the same four words. Especially with the annual trip to New England, which is off to a 3-0 start without Tom Brady so much as strapping on his shoulder pads since August, looming a week after Arizona's visit.

Those four simple words are all Buffalo's beleaguered coach really needs to accurately assess most of his team's problems: "Probably not real good."

For example:

"What are the chances of upsetting a conference finalist if you couldn't beat the fucking New York Jets, even while scoring 31 points -- including two scoring passes of 70-yards-plus and a defensive touchdown, all in front of a raucous Thursday night crowd?"

"How do you expect your allegedly elite cornerbacks to look against Larry Fitzgerald and the Cardinals' other fast, rangy receivers after getting torched for more than 100 yards by two big Jets wideouts and nearly 100 by a third?"

"What's the possibility of your pass rush, one of your supposed areas of expertise, generating consistent pressure on Carson Palmer, as opposed to allowing him to calmly survey the field for most of the day?"

"What's your assessment of 'Bills Run Deep' as a franchise slogan?"

"How about as a football-related term that even makes sense to anyone but the marketing types who came up with it?"

"What kind of performance to you expect from Tyrod Taylor without Watkins (who was ruled out officially a few hours before game time) to target, or at least draw coverage away from your other, far lesser receivers?"

"What kind of outcome did you expect from repeatedly diving into the heart of New York's short-yardage run defense, especially when it barely worked the first time?"

"What kind of defensive game plan are you and your brother going to come up with?"

"Speaking of game plans, any chance your new offensive coordinator will be able to establish any sort of consistency beyond punting a lot and hoping Taylor can hit a long bomb once in a while?"

"How did you feel when you found out your bosses like to have meetings with your employees without you around, like the sessions reportedly held right before your old offensive coordinator got canned?"

"What sort of impact do you think that sort of thing has on your credibility with those employees?"

"How would you rate your team's chances of making the playoffs for the first time in so long that sportswriters are running out of comic comparisons to make?"

"How about the likelihood of just staying in the postseason race until the final week of the season for the first time since 2004?"

"At least until after Thanksgiving?"


"Thanks, Rex. One more question. What are the odds of you and your brother still having jobs when the playoffs start if you don't get this mess figured out in a hurry?"

(Note: You can follow @davidstaba on the Twitter, if you really want.)


Friday, September 16, 2016

Rex: The Buck Stops ... Over There

What do you do when your defense gives up 37 points and allows a quarterback playing for his sixth NFL team to throw for 374 yards, including more than 100 to two receivers and 92 to a third, while still finding time to surrender 100 yards and three touchdowns to the same team's running back?

Fire the offensive coordinator, of course.

Apparently, Greg Roman was responsible for the defensive scheme, such as it was, that somehow managed to let Ryan Fitzpatrick's receivers run free down the middle AND along the sidelines in the New York Jets' 37-31 victory at New Era But Same Results Field on Thursday night. And also the lack of gap control and tackling technique that permitted Matt Forte to grind out that aforementioned 100 yards and trio of scores.

Yes, the Bills might still have pulled out an unlikely and largely undeserved win had what turned into an apocalyptic short-yardage situation in the fourth quarter been handled in just about any other way imaginable. And maybe the whole backup-quarterback sneak, timeout, speed-back-dive-up-the-middle fiasco went exactly the way Roman drew it up.

Seems like the head coach usually has the final say on such potentially game-wrecking and possibly season-sabotaging decisions, though.

To place the blame anywhere but on Roman, though, would mean Rex Ryan diving on that grenade, or at least tossing twin brother and co-defensive guru Rob in that general direction.

Instead, Roman -- who received ample credit for Tyrod Taylor's development from career backup to possible quarterback-of-at-least-the-immediate-future in his first season as a starter, as well as turning Buffalo's running game into the league's most productive in 2015 -- is looking for a job.

If the Ryan Boys, with the help of new offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn, can't figure out a way to pull at least one upset in the next two weeks (with Arizona and New England poised to double the futility level of the 0-2 Bills) they should join him.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Bills Rushing To Avoid 0-2 Start

(EDITOR'S NOTE: In an effort to pay homage to Bruce Smith, who will have his iconic No. 78 retired during tonight's home opener against the New York Jets, the editorial staff of We Want Marangi took the summer off, relaxing while the Buffalo Bills sweated under the hot sun. Since largely contact-free practices and exhibition games in which almost no one who matters come September gets much playing time bear little resemblance to the sport of American football, we don't think we missed much.

We bring this up mainly to quell rumors that one or more WWM staffers were suspended for Week 1 after testing positive for excessive levels of Kaopectate, Flinstones Chewable Vitamins and/or horse tranquilizers.)

Late one spring afternoon a few years back, a friend called, asking if I wanted a free ticket to see Bob Dylan perform that night at the University at Buffalo's Alumni Arena.

Since a few other friends were going, I accepted, but had no real expectations one way or the other. I'd heard a Dylan concert could be either a flashback to the genius that made him a legend, or a total shitshow.

However it turned out, I figured it was a chance to see one of the most influential musicians of the past century perform live, as well as a spontaneous opportunity to hang out with some buddies. But I didn't really have a strong sense how it would turn out.

That feeling, or lack thereof, returned as the Bills' season opener approached. Buffalo's 2015 campaign was, by any measure, a crashing disappointment, a letdown at least as big as any the Bills had perpetrated during their 16-season playoff-free skid.

The offseason didn't bring much more good news. Buffalo's first two draft choices, Shaq Lawson and Reggie Ragland, who were expected to bolster a defense largely responsible for last season's letdown, were lost to injury before the first exhibition. Then starting linebacker Manny Lawson, who reportedly had a league suspension following a domestic-violence charge looming, was cut.

