ORCHARD PARK — There might not have been a “Welcome to NFL head-coaching” moment for Doug Marrone, but after three games, the new Bills’ boss has endured a quick lesson in reality.
Yeah, Buffalo is 1-2 , the defeats coming by two and seven points, both decided in the final possession.
But it’s also worth noting the Bills are one bad decision from Marrone’s Carolina counterpart, Ron Rivera, from being winless.
To be sure, Buffalo seems improved from the dreary tenures of Dick Jauron and Chan Gailey the past seven seasons.
But it also seems more feel than fact.
Numerically, the Bills are on the way to another 6-win season. Offensively, they’re worse than 2012 in time of possession (24:48 to 30:04), yards per play (5.0 to 5.6) and third-down conversion percentage (31 to 39).
On defense, last season’s ugly numbers are being surpassed: total offense per game (417 to 363) plus average rushing (155 to 146) and passing yards (262 to 217).
Marrone’s crew is also averaging two more penalties per game, though it’s surrendering three fewer points and committing about one less turnover per start.
Admittedly, the sample is small and though some numbers are indicting it just appears that the 2013 Bills are improved from their recent predecessors.
CLEARLY, MARRONE is bothered by the Bills continuing problems stopping the run that far predate his tenure.
“We’ve got to be able to tackle,” he said. “When we’re tackling better, not overrunning some things, getting off blocks up front (we’re better). It’s really a combination of (factors).”
Of course, there is the argument that unit spends too much time on the field with Buffalo losing the time-of-possession battle by nearly 5 1/2 minutes per game.
And Marrone sees that as an issue on each side of the ball.
“I think what’s contributing to (the time-of-possession disparity) is third down from both sides. When you’re talking about 46 percent, what our opponents are converting, and offensively we’re only converting 31 percent, that’s what (creates) the time of possession (issue) and the (difference in the) amount of plays.”
BUT MARRONE hedged on whether Buffalo’s defensive struggles would change the offensive strategy of an uptempo, no-huddle attack.
“If that’s what it takes to win, absolutely,” he said of altering Buffalo’s offensive philosophy. “(But) I’d be careful writing that it’s not ever going to be that way because I think we were able to see (Monday night) that Denver held the ball five or six minutes more than Oakland and they were running a no-huddle type of attack.
“That’s why I always go back to, I believe it’s the third down conversion rate you need. Obviously if you’re running at a 46-47 percent third down conversion rate on offense and you’re somewhere in the 34 percent (area) on defense, you’re going to have the time of possession in your favor.”
OF COURSE, defensive injuries have amplified Buffalo’s problems on that side of the ball.
“It’s a fact, but you don’t want to keep saying it,” Marrone maintained. “It’s the reality of the situation and we don’t get a chance to deal in hypotheticals, we have to deal with the reality of players being injured. We have to be prepared for it.
“It’s tough because you’re always trying to manage it and get the players healthy. The philosophy is we have players on the practice squad, that’s where we want to bring them up from (if needed).”
But there’s still the issue of managing his team’s psyche in the face of injury losses.
“ If I came up here and said, ‘Oh gosh, we don’t have this guy, we don’t have that guy, I really don’t really know…’ Now the team is looking at you and what are they going to say?” Marrone wondered. “’I don’t know if we have a shot.’
“This is a great challenge ... a great opportunity.”
He added, “We say it all the time, players when they come out and they’re new, are going to be targeted. That’s the way the league is. It’s been that way forever, so it’s not anything new. As you become targeted, you also get an opportunity to show that you belong in this league.
“That’s the exciting part about it and we say that year in and year out with players. ‘He practices OK, we’ve got to get him out there, but he can’t beat this person out.’ (But that guy) gets injured and we feel sorry for that, but if that happens, now (that other) player goes in there and all of a sudden you’re going to know. You want an opportunity to be a starter? Here it comes.”
(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com.)