’08 Preview: Third year the charm for Bills’ Jauron?

The last time the Buffalo Bills made the playoffs, a good portion of their current roster wasn’t even old enough to vote. And since this is an election year, it’s safe to say that the chance that the Bills will end their eight-year playoff drought is too close to call.

However, they finally seem to have a team capable of making a postseason breakthrough.

The Bills helped their defense by adding three-time Pro Bowl tackle Marcus Stroud in a trade with Jacksonville and drafting Troy cornerback Leodis McKelvin. They also grabbed outside linebacker Kawika Mitchell and tackle Spencer Johnson in free agency. On offense, they got the size they needed at wide receiver with rookie James Hardy.

2008 TEAM PREVIEWS

AFC EAST: BUF | MIA | NE | NYJ

AFC NORTH: BAL | CIN | CLE | PIT

AFC SOUTH: HOU | IND | JAC | TEN

AFC WEST: DEN | KC | OAK | SD

NFC EAST: DAL | NYG | PHI | WAS

NFC NORTH: CHI | DET | GB | MIN

NFC SOUTH: ATL | CAR | NO | TB

NFC WEST: ARI | SEA | SF | STL

Coach Dick Jauron did a great job squeezing out seven wins and staying in the playoff hunt late into the season despite having 17 players end the year on injured reserve. This team should be much improved, which means anything short of a playoff berth will be a disappointment.

Offense

New offensive coordinator Turk Schonert takes over for Steve Fairchild, who left to become head coach at Colorado State. Schonert is in charge of retooling an attack that ranked 30th in total yards, passing, third downs and red-zone touchdown percentage.

The running game will remain the focal point, but look for a passing attack with quick, rhythm throws that takes plenty of shots downfield. The Bills also want to get the tight end and running backs more involved as receivers.

Defense

Coordinator Perry Fewell likes generating pressure with a variety of blitzes and zone dogs. He uses different personnel in his pressure packages and tries to create deception with a lot of pre-snap movement.

The Bills don’t employ much man coverage, as their secondary usually lines up in a Cover-2 shell on pass downs. The Bills struggled against the run last season, but they hope that adding more bulk along the front seven will make them stouter at the point of attack.

The book on: Aaron Schobel

A rival sizes up the Bills’ defensive end:

“Schobel has kind of grown on me the last three years. He has always been a high-motor guy who will play from whistle to whistle, but he has gotten better in every aspect of the game and is growing into a complete player.

“Obviously, his pass-rushing skills get most of the attention. He is a handful because he gets off the ball so quickly that you have to give the tackle help or at least chip him with a (running) back to slow him down.

“The best way to neutralize him or slow down his aggressiveness is run at him on sweeps and counters. He is good at shooting gaps, but if you get a bigger body on him you could have some success. However, this guy is a challenge no matter what you try to do. He’s the one guy on that team you have to game-plan for on their defense.”

Bottom line

During Jauron’s first two seasons, the Bills had many growing pains, from being forced to play inexperienced people to enduring a ridiculous amount of injuries. Yet both of those squads were in playoff contention until the last month of the season.

With a big injection of talent from free agency and the draft, this is clearly the best team Jauron has put on the field.

SN prediction: 8-8, third in AFC East.

Allen Wilson covers the Bills for the Buffalo News and Sporting News.


Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Football 2012 registration is now open. Sign up today!
Updated Thursday, Jul 17, 2008