Vic Carucci's Bills Mailbag: Is a 7-9 finish in the cards? - The Buffalo News

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Vic Carucci's Bills Mailbag: Is a 7-9 finish in the cards?

You've got Bills questions that you've submitted to me via Twitter @viccarucci.

I've got answers:

@admarch17: Are the Bills heading for yet another 7-9 season? Who needs to step up to not let that happen?

VC: I think the schedule -- with three winnable home games in December -- gives them the ability to avoid 7-9, assuming they can steal a game or two they aren't expected to win. However, I do think that on the way to 4-5, they've probably gotten themselves into too much tie-breaker trouble to get a wild-card playoff spot.

As far as who needs to step up, it's the obvious: Tyrod Taylor, LeSean McCoy, an offensive line missing one of its best players (Eric Wood), and, of course, a defense that at times looks like it can't cover anybody. Oh, and the coaching has to be spot as well.

@BLEHarveyOswald: If the Bills don't make the playoffs are the Ryan brothers out?

VC: It doesn't appear as if that would be the case. Terry Pegula has gone as far out of his way as possible to distance himself from any notion the team needs to make the playoffs in order for his top two football lieutenants, Rex Ryan and Doug Whaley, to keep their jobs.

His and Kim Pegula's strong personal affection for them and considerable respect for their football opinions largely guides their perspective on the state of the team, present and future. I suspect it is strong enough that they will be overly sympathetic to the impact so many key injuries has had on the team's fortunes.

Terry also was known to be furious with the officiating in Monday night's 31-25 loss at Seattle, believing that the zebras cost his team a victory. So there's at least one of the five losses he is not holding against his coach.

@TonyFucci: What is the future of Stephon Gilmore? I never saw him as a top CB and this year has been a disaster from a simple fan's point of view.

VC: He has not come close to consistently performing at the level of a top cornerback. He certainly hasn't done a thing to justify becoming the NFL's top-paid player at his position, and you could argue he hasn't done a whole lot to earn the $11-plus million he's getting in the final year of his current agreement.

But Rex places a high premium on corners, and there are no signs he has soured on Gilmore to the point where he would be in favor of allowing him to walk after the season. As poorly as Gilmore has performed at times, I still wouldn't rule out the Bills hitting him with a franchise tag before free agency.

Because here's another question to consider: Do the Bills truly have a top-notch corner in Ronald Darby?

@jamiemccallum2: Is Cardale Jones going to get some time?

VC: I don't see it happening at any point this season. If Taylor were to miss a snap due to an injury or the Bills being in the late stages of a blowout, EJ Manuel would take his place. The organization continues to be squarely behind Manuel in the No. 2 quarterback spot, at least through the balance of the season.

Jones remains what he was when the Bills made him a fourth-round draft pick last April: a long-term project. He showed nothing during the offseason or training camp or the preseason to indicate he merits any sort of regular-season playing time. He's exceptionally raw and in need of the sort of intensive coaching that he won't receive during the season when the priority is to prepare starters for each game.

@JRedshow: Do you think Russ Brandon should be fired?

VC: What for?

By all accounts the business operations that he oversees for the Bills and Sabres are healthier than ever. Unless that were to change dramatically and/or Brandon or his staff mishandled some major dealings in the areas of corporate sponsorship, marketing and ticket/luxury-suite sales, I'd say his job is fairly safe.

People keep wanting to attach him to the Bills' recent failures on the field, but that hasn't applied since the Pegulas' first full season of ownership in 2015 when Brandon was removed from the football side. The guy does his job, which is to make money.

@PromoTheRobot: Is the NFL closer to the #WWE than a real sports league?

VC: In light of the officiating fiasco from Monday night, I understand the thinking behind the question.

The game isn't supposed to look as embarrassingly out-of-control as it did in those final moments of the first half when the officials were absolutely clueless about how to handle Richard Sherman's blatant hit on Dan Carpenter's leg. The sequence will stand as one of the lowlights of a season when generally poor play and officiating (either in the form of gaffes or far too many yellow flags) are cited among reasons for sharply declining television ratings.

With the WWE, you know what you're getting: athletes who entertain as actors performing their own stunts. The NFL is supposed to offer entertainment by providing the sport's highest level of competition. And every part of it is expected to meet that standard. Too many times it falls well short of that, especially this season.

@AfyAnthony: Will Rex consider going to more of a zone coverage as he did his last year with Jets because his corners can't cover?

VC: I don't see it happening any time soon. It isn't at the core of how he wants his defense to play. His heavy pressure scheme relies too much on the ability to send blitzers from all directions. And blitzing, including the simulated kind, requires the secondary to primarily play man-to-man coverage.

The other problem with the Bills trying to play more zone is the loss of their best safety, Aaron Williams, and lack of solid depth at the position. The Bills simply aren't good enough at safety to trust having areas of the field covered.

@WritingMyLife91: When will we see Sammy Watkins back?

VC: The earliest he's eligible to return from the injured-reserve list is for the Nov. 27 game against Jacksonville. My sense is that the Bills will either have him active for that game or just keep him on ice for the rest of the season.

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