The Buffalo Bills are struggling in 2012.
However, it's not so much their 2-3 record that's the problem, as that's more or less what fans and pundits expected from Buffalo to this point.
Though some thought (wrongly) that the Bills were capable of taking down the Jets in the opener, it wasn't an assured victory by any stretch and losses to the Patriots and 49ers were just assumed.
No, it's not the games they've lost to this point, but the way those games have been lost.
In those three losses, the Bills have just been terrible, completely overmatched and ending up looking like a JV team scrimmaging with the varsity squad.
In said games, the Bills have combined to score 59 points, while giving up 145 to their opponents. In the last two outings alone, Buffalo set a historic mark in yardage allowed (1201, most in consecutive games) and are now the only team to ever allow a 300-yard passer and a 300-yard rushing day in the same contest (against the 49ers).
Coming into Sunday's game with the 4-1 Cardinals (tied for second best record in the NFC), Buffalo already seems to be facing a "must-win" situation, not just for their season, but for two members of the team who seem to be getting the most fingers pointed their way.
Sure, you could lay the blame on the broad, $100-million shoulders of Mario Williams, or perhaps go after the defensive coordinator that isn't coordinating, Dave Wannstedt (get out of the booth and on the sidelines, Mr Moustache).
Maybe Aaron Williams just doesn't have the hips to be a cornerback (see his blown play on San Francisco's Kyle Williams), or it's that the offensive line injuries are starting to pile up again, but when you come down to it, there are really two men in particular who are getting the harshest examinations right now.
See, though this Sunday may be a must-win for the team as a whole, the victory is undoubtedly most vital for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and coach Chan Gailey.
First there's the franchise quarterback, who is the second highest-paid player on the team after singing a six-year extension in October worth up to $59 million. Though GM Buddy Nix and coach Gailey have often stated that they're willing to put the future of the Bills on Fitzpatrick's wild arm,
Buffalo fans have been through these types of scenarios before with quarterbacks who didn't quite live up to their billing (Rob Johnson, JP Losman, and Trent Edwards spring to mind).
Too often, Buffalo seems to think that if you just expect an average quarterback to play well, they will simply play up to those expectations, but that just never seems to be the case and, to this point, it doesn't look like it'll be changing this season.
Though he's currently third in TD passes for 2012, Fitzpatrick is also fourth in INTs and is over/under-throwing his targets like it's still 2011.
All that preseason work with the quarterback coach extraordinaire David Lee got a lot of press, but hasn't seemed to make a lick of difference in Ryan's game, as evident by his 57.5 completion percentage in the 49ers' game and his overall lack of progression during his time with Buffalo.
Since taking the reins as quarterback, Fitzpatrick is just 15-24 as a starter and though he has 68 TDs and two 3,000-yard seasons in that time, he also has 56 INTs and has been sacked 72 times (now with five this season after having one the first three games).
Even the scores aren't that impressive, as too many of those 68 TDs have come during garbage time in games the Bills were already assured of losing.
Fitzpatrick needs to show he's the guy that can win games for Buffalo; that he is the leader of this offense, as the unit seems to be desperate for someone to follow. There's a lot of talent on the field, but Ryan just doesn't seem to be the guy who can take them on his shoulders and get them down the field to win the game.
Sure, he's good enough to contribute to wins when there's a strong run game and the other team starts coughing the ball up, but to say Fitzpatrick's able to will the team to victory on his own merits is a bit far-fetched.
Unless he wants to face a chorus of boos when he returns to Ralph Wilson Stadium next week, Ryan needs to have a better than average game against Arizona, maybe even be one of the main reasons Buffalo wins the game.
However, if the Bills do come up short once more on Sunday, the one man who will face more hostility than Fitzpatrick come his return to Western New York will be Chan Gailey.
Let's face it, Buffalo was decidedly underwhelmed when they got Gailey in 2010, a feeling fans just haven't been able to shake since. Though his southern drawl and bearded, old Grandpa look is charming to start, it tends to wear some when considering the Bills have been a wretched 12-25 under Chan's watch.
Not only that, but Buffalo has been in 4th place both of Gailey's first two years as head coach and this season doesn't seem to have the answers to Buffalo's woes.
Seriously, he has come out and said in interviews that he doesn't know what's wrong with Buffalo right now, especially where it concerns the defense (not exactly a Chan strong spot). I understand that a coach hires coordinators to specialize in focusing on certain areas of the team, but that doesn't excuse the head coach from knowing what to do when said coordination fails.
Dave Wannstedt's plan hasn't been working this season and the defense, for all its talent, seems to be in free fall to failure, but Gailey has stated that, "There's more knowledge in that defensive room about the defensive side of the ball than I could ever have.".
If the defensive coaches can't figure things out and the offensive-minded Gailey admits to being largely uninformed about that side of the ball, who can fans expect to right the ship?
Not only is Buffalo getting blown out in games this season (something Gailey says is largely his fault), the coaching staff is also making next to no adjustments at the half in games, watching leads crumble and wins disappear as other, better coaches make mid-point fixes.
Yeah, too many mistakes early put the Jets game out of reach in a hurry, but Buffalo was leading New England 21-7 early in the third quarter before losing 52-28.
Even against San Francisco last week, the Bills were far from out of it at halftime (it was only 17-3).
But rather than tweak things and come out with a new plan in the second half, Gailey and the staff decided to sit back and watch the 49ers score 28 unanswered points en route to a 45-3 spanking.
Bills fans have been more than patient with Gailey over the last two seasons, waiting for he and Nix to put together the right roster, but after an offseason that came with so much promise and hype, you expected more fight in 2012. This isn't even as good a product as Buffalo had on the field to start 2011 and that season ended with losing nine of the last ten.
If the head coach is telling you he doesn't know what's wrong with his team, maybe it shouldn't have been his team to begin with. Gailey had a good couple of season in Dallas last century and one good year out of his six at Georgia Tech, but though he knows how draw up some decent offense and works within his team's limitations fantastically, he just doesn't seem able to make the tweaks when things start to fall apart.
If the plan he draws out doesn't work, coach Gailey doesn't really try much else and the game just spirals out of control.
To sum it up, the Bills just seem to panic when things start to go wrong in games this season. While this wouldn't be catastrophic on a team with a more complete coach or a leader on the field (on either side of the ball), neither Gailey nor Fitzpatrick have shown themselves to be that leader Buffalo so desperately needs.
There's a load of talent on the Bills right now, both defensive and offensive, but if the coach doesn't have answers to why the team is losing and the quarterback can't get the ball to open receivers, that talent is just a waste of money.
The Bills need, must, and absolutely have to have a bounce back win at Arizona Sunday, not just to get them back to 3-3, but also because the ticking clock on both Gailey and Fitzpatrick is getting louder around Western New York.
Should they come up empty again on Sunday and the losses continue to pile up, the alarm might be sounding for one of these two and it might spell the end for them before the season's even done.
It's what you get by putting the bar so high, you actually have to reach it.