Friday, August 8, 2008

Premature Evaluations 2008: Buffalo Bills


Here’s the thing about the youth movement: Done right, it’s a smart way to prepare for the future and build toward a turning point down the road. Done wrong, it’s a clever excuse for a coaching staff to stick around past their expiration date under the guise of “building their team.” It’s the difference between a revolution and a get-rich-quick scheme; one requires trust in order to one day change the system, the other exploits trust to work the system. The AFC East, dominated for years now by the New England Patriots, has seen several faux-uprisings come and go, but have yet to see anyone really commit to a plan to change the way things have “always” worked for good. After two years of believing that the Bills were the exception to this trend, I’m starting to get the feeling that the revolution was actually just sleight of hand to keep the current regime around a little bit longer. Which is a shame, because if this team is still floating giddily without an identity at the end of the coming year, I have a feeling we’ll all look back one day and realize that they were the most potent “what if?” team in a long time.

Ill Believe In Anything - Wolf Parade

Defensively, there might not be a team more disappointing than the Bills, who posted the league’s second worst defense in terms of yardage. True, the Lions were worse, but nobody had any expectations for the Detroit defense. Not so for Buffalo. S Donte Whitner has developed into a field general, DT John McCargo is starting to look like less of a draft day reach, and Aaron Schobel is like DE Aaron Kampman without the hype. Yet somehow this unit couldn’t keep from getting gouged by air or by land. Much of that has to do with the offense’s inability to sustain drives (only a third of the team’s third downs were converted, and the team had 72 fewer first downs than their opponents), but there’s stil no explanation as to how these talented pieces can’t put together something resembling solid defensive play. LB Paul Posluszny should inject some much needed energy into the defensive front, and CB Leodis McKelvin is the most physically impressive corner of the draft, but if they develop the same way the rest of the scheme has, one has to wonder whether or not they’ll wind up just more talented pieces in a failing system built to keep shiny toys in stasis.

Which brings me to the coaching, a group whose failures are best embodied by the offense, where, unlike on defense, the staff has had to willfully ignore the “best” means by which to contend now in order to maintain the illusion that they’re building toward something. I’ll throw some numbers at you to explain:

2007:

Trent Edwards: 151/269, 1630 yards in 10 games, 6.06 YPA, 7 TD to 8 INT, 70.4 rating

JP Losman: 107/169, 1204 yards in 6 games, 6.88 YPA, 4 TD to 6 INT, 76.9 rating

After last season, Dick Jauron announced that Edwards, who replaced Losman after he went down with an injury in week three (losing his job in the process…which used to be an NFL no-no), would be entering the 2008 season as the starter. The only valid motivation for that move is job security, and the result is an organization that looks as timid about its own expectations for itself as everyone else. I’m not going to malign Edwards for the sake of making my argument here, though I do think that a look at his stats and play last year indicate that he’s not quite ready to be anything but a mediocre caretaker. My point is that if that’s where he is, then he’s a waste of an offense that should be about anything but hanging around. WR Lee Evans and Roscoe Parrish should be KILLING teams downfield. RB Marshawn Lynch DID kill teams both between the tackles and catching passes out of the backfield, and would have been the talk of the rookie class if AP hadn’t gone on his surreal tear. The team just picked up a 6’7” receiver with the jumps and speed to work both in the redzone and deep. And Trent Edwards is the guy to hand the keys to? JP Losman is a year removed from being the most accurate deep passer in the league, and he STILL outperformed Edwards last year after struggling with an injury and watching Lee Evans decide that he wanted to just go home. Furthermore, Losman has the mobility to keep linebackers honest in accounting for him, allowing the multiple pass catching threats a little more room to find holes in defensive zones. Edwards, though a competent intermediate passer, isn’t scaring anybody deep or at the line of scrimmage, meaning that unless he can be damn near perfect intermediately, nobody is getting scared.

Trouble is, going with Losman would mean putting the chips down and saying that this was the year, something that fewer and fewer coaches seem to be willing to do. Sticking with Edwards gives Jauron and company a reason for sticking around, specifically to develop “their’ quarterback and put in more of “their” guys into “their” new system, all the while failing to explain how the system that they actually have is any less “theirs” than the one they claim to be building. Why do I love the Favre move for fellow AFC East team the Jets, besides my obvious homerism? Simple: It shows a coaching staff willing to cut ties to the shore and admit that if it doesn’t work this way, then it’s probably not worth them sticking around anyway. Considering the hurdle that is overtaking the Patriots, I really think it’s going to take a risky move for any other AFC East team to succeed, and the fact that the Bills are willing to concede the matter, even with better personnel for the job than anyone else, is all the evidence I need to say that we’ve placed our hopes in nothing more than a sheep in wolf’s clothing.

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