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Dolphins vs Bills: Five Good Questions

With the holiday just a day away, we decided it would be wise to do our five question exchange in preparation of Sunday's game between the Dolphins and Bills today as opposed to Thursday - which is when we did it back in week four. After all, I don't think too many people will be running to their computer with a gut full of turkey to see what Brian and I are talking about.

So let's welcome in Brian Galliford of Buffalo Rumblings - SBN's fine Bills blog, and the best Bills site you'll find on the internet, if you ask me. I asked him five questions about his Bills and his responses are below. You can head over to his blog at some point on Wednesday to see how I responded to his Dolphin questions.

Matty I: Way back in June, during one of our "Around The AFC East" posts, you said that this would probably be the make-or-break season for Trent Edwards. But you also called Edwards a "good young football player." I'll bet you probably still don't feel that way about Edwards. So what do you think the future holds for Edwards and for the quarterback position in general in Buffalo?

Brian G: Yeah - I wouldn't turn that exact phrase to describe Edwards at this point. I wouldn't go too far the other way, either - he's still got the talent to stick around in this league for a long time, even if it's just as a backup. But Buffalo really, royally screwed the pooch with his development. He's never spent more than one season with an offensive coordinator, and to say that their plans for a re-structured offensive line have backfired would be the understatement of the century.

Unless Buffalo's next head coach is enamored with Edwards' raw skills and thinks they can still mold him into a starter, I'd guess that Edwards' career in Buffalo is essentially over. He's under contract at a cheap rate for 2010, so he may stick around as a backup next season. Either way, he's clearly not the franchise quarterback he appeared to be in the first six games of the '08 season. He needs to be in an environment where he can mature emotionally, because his confidence is completely shot right now.

Matty I: Speaking as an outsider, I'd say the firing of Dick Jauron was about 11 months too late. With that said, I don't understand why the Bills had to fire him in the middle of the season. What was your take on the firing? And where do you see the Bills turning for a new head coach?

Brian G: About 95 out of 100 Bills fans agree with your sentiment that Jauron should have been fired at the end of last season. He's a hell of a guy and is far more well-respected than most realize, but the results speak for themselves. He needed to go.

WIVB-TV in Buffalo reported that Ralph Wilson gave Jauron the opportunity to finish this season as the lamest of lame duck coaches, and not surprisingly, Jauron declined - what was to be gained for either side? I was floored that Wilson pulled the plug in the middle of the season; he hasn't done that since 1986, when the Bills brought in Marv Levy. But it is what it is, and it may have even been a savvy move on Wilson's part, since it'll take a significant head start in the search process to talk a guy like Mike Shanahan into coming to Buffalo. It probably won't happen even with said head start.

Bottom line - the firing was inevitable after the Bills' ridiculously awful Week 5 loss to Cleveland. I mean, seriously - Cleveland is 2-17 in their last 19 games, and both wins have come against Buffalo. It's sickening, considering we're on the verge of a full decade without playoff football, but we're looking at yet another complete re-build, and this will be our most desperate attempt at it yet. Ralph isn't exactly a spring chicken, after all.

Matty I: This is about the time of the year when I like to ask fans of other teams their impressions on their rookies. The Bills have a number of them. From browsing the stats and watching highlights, Jairus Byrd seems to have had the biggest impact of all of Buffalo's rookies. So what are your early impressions of Buffalo's key rookies (Aaron Maybin, Eric Wood, Byrd, and Andy Levitre)?

Brian G: Byrd hasn't just been our biggest-impact rookie, he's been one of the best rookies in the entire league, and probably the most valuable rookie to his team. That's not to say he'll win Rookie of the Year, because Percy Harvin and Brian Cushing are having outstanding seasons as well. But they're playing on much more talented teams, whereas Byrd has been pretty much the lone bright spot on an awful football team. Seriously - he's directly responsible for two of Buffalo's three wins. Can any other NFL rookie legitimately claim that they're responsible for 67% of their team's wins? Byrd is also the NFL's current interception leader (8).

Maybin has struggled to earn playing time, and when he's gotten time on the field, he's only flashed potential, and his tangible impact has been very minimal. But he's only 21 years old and he's playing one of the toughest college-to-pro transition positions, so I've been preaching patience with him, largely to no avail. Levitre has been important for the offense simply because he's capable of playing left tackle and left guard, but flip-flopping his position isn't exactly helping his development. Wood was probably our best lineman this season, but you may or may not have witnessed his gruesome, season-ending leg injury, in which he suffered compound fractures to both his tibia and his fibula. (If you haven't seen it, I wouldn't suggest actively seeking out the footage.) He'll be lucky to play football in 2010.

Matty I: Marshawn Lynch has been far from impressive since returning from his suspension. I know the offensive line isn't very good. But it seems like Fred Jackson has outplayed him (averaging a yard more per carry, for example) for the most part. What's been Lynch's biggest problem and what does the future hold for Lynch? Is he still considered Buffalo's long-term starting running back?

Brian G: Jackson has most definitely been the better back of the two this season, and playing from the start of the season helped him get a rhythm that Lynch just hasn't been able to find this season. In fact, Lynch's presence in the lineup has taken Jackson out of rhythm, and our run game has suffered as a result.

I'm not sure I'd call more than one or two running backs in the NFL a "long-term starting running back," because as dynamite as players like Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson are, running back is easily the most replaceable position on a football field. Quarterbacks, defenses and good trench play win championships. A good running back can be a tremendous asset to a team, obviously, but most teams who build around a running back, rather than a quarterback or a line, are going to struggle. Lynch is a good football player. He needs to clean up his act in the off-season and commit himself totally to football; if he does that, I have little doubt that he'll return to near-Pro Bowl form in 2010.

Matty I: It seems as though Buffalo's defense has regressed. They're allowing 40 yards and one point more per game than they did last year. What's this unit's biggest problem right now and what can the Bills do this offseason to improve?

Brian G: They haven't regressed - not in my opinion, anyway. The pass rush is markedly better than it has been in years past, though it's still not great (they've picked up 19 sacks in 10 games, as opposed to 23 all last season), they're No. 2 in the league with 17 interceptions, and they've made many more game-changing plays than they ever have under Perry Fewell. The statistical drops you mention are directly attributed, again in my opinion, to a ridiculous injury situation and the fact that the Bills can't get off the field on third downs (42% third down rate, good for No. 25 in the league).

Only two opening-day starters - ends Aaron Schobel and Chris Kelsay - have played in all 10 of Buffalo's games to this point. Three more opening-day starters (Kawika Mitchell, Keith Ellison, Leodis McKelvin) are on IR. A further four (Kyle Williams, Paul Posluszny, Donte Whitner, Bryan Scott) have missed three games or more. Considering the fact that they're a M.A.S.H unit, and the fact that they get zero help from the offense most weeks in terms of being able to stay off the field, the defense has actually been borderline phenomenal this season. It's tough to blame them totally for fourth-quarter meltdowns when they're on the field 35+ minutes per game, and aside from our Week 4 loss to your Dolphins, the Bills have had chances to win every game this season.

As for improving next off-season, they need Aaron Maybin to develop into a much bigger factor as a pass rusher, and they really need to bolster their depth at defensive tackle and linebacker. If they get that accomplished and can finally stay healthy, they have the makings of a really good unit - unless a new coach tries to fit them into a 3-4 defense, of course.