Most preseason optimism hinged on the continued improvement of quarterback Tyrod Taylor, heading into his second season, and an offensive line that cleared the way for the NFL's top running attack in 2015. The only significant addition on either side of the ball still ambulatory for Opening Day was Reggie Bush, who won the Heisman Trophy 11 years ago, but hadn't done much over the past two seasons in Detroit and San Francisco.

A 1-3 exhibition record, including a shutout on each side of the ledger, didn't offer much in the way of what the regular season would bring. Still, as it always does around here, things were pretty optimistic around here, as well as among the national pundits.

Nobody sane predicted a serious challenge to New England for the AFC East title, but  contention for a wildcard berth, representing Buffalo's first playoff appearance since 1999, was a common prediction. Taylor would get better in his second season while a second full year in Ryan's system almost had to yield results on defense, the consensus held.

The defense did look improved in Baltimore, allowing Ravens runners just 3.0 yards per carry and sacking Joe Flacco four times. There was one breakdown, when Mike Wallace got behind Stephon Gilmore for a 66-yard touchdown early in the second quarter for Baltimore's lone touchdown.

As it turned out, it was the only one the Ravens needed.

One long pass, made possible by Taylor's athleticism when he escaped a sack and connected with Charles Clay for 33 yards, set up the only Bills touchdown, which came on a 1-yard LeSean McCoy fourth-down dive.

That dazzling play by Taylor turned out to be the only one he and his offense managed all day. The rest of the time, the Bills looked like they were marking time through another exhibition, failing to establish themselves on the ground or in the air.

The No. 1 rushing game of a year ago managed just 65 yards, while runners were dropped behind the line five times for 18 yards in losses. McCoy and Taylor couldn't break free, while Bush's three tries added up to four yards in reverse.

Bush's lack of impact has even led to speculation that Buffalo should consider bringing back the newly released C.J. Spiller.

Other than the hookup with Clay, Taylor completed 14 of 21 passes, which would be good numbers if those completions had added up to at least double the 78 yards they covered. Under pressure much of the day, Taylor's willingness, and ability, to throw deep marked his first year as the starter, but on Sunday, he resorted to the sort of quick, safe dump-offs that earned Trent Edwards the "Captain Checkdown" nickname during his largely forgettable stint in Buffalo.

Taylor's offense did nothing after entering the fourth quarter trailing by three, going three-and-out on its final three possessions, while the defense wore down enough to let Baltimore hold the ball for nearly 12 minutes in the fourth quarter, including the game's final 4:29, while tacking on an insurance field goal.

Buffalo's familiar-but-allegedly-improved attack wasn't any more effective earlier, failing to do anything after a huge break, when a botched shotgun snap created the game's lone turnover, setting the Bills up at Baltimore's 47-yard line midway through the first quarter. Three snaps and four yards later, Buffalo punted.

The seven points the Bills managed were the fewest scored by any team Sunday. Only the once-again-Los Angeles Rams accomplished less, getting blanked by San Francisco during the Monday-night finale.

Back to that Dylan concert. That night, the old man and his band killed it. Raw and bluesy, they were the best bar band you could want to hear.

But then, non-existent expectations are easy to exceed. Somehow, on Sunday, the Bills failed to do even that.

Which, of course, leaves them with even less to live up to tonight in front of a sold-out, likely well-lubricated crowd at newly renamed New Era Field.

The Jets started off 2016 with an even more painful loss, as Nick Folk's first career missed extra point proved the difference at home against Cincinnati. And Ryan Fitzpatrick showed why New York took its time in re-signing him, starting off this season as he ended the last one, snuffing his team's chances with a late interception.

New York's defense figures to keep Taylor under pressure, having sacked the Bengals' Andy Dalton seven times, intercepting him once. And the Jets featured new running back Matt Forte in Week 1, with the ex-Bear piling up 155 yards from scrimmage on 27 touches.

All of which gives tonight's game extraordinary importance for a mid-September contest. Maybe Taylor will resume arcing long throws to Sammy Watkins, McCoy will prove as elusive to the Jets defense as he was to the Philadelphia police who wanted him charged after an offseason bar brawl, and New York's quarterback will again Fitz all over the turf in Orchard Park.

If not, it might be tough to not start thinking about expectations for 2017.


One thing about tonight's home opener is certain.

The Bills' uniforms, imposed by the NFL's Color Rush mandate, will be heinous. All-any-color duds make professional teams resemble high-school squads, with Buffalo's red pajamas particularly painful to watch.

Mercifully, the league is not forcing the Jets to don the all-green unis that, in combination with the Bills, particularly tortured colorblind viewers last November. If aesthetics mattered to the league office as much as selling more officially licensed jerseys (SPOILER ALERT: They don't), it would have dressed Buffalo in white, since the Bills' white-on-white combo might be the sharpest get-up in the game, especially when topped with the throwback standing Buffalo helmets.


This being America and all, WWM believes those who have spent a remarkable amount of time on social media raging about Colin Kaepernick's refusal to stand during the pre-game playing of the national anthem, as well as an increasing number of his peers offering similar protest, are every bit as entitled to their opinions as the second-string San Francisco quarterback and his like-minded colleagues are to theirs.

It was interesting, though, to note that only two people out of about 20 in the room where we watched the first half of Buffalo v. Baltimore stood during "The Star-Spangled Banner" -- and to be fair, we were already on our feet -- and only one of us took off his baseball cap.

(ANOTHER EDITOR'S NOTE: If you're the type who likes to fill the gaps between actual action during an NFL telecast, you can always follow @davidstaba on the Twitter for WWM-style semi-informed commentary and gratuitous cheap shots.)