Buffalo Bills Defense will Plow the Road to Super Bowl LVI

Leslie Frazier promoted to defensive coordinator/assistant coach

Update: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IMnsPll5hEc

At 8:15pm tonight, the Buffalo Bills will be taking on the New England Patriots in the Wildcard Round of the NFL Playoffs. This season contained many highs and lows for the Buffalo Bills, and after splitting the matchups 1-1 with the Patriots during the season, it’s fitting that the true AFC East champion will be decided tonight. There are 2 big questions on Bills Mafia’s mind right now: Will Allen, Daboll, and McDermott get this offense firing, or will the mastermind behind 20 years of dominance, Bill Belichick, add to his storied record? One thing that isn’t in question, however, is Leslie Frazier and the Buffalo Bills defense.

Bills fans have a soft spot in their heart for the defense. The humble working-class population isn’t in it for flashy superstars that high step into the endzone – though we don’t hate that, either. The most beloved players are the defensive stars, though. Bruce Smith, Darryl Talley, Kyle Williams, Mario Williams, London Fletcher, Takeo Spikes, Jairus Byrd, and on, and on. Bills fans hold these names near and dear to their hearts.

Documentary on Bruce Smith is poignant, includes details fans might not  know | Buffalo Bills News | NFL | buffalonews.com

That legacy has continued under defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, who has coached a top 3 defense in 3 out of the past 4 years. Last year the unit fell off, unexpectedly, but they returned to form this year, ending the season as the top-ranked defense. They led the league in points per game, yards per game, yards per play, 1st downs per game, and 3rd down %. Somehow there were no players from the defense selected to the pro bowl.

Despite this cold shoulder, the Bills have been the top defense in the league for the last 15 weeks. “Well, what about the rush defense???” Admittedly, this is the weak link. The bend but don’t break philosophy of Leslie Frazier can lead to problems, but the Bills still rank #1 in points and yards allowed, proving its effectiveness. Things make more sense, too, when you look at who ran over them. Ever heard of Derrick Henry and Jonathan Taylor? Yeah, they crushed the Bills…along with almost every team they faced. The defending Super Bowl champs, with Tom Brady at the helm and the #2 ranked O-Line also ruined their day. And then Bill Belichick – aka every team’s worst nightmare – and his #9 ranked O-line came in and got the best of us in brutal weather conditions. We tagged them back, though.

The flip side of the coin is that you cannot throw against these guys. Muki Hawkins coined the fitting name “Air Traffic Control” for this defense. Even without All-Pro Talent Tre’Davious White, the Bills DBs, led by Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde, have dominated QBs and receivers all year long. The only QB to achieve 300+ yds against this team is Tom Brady, otherwise known as the best at the position of all time. Even then, the Bills were able to mount an incredible comeback, partially due to the defense holding Brady to around 70yds passing in the entire second half.

Buffalo Bills safeties Jordan Poyer, Micah Hyde among NFL's best

Clearly, this is a talented unit, worthy of the #1 ranking. But the question is, will the Bills defense hold up? With inconsistencies on offense, you can bet McDermott will be relying on Frazier and Air Traffic Control to paralyze other teams. The bright side for Bills fans is that 6 out of the top 10 offenses in the regular season belong to the other conference. That’s right. Out of the top 10 offenses in the league, only 4 are from the AFC. And only 2 out of those 4, the Chiefs and the Bills, made the playoffs.

The Bills defense is licking their chops. Every team in the AFC better be ready. The defense is the most consistent and all-around best in the league, and they have a chip on their shoulder from the lack of respect. What’s more, this isn’t a Bills defense that just broke the drought. These guys are seasoned. Most of them have been playing together for 5 years now, 4 of which they’ve made it to the playoffs. They know play-off football.

Jordan Poyer: Buffalo Bills' defense is 'the best I've ever been on'
Pictured: AFC Offenses’ Worst Nightmare

The rest of the AFC better watch out. While there have been inconsistencies, the conference is up for grabs, and any team could be going to the final dance. I’m biased as hell, but I’m putting my money on the Buffalo Bills. After all, defense wins championships.

