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Buffalo Bills - TeamReport

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NFL Team Report - Buffalo Bills - INSIDE SLANT

The numbers do not lie for the Buffalo Bills. They have now missed the playoffs 14 years in a row, and in 12 of those years, they have finished with a record below .500. They wound up with six wins for the third straight season, and they ended in last place in the AFC for the sixth consecutive year. So, has head coach Doug Marrone changed the culture in Buffalo? Are the Bills at least a better team now than the one he inherited from Chan Gailey?

It's really tough to make that argument, and Marrone understands that. "We're where we are and if I get up here and start talking about closer and this and that ... you've got to go out there and do it at the end of the day and we haven't done that," Marrone said. "I am part of this and I have to get this thing corrected. To say that you are closer or anything like that, you know, until you win, you really don't have a leg to stand on."

Marrone was disappointed by the performance on Sunday in the season finale at New England. All three units failed the Bills.

On offense, the Bills were unable to finish a few drives with touchdowns that would have made a big difference, and while backup quarterback Thad Lewis wasn't terrible, there was really never a point in the game where you felt he was going to be able to lead the Bills to victory.

"In critical moments we weren't able to (make plays)," said running back C.J. Spiller. "We can't point fingers, it was a team effort, but they definitely made those crucial plays."

On defense, it was an abysmal showing against the run as LeGarrette Blount gained a career-high 189 yards and the Pats finished with 267, doing this on a day when the Bills knew New England would rely on the ground game because of the drenching rain that fell all day.

"It's definitely upsetting to give up that many yards," said linebacker Jerry Hughes, "especially in the first half. We have to do a better job of tackling. Hopefully, that festers in the offseason and it's something we can use to motivate us. It was disgusting."

And on special teams, the kickoff coverage team allowed Blount to break off two massive returns totaling 145 yards that killed momentum after Buffalo scores.

"One time, on (the first kickoff return), we got collapsed, and we missed a tackle in the hole," Marrone said. "There were a couple problems on that one. The second one, there were three missed tackles. You know, they were in position to make it and you have to make that play. Their kid had an outstanding game, running the football and kickoff returns."

This game was actually a microcosm of the entire season. Quarterback play wasn't good enough and the offense was inconsistent, the defense was stout at times, but allowed too many big plays at critical times, and the special teams provided no lift.

"Unforced errors," Marrone said. "It's happened to us during the year from multiple players. I think that's one of the things when we talk about structure and discipline that we have to do a better job of."

The Bills head into another offseason with several questions to address. Quarterback, as always, is at the top of the list. Is rookie EJ Manuel the answer? No one knows because he played only 10 games, and he didn't exactly light the NFL on fire when he was healthy. Lewis is a low-level backup, so the Bills must decide how to proceed. Monday, Manuel said that Marrone told him he will be the starter heading into 2014, but general manager Doug Whaley did not rule out adding a quarterback to the roster in the offseason to provide competition, either via the draft or free agency, saying that everything will be evaluated.

At wide receiver, Stevie Johnson sat out the final two weeks following the death of his mother which seemed a bit much as she passed on Dec. 14. His days could be over in Buffalo after a year when he managed only 597 receiving yards, though Whaley, surprised by the topic when it came up, said Johnson is under contract and he expects him to be back. There are two offensive line positions that need big upgrades -- left guard and right tackle. On defense, another linebacker is a must, preferably a big guy to plug into the middle so the Bills can move undersized Kiko Alonso to the outside where he belongs. If free safety Jairus Byrd isn't back, that's a huge void, and another cornerback wouldn't hurt.

Team CEO Russ Brandon said the Bills have made significant progress under Marrone, and while he's not happy about the record, he said, "We are on the path to success under his leadership. What we don't feel good about is sitting here at 6-10, and that needs to change. Obviously, we had transition at the quarterback position. That's very difficult in this league."

Marrone said, "I promise you, as soon as Tuesday starts, we are already working ahead on 2014. We'll look back in a long process of things we have to get done. Yes, I am disappointed in our record."

He's certainly not the first Bills coach to say that at the end of a year, just the latest.

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NFL Team Report - Buffalo Bills - NOTES, QUOTES

--Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus was disciplined for a second straight game, both because he was late for team meetings. He sat out the first quarter of the Miami game, and then the very next day was late, so coach Doug Marrone sat him out for the first half against the Patriots.

"I just hate that I put my team in a position like that," Dareus said. "As a player, I'm just going to get better. Me and coach talked about it. I'm going to grow as a player in the offseason and continue to just work. I apologized to my guys. I'm going to let them know I'm so sorry for what happened. I'm sorry about the game today and, of course, last week. They know I'm wholeheartedly sorry for what happened."

His teammates supported him, but they weren't happy about his transgressions.

"He's (Marrone) establishing what he wants to get established, holding guys accountable," said running back Fred Jackson. "We've harped on it all year long, being accountable for your teammates. If you're sitting on the sideline, you're not accountable. That's one of the things we've got to get changed and one of the things we're working on."

