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Analysis: For once, there's real direction with the Bills' offense but will it pay off?

For years, this offense has wandered aimlessly. Quarterbacks dubbed saviors flame out, high draft picks prove to be busts and Terrell Owens is handed the key to the city.

An entire generation of fans has been tortured by false hope, year in and year out.

This moribund Buffalo Bills offense hyperventilates as the New England Patriots dominate. Since Tom Brady took over, the Bills have cycled through 13 different starting quarterbacks. Now that the off-season dust is starting to clear, so is this front office's vision and, for once, there's direction. Rather than chase... and chase... and chase at quarterback via a $20 million per year deal to Tyrod Taylor or a high draft pick, the team decided to sell out on what it does best.

Run the ball.

Will it work? Maybe not. But for once it's refreshing to see Bills invest in resources they should instead of chase at QB (see: Philadelphia, Los Angeles) or get entangled in another identity crisis. It's as if Doug Whaley, Rex Ryan, Greg Roman, Jim Monos and the gang collectively said "We don't know if Taylor is the long-term answer 14 starts in but we do know we ranked No. 1 in rushing," and they made every decision on offense through that lens from January to May.

To recap...

The Bills paid up to keep left guard Richie Incognito. On the cusp of free agency, Incognito made it clear he wanted to stay and, with significant interest from other contenders, saw a team capable of winning now in Buffalo. At three years, $15.75 million, they're counting on Incognito producing at 33, 34 and 35 years old. A gamble? Sure. But they also can't afford to send Cyril Richardson or a mid-round pick into this 2016 schedule. The NFC West and AFC North are loaded with the most suffocating run defenses in the game. Winning now demanded the Bills keep their best lineman, a player who understands Greg Roman's complex blocking schemes and makes those to the left and right of him better.

Cordy Glenn is staying long term. First came the franchise tag. Then came the five-year, $60 million contract. OverTheCap.com analyzed the deal and calculated that Glenn's "Expected Contract Value" is $52.362 million or 87 percent. That's quite a player-friendly pact considering most contracts are in the 65-70 percent range. The Bills could've gotten Glenn cheaper if they started negotiating a deal midseason but this beats the alternative of losing a durable, productive left tackle. Buffalo was at its punishing best when running behind Incognito and Glenn --- why start over? Glenn, who played all of 2014 after having a kidney removed, can get to the second level in the run game and has improved steadily as a pass blocker.

Kansas City's Tambi Hali, Philadelphia's Brandon Graham and Houston's J.J. Watt are a few pass rushers who went nowhere vs. Glenn. If you're going to overpay, this is where you do it.

The backfield reloaded. A running back? Who didn't even play a snap last season? The team's selection of Jonathan Williams might've seemed strange in the fifth round, but not for a team looking to run 30-35 times per game. Exhibit A: the 14-13 win at Tennessee. The Bills barely survived against the NFL's worst team because it was down to Boobie Dixon, street pick-up Boom Herron and Cierre Wood at running back. Still remember the brutal honesty from running backs coach Anthony Lynn two days before that game. Lynn admitted he had never seen a team hit by injuries at RB like this. So a team that still values this position much more than the norm remembered that Mike Gillislee mustered only 28 yards on 24 attempts in the finale after busting loose for those 50- and 60-yard touchdowns. It remembered that LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams missed a combined nine games last season. Jonathan Williams, hungry to see the field again, could be a factor.

Buffalo wisely didn't draft a WR early. No, Robert Woods and Chris Hogan weren't the problem last season. Both were open, often, while playing through injuries. Woods battled a torn groin all year, while Hogan had torn ligaments in his wrist in December. It's on Taylor to read the middle of the field, go through his reads and/or the coaches themselves. By waiting on drafting a receiver until the sixth round --- for a deep threat in Kolby Listenbee --- the Bills were able to load up on defense and give Rex Ryan the violence he needs.

Of course, the logic that the Bills can win with the run in a pass-happy game all begins first with LeSean McCoy. Once McCoy got past his hamstring issues, he resembled a back worth every penny of his five-year, $40 million contract. He was light at 206 pounds, explosive, dynamic in space and found a rhythm with his line.

If the McCoy of November can somehow last a 16-game season, the Bills are a legitimate playoff contender. No other back in the NFL turns a sure six-yard loss into a four-yard gain the way McCoy did on one Houdini escape at New York. Defenses routinely stacked eight or nine players into the box and he still found running room.

Buffalo needs "Shady" --- enigmatic, no doubt --- to avoid the inevitable, infamous, unapologetic running back wall as long as possible. And Karlos Williams? He's the more decisive, mashing counterpunch who surpassed everyone's expectations.

Add it all up and, yes, the Bills do have a shot in 2016. Whaley deserves credit for keeping the NFL's No. 1 rushing attack intact.

There's real direction.

No lying to themselves that JP Losman or Trent Edwards is the answer. No ill-advised contracts to Derrick Dockery and Langston Walker. No luxury picks such as C.J. Spiller.

Starting with a trip to Baltimore, Week One, we'll see if it's the right direction.

 

 

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