Writing as a Craft

When I think of a craftsman, I picture someone working diligently to make something with practical and aesthetic value. I think of my uncles, who were tough and crass, but also brilliant, skilled, and able to fix anything. It’s an attractive ideal and one I felt drawn to. My own pursuits in the “trades” taught me a lot about what it means to be a craftsman, and how it extends beyond being able to work with your own hands.

As I said, most of my Dad’s side of the family worked in the trades. My grandfather started a granite fabrication and installation shop in Lockport, NY, called D.G. Paterson and Sons. My Dad and his brothers grew up busting his ass on various construction projects. I didn’t want to miss out on that experience because it seemed to empower their whole being. Last year I took an opportunity to follow the family’s footsteps in granite fabrication. For various reasons, it didn’t work out. Not to discount my own toughness, but I’m just not the same breed as the guys who pursue that career. It’s a whole other level.

I did enjoy the work, though, and learned a lot. One thing that changed was my perspective on work, overall, especially when it came to writing. I started to see how the steps I took to finish a kitchen island were comparable to the steps I took to finish an essay or blog post. I saw that writing can be a craft, too, and while the specifics are different, the two aren’t wholly separate endeavors.

In both writing and fabrication, you start with unworked and raw materials. Molding a blank slate into the finished product takes skill. Good fabricators turn incomplete cuts of stone into lustrous and refined tables, counters, vanities, and more. Good writers turn raw feelings and incomplete ideas into narratives with themes that penetrate to the core of their audience. Both raw feelings and granite put up a fight on their way to completion. Ernest Hemingway compared writing to “taming a white bull”. I argue this metaphor is just as relevant to a fabricator facing a slab of marble.

Both endeavors require an end goal. Fabricators work from blueprints and drawings, using meticulous measuring instruments and keen eyes to identify any issues along the way. Writers will construct outlines to direct what they’re going to say, and then work with editors to fine-tune drafts as they go. Both require a constant reworking of the same lines or edges. Writers and fabricators, alike, go over their work again and again until there are no errors and the piece shines like a gem.

In fabrication, the steps are learned by watching more experienced guys do it and then copying their approach. I learned which tools worked on which materials, how to fix damaged stone, and the progression from step one to step done. After a few months, I didn’t think much about the steps. I was able to reach a state of fluidity in my work. I shaped the stone exactly to my liking without thinking.

Learning to write required a similar approach. I made lists of words I didn’t know and copied definitions. I learned different types of writing and the tone needed to write correctly. I found grammatical errors and rewrote sentences correctly. I figured out the progression from rough draft to final. Just like in fabrication, I can now reach a Zen state while writing. Time doesn’t matter and my words fly from my brain to the paper with little to no effort.

I can only reach this Zen state in either activity because I have a strong grip on the fundamentals. Learning the basics makes me more confident and willing to try more advanced techniques. I know I’ll fail, initially, but failing is how I got the basics down in the first place.  In the beginning, there’s a lot of exasperated cursing in both crafts, and a lot of asking wiser friends to show you where you’re making mistakes. After building the reps, though, it becomes more enjoyable and I can get into The Zone.

The truth is there are a million things I can compare writing and fabrication to. The crux to reaching a Zen state in any craft is patience. Patience can be difficult to cultivate. There’s pressure to get good fast. You could be learning to write, fabricate, ride a bike, ski, paint a landscape, take apart a car’s engine, and on and on. The pressure can get to you and demoralize you. It can make you think progress isn’t being made. It can become self-defeating and lead you to give up.

After about 3 months of fabricating, my internal pressure almost folded me. I badly wanted to give up and go home. I had a year lease and had moved across the country to pursue this job, though. I decided I needed to accept the struggle and see what came of it. Slowly, I got better. I exchanged the pressure to get good fast for the patience to move through failings and see how things end up. I realized being a craftsman is a lot less about knowing everything about tools and fixing things, and more about being patient enough to learn. Besides, you never feel more deserving of a drink than right after you struggle your way through a day knowing you did everything you could to learn. That has to be worth something in and of itself.

