I’m sure when the name Kevin Gilbride gets mentioned in Buffalo, most Bills fans start flash backing to an offense that looked awesome at first, then quickly went downhill. I know most people will blame a lot of the offensive futility in 2003 on Drew Bledsoe. However, Gilbride was a coach who put his quarterback in situations to fail. He was an offensive coordinator who was hell bent on beating the opposition through the air. He learned that sort of philosophy when he was down in Houston a decade earlier and was the OC for the run and shoot offense. I can remember times during the 2003 season where coaches, fans and even players wondered aloud, “Why aren’t the Bills committed to the run?” I can remember times when the Bills would face a 3rd and 1 and only needed inches to get a first down, yet they elected to pass and disaster would strike. I remeber that exact same scenerio happened against Miami in week 16 and Ruben Brown blew a gasket when Bledsoe got sakced.
What made the question of not running the football more maddening was how the Bills had changed their personnel offensively going into that season. Gone were skilled players like Peerless Price, Jay Riemersma and Larry Centers, and replacing them were Sam Gash at fullback, Josh Reed at wide receiver, and Mark Campbell at tight end. You didn’t have to be an NFL coach to realize that the Bills were being built as a physical team, rather than the finesse team we had watched during the 2002 season. However, during that season, Gilbride didn’t alter his preparations and continued to throw the ball in situations that left Bills fans with puzzled looks on their face. During that season, the Bills averaged 33 pass attempts a game, while ranking 28th in passing, yet, they ran the ball pretty effectively. Travis Henry gained almost 1,400 yards rushing, but the Bills only ranked 20th in rushing attempts. Bottom line: Gilbride’s attitude of being a coach who wanted the offense to be a predominant passing team, cost him his job.
Now to Chan Gailey. Look, I know it’s still early in Gailey’s coaching career with the Bills, but I’m starting to see some trends between he and Gilbride. The Bills have two top backs in Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller, yet, the Bills are ranked 25th in rushing attempts. Over the last three games with Ryan Fitzpatrick as the starter, the Bills have dropped back to pass 97 times. Again, I get that the Bills had to play from behind in those games, but to only give Fred Jackson the football 11 times against Jacksonville? Then you get CJ Spiller touching the ball only 3 times against the Jets? Sorry, but if you were to rank the Bills roster in terms of Madden points, Jackson and Spiller would be ahead of Fitzpatrick. Now, you might be thinking that this is just coincidental with Gailey, but it really isn’t the case. As the offensive coordinator in Kansas City in 2008, the Chiefs were ranked 29th in rushing attempts with Larry Johnson as their feature back, yet, they ranked 9th in passing attempts. Again, at that point, who do you think was a better player, Tyler Thigpen or Larry Johnson? I’m not saying LJ was an awesome player at that time, but he was a better player than Thigpen.
What this all tells me is that Gailey is the type of coach that wants to win games by his methods: The passing game. Now, I’m all for a coach who wants to say “it’s my way or the highway” when it comes to game planning. However, you better have those players to back up your approach. When Mike Martz was in St. Louis and they were winning division titles and going to the Super Bowl 2 out 3 years, it was fine that they were a passing team because Kurt Warner, Issac Bruce and Torry Holt were money in the bank. However, Fitzpatrick and Lee Evans aren’t close to those guys in terms of talent. I think it’s better for a coach to try and use the talent around him to the best of their abilities. Sure, Chan may want his offense to play well in the passing game, but they just don’t have the personnel to drop back 30-35 times a game. It would behove for Gailey to try and establish the run first and then have Fitzpatrick work from the luxury of having a running game that defenses have to respect. On the other side of the coin, running the football would also help the Bills defense stay off the field.
Bottom line: Gailey needs to start looking at his personnel more and stop trying to win games the way he sees fit. Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick would always be the types of coaches who would change philosophies by what their players brought to the table. Kevin Gilbride never understood that when he was in Buffalo and because of that, the Bills offense set records in futility. I don’t think this offense will come close in setting those records, but it would better serve Gailey to have a balanced attack when trying to win football games.