Nine Steps the Buffalo Bills Need To Take in Order To Make the Playoffs
Enough is enough.
The Buffalo Bills have missed the playoffs for the past ten years, and have gone 7-9 for three straight seasons in a row. It is now or never for everyone at One Bills Drive.
Dick Jauron, Trent Edwards, and Turk Schonert, just to name a few, are all on the hot seat entering this season. When you start to think about it, everyone in the Bills organization is in a do-or-die situation for this up-coming season.
While the national media will laugh at the notion of the Bills making the playoffs this season, they can accomplish it if the following happens.
Aaron Schobel and Aaron Maybin Give the Bills a Consistent Pass Rush
There is one word that can sum up the Bills pass rush in 2008, non-existent.
Aaron Schobel was considered by most fans overrated and overpaid, but we saw that was clearly not the case. Schobel was gone after the first five games of the season, and the Bills suffered severely in his absence.
While Schobel got only one sack in his five games in 2008, just him being on the field created more opportunities for his teammates.
The Bills had 10 sacks in the five games that Schobel was in the lineup. Without him, they were able to put up a meager 14 sacks in 11 games to finish the season 28th in the NFL with only 24 sacks (only 1.5 sacks per game).
The return of Schobel alone will strengthen the Bills pass rush on the right side, and the addition of first round pick Aaron Maybin will help out on the left side.
Don't get me wrong, Chris Kelsay and Ryan Denney are decent defensive ends for the Bills. Both of them are great in stopping the run, but neither excels in getting after the quarterback (neither one has produced six sacks during a season).
Bringing Maybin in will give the Bills a speed rusher on the other end of the defensive line, complementing the power rusher on the other end.
While Schobel will run right through you, Maybin will take two quick steps and already will be around you. It's a lose-lose situation for the opponents offensive line.
Not only will Schobel and Maybin help out in the sacks department, but the pressure they can both put on opposing quarterbacks will also cause interceptions for the defensive backs when poor decisions are made.
Trent Edwards Plays Like the Quarterback of the Future Now
Everyone in Buffalo loves quarterback Trent Edwards, but that could change by the end of the season.
Edwards is entering his third NFL season, a year in which quarterbacks usually blossom into stars of the league. Many thought last year was when Edwards took to the big step, but an injury in Week Five seemed to turn the young QB gun-shy.
His consistency was also a huge problem in the Bills fall from 5-1 to finish the year 7-9. Durability is also a concern, seeing as Edwards has not stayed healthy for two straight seasons.
When it comes down to it, Edwards just hasn't played good enough.
He has a career record of 12-11 to go along with 18 career touchdowns and 18 career interceptions. He also doesn't have any more excuses to use.
He knows the offense, and isn't a rookie anymore, playing in 24 games in his first two years (23 starts). Lack of experience is no longer an issue.
He has weapons around him now too. Lee Evans, Terrell Owens, Josh Reed, Steven Johnson, Roscoe Parrish, Derek Fine and Shawn Nelson give him plenty of targets to throw to.
The Trent Edwards of the first four games of last season is the Trent Edwards the Bills must get if they expect to make the playoffs. He wasn't throwing for 300+ yards or 3 touchdowns in any of those games. What he was doing was moving the ball down the field to sustain drives and not turning it over to the other team.
Edwards doesn't need to be the next Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. With a strong running game behind him, all he needs to do is play consist, moving the chains and most importantly, not turning the ball over.
Marcus Stroud Plays Like He Did Last Season
While the stats might not show it, Marcus Stroud was a force to be reckoned with in his first year with the Bills last season.
After many thought the 30-year-old defensive tackle had seen his last days after two straight injury-riddled seasons, Stroud showed up big time for the Bills in 2008 and posted some of his best numbers in years.
Stroud had 45 total tackles, 2.5 sacks and seven passes deflected, and was rewarded for his efforts when the Bills gave him a contract extension that keeps him with the team through 2012.