A Vision of Hell

Lazlo Nemes’s directorial debut is a brutal and spellbinding look into a day in the life of an Auschwitz Sonderkommando.

The best horror movies can terrorize audiences with sound and offscreen action, rather than showing gratuitous violence. The evil lurking offscreen heightens your suspense and leaves room for the darkest parts of the imagination. Lazslo Nemes, in his directorial debut Son of Saul, utilizes these techniques, claustrophobic cinematography, and superb acting to deliver one of the truest horror movies to date.

Part of what amplifies this horror is the depiction of a real place and time: the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in 1944. The film’s protagonist is Saul Auslander (Geza Rohrig), a Hungarian Jew part of the sonderkommando. He is a prisoner tasked with assisting in the corralling and clean-up of fellow Jews condemned to the gas chambers. The unenviable position buys him time, but is far from salvation. Saul is completely stripped of his humanity, reduced to animalistic and mechanical action.

Saul stoically goes from one mundane and gruesome task to the next, devoid of any emotion other than urgency. In the midst of this, Saul discovers the body of a boy he believes is his son and makes it his mission to provide him with a proper Jewish burial. It’s Saul’s last hope for redemption, but hounding SS guards and plotting conspirators, who are looking to escape, hinder him at every turn.

Geza Rohrig’s performance adds to the anxious atmosphere of the film, but the cinematography makes you feel like you cannot escape it. The camera focuses squarely on Saul’s shoulders and back. It follows on his heels in long and uncut shots, creating a sense of claustrophobia and immersion. The genius of this choice is that it makes the rest of the frame out of focus. The more incomprehensible horrors are on the periphery or offscreen entirely. You only hear the gunshots of mass executions and the panic of helpless victims thrown into the gas chambers. The viewer’s mind fills in what isn’t there with cerebral imagery. The bodies Saul drags out and stacks are out-of-focus or not entirely in-frame. When there is a closeup of Saul, the chaos is emphasized by the empty and desperate eyes of a man surviving moment to moment.

The chaotic pacing of the film emphasizes Saul’s herculean quest to bury his son. You’re transfixed, but it’s never confirmed who the boy really is. In fact, other characters question Saul’s claim, and the look in their eyes suggest they believe he has cracked. It seems to be an absurd mission, but, given the circumstances, each action of every character seems absurd. Death lurks around every corner. Why be apprehensive about Saul’s pursuit to bury this nameless boy when it’s impossible to wrap your head around the atrocities already occurring? Saul brazenly acts to regain any remaining humanity stolen by his participation in the Final Solution.

The power of this film lies not only in its cinematography and Geza Rohrig’s performance, but in the audience’s knowledge of the atrocities committed during the Holocaust. The horrors faced by real people, every day, are too immense to capture. However, Lazlo Nemes’s microscopic story is a powerful example of how film can come close. Son of Saul is an experience that confounds the mind and soul, making your body feel like the densest point in a black hole. You are left, in the end, with a question many victims from this fraction in history must have asked: “And now what?”

Why I (Want to) Write

In the past few months I have been reflecting on my desire to write, and George Orwell’s 1949 essay “Why I Write” gave me a framework to explore how I feel. I’m not sure I can be considered a “writer”, thus the parenthetical in the title, but, like Joan Didion, I’ll use Orwell’s essay as the main source of inspiration for this introductory post.

In his essay, George Orwell states, “I do not think one can assess a writer’s motives without knowing something of his early development.” My early development occurred in a very loving and comfortable environment. I think that’s what contributed to my courteous and pleasant disposition. I was a sensitive and competitive kid. If I failed or heard of a hardship befalling someone I knew, I’d cry right away.

