Bills top wide out Stevie Johnson had a performance to forget on...
Get Well Soon
I am a sports pessimist. I fully expect the worst outcome for my beloved teams at every turn. In my mind, the Mets bullpen has never seen a lead too large to blow, the Syracuse basketball team hasn’t gotten a call their way since the 1970’s, and without fail, the Bills will pull the rug out from underneath me as soon as I allow the mere thought of victory to cross my mind. To be fair, two of those three points are inarguable.
Last week, I boarded a bus at 5:15 in the morning headed west on Interstate 90 for Orchard Park. Roughly eleven hours later, I was staring out the window of said bus asking the most deeply-existential question a sports fan can ponder; why do I do this to myself? The upside of being a fanatic, especially with my particular assortment of allegiances, is so little, while the downside is not only crushing, but seemingly perpetual. A few hours later, I milled about large contingent of Brady-clad travelers at a rest stop and couldn’t figure out why I had trudged across the entire state to watch evil triumph over everything I love for what feels like the 21st time in the last 20 games between the two teams.
This past Sunday, as EJ’s pass slowly floated into Stevie’s arms, I couldn’t help but think about the view outside my bus window and the Boston faithful gorging themselves on Big Macs somewhere outside of Canasota. I wanted to go back in time and feel just an ounce of the joy I was overcome with as Carpenter’s extra point sailed through the uprights, because even a whiff of that euphoria would have made the five hour ride across New York State bearable. I’d focused so much on the downside of being a fan, I forgot just how high that upside climbs. If football is religion for some, I received communion in Week 2. So with all the happiness, joy and positivity flowing through Bills Mafia after the comeback victory, I thought I would use this space to do what I do best; rain on everyone’s parade, including (or especially) my own.
We have a problem, friends, and that problem’s name is Colin Brown.
In Week 1, Brown earned Pro Football Focus’ worst grade among all guards with a -7.8 rating. He yielded a quarterback hit and three hurries on a day in which Manuel was blitzed on only six drop backs. His performance against the run was dreadful, as was that of his line-mates, repeatedly allowing Vince Wilfork to come and go in the back field as he pleased. Doug Marrone, an offensive lineman himself, kept his starting linemen on the field for every snap of Week 2 just as he did in Week 1, hoping to gain productivity through cohesion. For the most part, this was a success, as the team’s yards-per-carry jumped a half yard and produced runs of 46 and 21 yards after facilitating zero runs over 20 yards against New England. Even with the overall improvement of his unit, Brown found a way to regress from his league-worst showing in Week 1, grading out at -8.3. Just like Week 1, his pass blocking was unspectacular, allowing four hurries on 45 drop-backs, but his run blocking was nightmare-inducing. Carolina rookie first round pick Star Lotulelei dominated Brown, grading out at +4.3. To put that in perspective, Mario Williams, in his Bruce Smith meets Reggie White meets Godzilla performance, came in at +2.6. Lotulelei had a key tackle-for-loss on the Bills’ first drive, dropping Fred Jackson on third down and pushing Dan Carpenter into an uncomfortable 42 yard field goal that he would miss badly. Another week, another nose tackle runs wild.
It will be interesting to see how Marrone handles this conundrum over the next few weeks. At the moment, he doesn’t have many options in terms of replacing Brown. Sam Young is the only healthy reserve guard on the depth chart, and while he doesn’t seem to be a viable every-down lineman, the idea of sliding Thomas Welch off of the outside is even less promising. It seems that Frank Summers may be part of the plan to supplement the line, playing 22 snaps (29 percent) after not seeing the field with the offense in Week 1, according to Buffalo Rumblings. Those reps appear to have come out of TJ Graham’s workload, who saw his percentage drop from 95 in Week 1 to 63 in Week 2 even with Marquise Goodwin’s absence.
The elephant in the room is Doug Legursky, Brown’s training camp competitor for the starting job who has been sidelined by a knee injury. On Monday, Marrone indicated that Legursky is “getting closer” to his return and listed him as day-to-day. The question becomes whether or not Marrone allows Legursky and Brown to resume their competition, which means splitting practice reps and skewing the cohesion of the entire line. A telling sign will be Summers’ workload against yet another menacing front seven with the New York Jets in Week 3. If his snap counts increases and the running attack enjoys continued success, Marrone may be content to let the line remain in tact. It’s hard to imagine the coaching staff leaving a healthy Legursky idle on the bench while Brown flounders however.
When a player can manage to stand out as a cause for pessimism after one of the most uplifting Bills games in years, a change is needed. Doug – get well soon.