--Marrone announced that he fired wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard over a "difference in philosophy." He said he does not believe anyone else will be fired, even special teams coach Danny Crossland who had a rough year. Hilliard's group underperformed all year as Stevie Johnson had the most receiving yardage, with just 597 yards. Further, players like T.J. Graham and Marquise Goodwin did not produce what was expected.

--The defense did some nice things in 2013 as it recorded a team-record 57 sacks, picked off 23 passes, held opposing quarterbacks to a league-low 55.3 completion percentage, and finished fourth in pass defense allowing just 204 yards per game. But take a closer look and perhaps it's not as impressive as it seemed. The Bills were 0-8 against teams that ranked higher than 25th in total offense as all six of their victories came against teams ranked in the bottom quarter of the league. Also, they had to play against only one running back who finished in the top 15 in rushing yards (Kansas City's Jamaal Charles), yet they still finished 28th against the run.

--Kicker Dan Carpenter completed a tremendous season by tying the Bills' all-time record for field goals made in a season with 33, and his four 50-yard plus makes set a new team mark. With 131 points, Carpenter produced the third-highest scoring season in team history, second-best for a kicker behind Steve Christie's team-best 140-point mark in 1998. Carpenter joined the team as a free agent when rookie Dustin Hopkins suffered a groin injury late in preseason. Carpenter had been cut my Miami, Arizona and the Jets over the summer. General manager Doug Whaley said the team would like to re-sign Carpenter.

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NFL Team Report - Buffalo Bills - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

SEASON REPORT CARD

PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus -- The Bills spent their first-round pick in 2013 on QB EJ Manuel, but after his injury-plagued first year, the team is no further along in figuring out whether they have found their QB of the future. Manuel was mediocre at best when he played, his penchant for getting hurt is troubling because Thad Lewis isn't exactly a reliable backup. The receiving corps was disappointing, too. Speedsters T.J. Graham and Marquise Goodwin used their track-star wheels far too little, Stevie Johnson struggled to the worst year since he became a starter, and Robert Woods, while showing promise, is nothing more than a possession receiver at this point. The line protected fairly well, but upgrade are needed at left guard and right tackle.

RUSHING OFFENSE: A-minus -- The Bills finished second in the NFL with 144.2 yards per game, but their 4.2 average per carry was 14th. That was an indication that C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson made some big plays, but there were also far too many plays that failed. Spiller had 30 runs that were held to zero or negative yardage, tied for sixth-most in the league. Spiller finished with 927 yards, Jackson 896, so as a combo unit, that was impressive. But Spiller suffered a steep decline from his breakout 2012 season, due mainly to an ankle injury that bothered him since Week 4.

PASS DEFENSE: A-minus -- After a slow start as they had to wait for injured CB Stephon Gilmore and FS Jairus Byrd to return, both for the Week 6 game against Cincinnati, the secondary had a solid year. The Bills finished fourth in passing yards allowed (204 per game) while they held opposing QBs to a 55.3 completion percentage, best in the league, and a 74.9 rating, third-best in the league. The Bills made 23 interceptions, and set a team record for sacks with 57 as Mario Williams (13), Kyle Williams (10.5) and Jerry Hughes (10) all reached double digits, the first time a Bills trio has done that since 1995. CB Nickell Robey was an undrafted free agent find, and CB Leodis McKelvin had the best year of his career.

RUSH DEFENSE: C -- There were times when the Bills were stout as they held five opponents under 100 yards, including Miami which gained 14 in a Week 16 game. And then there were times when the Bills were abysmal, such as the 267-yard yield in the finale at New England. They finished 28th in rush defense, allowing 128.9 yards per game. It was an improvement over the past few years, but there needs to be further improvement. Rookie LB Kiko Alonso finished third in the NFL with 159 tackles, and DTs Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus were rock solid in the middle of the line combining for 138 tackles.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- The Bills set franchise lows for kickoff returns (23) and yards (469), due mainly to all the touchbacks they endured. Their punt return game was also feeble (39 returns all season, 6.2 average). In coverage, the Bills were average at best. They were 25th covering punts, and 17th on kickoffs, although they allowed just one touchdown in the return game. P Brian Moorman returned to the team around midseason and was decent, but the Bills will likely look to upgrade. K Dan Carpenter had a terrific year as he set a team record with four 50-yard field goals, tied the team season mark of 33 successful field goals, and his 131 points were the third-most in team history, second-most by a kicker.

COACHING: B-minus -- Doug Marrone changed the culture in Buffalo, but it did not translate in the standings as the Bills finished 6-10 for the third straight year. The Bills were competitive in just about every game, but only one of their six wins came against a team that's going to the playoffs. On defense, Mike Pettine revamped the unit and the style and there were major improvements, but also frustrating inconsistency. Offensively, Nathaniel Hackett had a really tough year dealing with rookie and journeyman QBs, and the offense sputtered most of the season, particularly the passing game. Special teams coach Dan Crossland got very little out of his units.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/thomson-reuters/140101/buffalo-bills-teamreport