I remember noticing how much my sister read, and I took up reading to ensure I wasn’t outdone. I was not allowed to play M-rated games, so I read comic books and novels based in the Halo or Warhammer universe to sate my prepubescent bloodlust. I recounted these tales to my classmates, as well as any stand-up routines or funny videos I watched. I got into it, and, without intending to, developed a sense for storytelling. I think my sensitivity played a part. I vicariously felt what others felt in a bunch of mediums, whether it was music, movies, or books. I loved the drama, the suspense, and the action you feel in your core when experiencing stories. An inkling for storytelling developed into my desire to write now. I can be empathetic to characters, as well as an audience, to best convey a story.

Sensitivity isn’t the defining characteristic of my desire to write.  Orwell lists four primary reasons for writing:

  1. Sheer egoism
  2. Aesthetic Enthusiasm
  3. Historical Impulse
  4. Political Purpose

As a young man I had a historical impulse, or desire to see things as they are, and, though I didn’t know it, a bit of an ego, too. I found a lot of joy in knowing things and relaying those things to others. I found the content I digested fascinating for many reasons, but part of it was because I took pride in knowing things and sharing my knowledge with others. I wanted to be valued for my intellect.

Growing up means the reasons you do what you do develop, too. Orwell states that these reasons “must fluctuate from person to person and from time to time.” Certainly, I’ve developed more of a political and aesthetic sense since my youth. I still want to see things as they are but am aware that my own biases can cloud this historical impulse.

The most interesting reason to me, though, is egoism. As Orwell says, “It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one.” I don’t consider myself to be naturally creative, and I don’t think my insights or experience are very special. Still, I want my writing to be viewed as creative and my insights to be especially impactful.

I can vainly see myself in images of Kerouac at the typewriter, or Vonnegut staring pensively, or Camus with a listless cigarette hanging from his mouth. It’s hard to not be romantic about the characters that make up literary history. But more than vanity, I’m pushed by a desire for immortality. All I want is for someone down the line to pick up something I’ve written and be impacted by it.

I remember when I began seriously thinking about this kind of immortality; a few years ago, I bought a pulp sci-fi novel by Wyman Guin called The Standing Joy. It was a small and worn book with a strange cover. I’m hard-pressed to remember a reason for purchasing it, except for the fact that I was in a bookstore on vacation and felt the need to buy a book. It turned out to be one of my favorite stories. I’ll spare you the summary because it’s what the author’s life showed me that’s relevant.

That story is patchy. A Google search for Wyman Guin does not reveal much. I haven’t been able to find any photographs of him. His Wikipedia entry identifies him as a pharmacologist and advertising executive “known for his writing”. Not a “writer”. Although he died in 1989, that book made me think and laugh more than two decades later. I share the story with people and am telling you about Mr. Guin in this instant. In his work, he lives on, like Orwell, Didion, Hemingway, Austen, and Baldwin. Again, how can you not romanticize this?

            There is one more reason that I’m writing. I want to tell things as they are, to have people see me in a positive light, and to live on after I die. But lack of certainty, the inability to control how others view you, and mortality are as much a reality as these desires. And these dark feelings paralyzed me for years. Not just in writing, but in life. The final, and most important, reason I’m writing is that I’ve learned to accept both sides of reality. You need acceptance to act as a fulcrum between these two counterpoints of being.

            I only learned acceptance through recent suffering; not just my own, but the suffering everyone has gone through these past two years. Pandemics, isolation, and division have sowed fear and depression. Suffering is at the core of every life on the planet. I see no way around this insurmountable suffering. In fact, I know every solution comes with its own sort of suffering, unforeseen, yet inescapable.

            However, from this bleak realization came acceptance. Not a drive to fix every problem or mold the world in my image of right and wrong. No, suffering simply made me accept suffering, and a weight was lifted off my chest. The pressure I put on myself to find a way around suffering is gone and I’m able to write. I’m able to accept my past and use it to understand my present. I’m able to accept the fears of mortality, how others see me, and lack of certainty, but write anyway. As Orwell declares, “It is bound to be a failure, every book is a failure, but I do know with some clarity what kind of book I want to write.” And so, I’ll write.