Every summer leading up to training camp Buffalobills.com asks 25 of the most pressing questions facing the team as they make their final preparations for the upcoming regular season. With Year 3 under head coach Chan Gailey and veteran player report day at St. John Fisher fast approaching, here is the latest daily installment as we closely examine some of the answers the Buffalo Bills have to come up with between July 24th and Sept. 9th.
In an offseason where the additions on the defensive side of the ball have largely grabbed the headlines, Buffalo's offense has gone about their business. They kept weapons like Scott Chandler and Stevie Johnson in the fold and also retained three offensive linemen by virtue of new contracts. The question is can the Bills offense take another step forward in their point production to turn more tightly-fought games into victories?
It's not the lone definitive stat in determining what makes a playoff caliber team, but when nine of the 12 playoff clubs from 2011 are also among the top 12 scoring teams in football points per game counts for something.
"Statistics lie sometimes and there are a lot of things that go into being a successful offense, but that's something we look at," said Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Coming off a season in 2010 in which Fitzpatrick had to take the reins from Trent Edwards in Week 3 and help resurrect an offense that was seemingly dormant in a lot of areas was no easy task. By the end of Chan Gailey's first campaign as head coach of the Bills the club began to show some promise as an offense. Still, Buffalo was saddled with a ranking of 28th in points per game scoring less than 18 per contest (17.7).
The improvements were more than noticeable the following year. Despite the absence of an offseason with OTA and minicamp practices the Bills improved their point production by almost a touchdown averaging 5.6 more points per game (23.3) to rank 14th in 2011.
Couple that with a normal offseason of OTA and minicamp practice sessions and the Bills offense feels good about taking another step when it comes to putting points on the board.
"The spring workouts have been huge for us," said Fitzpatrick. "To build on what we've done the last two years. To try some new stuff out and add some new wrinkles to our offense, but really to establish that chemistry with the guys out on the field is the big thing."
Perhaps Buffalo's biggest benefit on offense is almost all of the same pieces are in place from a year ago. The Bills top seven receivers from 2011 are all back in the fold including Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. The left tackle position figures to be the only spot that would have a new starter from last season.
The players believe continuity can go a long way in making them a more productive unit, especially with all of them experiencing the second half slide of a season ago.
"We want consistency," said Jackson. "We got out to a great start last year, but now it's just about maintaining that through the whole season. That's the number one goal of ours."
As much carry over as the offense has had from last season in terms of personnel they will make some subtle but positive changes with respect to the scheme.
"Every year you have to," Jackson said of making schematic changes. "You can't stay stagnant or defenses will pick up on what you're doing. We make tweaks every day. We'll come in and run a play one way and come out the next day and run it a completely different way. You're not just training your body you're training your mind as to how you're going to make game plan changes all 16 weeks. It's what you're trying to do at the same time."
"There's obviously a lot of similarities to what we've been doing since he's (Chan Gailey) been here," said Fitzpatrick. "In knowing me as a player and knowing our personnel and what we think we have, we're tweaking some stuff just to fit guys better, which he does well, and really take advantage of everybody's talent."
In addition Buffalo's defense figures to help aid the team's point total by getting the ball back to them sooner, more often and with more favorable field position. That should translate into more snaps for the Bills attack than last year's average of 62 plays per game. If the number of plays can increase by five per game, they'd be among the league leaders. In 2011 the teams that ran the most plays on offense (NO, NE, Atl, Det. and SD) collectively averaged 67 plays per game.
Naturally the defenses Buffalo's own offense will face are a factor as well, and the Bills will have seven games against top 10 defenses from a season ago. However, knowing Buffalo only needs less than a point more per game to post an average higher than 24 makes the goal very realistic in 2012.
Of course Bills head coach Chan Gailey never assesses a specific numerical goal to his team's point production.
"There's always one number that we've put up (as a goal), one more than our defense allows," Gailey said. "That's the number we strive for because you don't know how things are going to go. If you start putting up goals like that then I think you take away from what you're trying to get done as a football team. I want to talk about the team aspects of things, not just goals on offense, defense or special teams. You want to talk about the objective and the overall objective is to win."