What the stats don't show is how much Stroud impacted each and every game this season.
As soon as the ball was snapped, Stroud was in the backfield already, causing chaos for the opposing offensive line. He forced running backs to run to different holes, quarterbacks to stray from the pocket and most importantly, made the players around him better.
It certainly wasn't just a coincidence that Kyle Williams had his best season in Stroud's first year with the team.
If Stroud can return to the same form he was in last season, he will continue to wreck havoc on the oppenent's rushing attack, while also creating opportunities for Schobel and Maybin/Denney/Kelsay when he gets doubled teamed.
A healthy, productive Stroud, paired with Schobel will create nightmares for offensive coordinators week in and week out as they figure out how to stop the two of them long enough to get their offense running properly.
Josh Reed Builds off of a Career Year
Josh Reed was by far the Bills most reliable wide receiver last season and will need to improve his game for this year too.
Reed is a very important part of the offense, as he will be lining up in the slot this year with Lee Evans and Terrell Owens lined up on the outside. Reed will turn into Trent Edwards security blanket and will also be relied upon to pick up first downs.
Reed is coming off arguably his best season in the NFL, having 56 receptions for 597 yards and one touchdown. With the move back into the slot position along with two of the top wide receivers in the game on the outside, there is no reason why Reed will not see another increase in numbers for this season, too.
The Offensive Line Jells
Just like the pass rush, the Bills offensive line play last season was down right awful.
The Bills struggled to get their rushing game going at all during the season, and also struggled in the pass blocking game too, letting up 38 sacks on the season (a little more than two per game).
The Bills traded disgruntled left tackle Jason Peters in the off-season and with one of the picks they received in return, they picked up G Eric Wood and then traded up in the second round to select G Andy Levitre to help bolster the offensive line.
Add in Brad Butler at RT, Langston Walker moving to LT and new center Geoff Hangartner and the Bills will have new starters at all five offensive line positions for 2009.
However, despite what it looks like on paper, the line looks like a solid group of players.
Langston Walker is great at run blocker and is decent at pass blocking. An offseason working at the position though will do him good, and he should be fine for the season.
Despite what most think, Brad Butler is a good player who was out of his position playing guard for the Bills. Now he returns to his normal spot of right tackle and will do just fine.
Hangartner is a smart player who uses his brain and good positioning to block bigger defensive tackles. Add in the two rookies and you have a bunch of players who play to the whistle, are smart and play with a mean streak (which is very important to have on the offensive line).
Kirk Chambers is also a very versatile player who played at both tackle spots last season and Demetrius Bell is a raw talent that could turn into a star on the line in years to come.
Say what you want about his overall talent, but Peters didn't play with that mean streak. He looked like he could care less if he just got burned, as long as he made his money at the end of the season.
The new line looks capable of holding off most teams and will also have good chemistry by the time the season rolls around.
There are no distractions this year on the line, just a bunch of guys who love playing football.
The Bills' Linebackers Need to Improve
Consistency has been a word tossed around a lot when talking about the Bills for the up-coming NFL seasons and the linebacker position is no different, the Bills need some sort of consistency at this spot if they want to make the playoffs.
Some games the linebackers look like super stars but at other times, you think the Bills are playing with four down linemen and four defensive backs. Everyone at the linebacker position tends to disappear at times and no player does it more than Kawika Mitchell.
The newcomer last season took games over at times, but other times suffered from severe lapses in judgement. It seemed like Mitchell was either on or off and there was no in between.
For example, on blitzes he would either sack the quarterback or run right into the offensive line. He was either getting the sack or was creating no pressure at all.
Along with Mitchell, the same can be said for middle linebacker Paul Posluszny, who is a fan favorite on the team. What most fans don't realize though is that "Poz" isn't exactly a game changer and struggles in pass coverage. If anything, his tackle numbers are so high just because he plays the middle linebacker position.
The Bills also need a weak side linebacker. Keith Ellision is nice to have on the team, but should be in a back up role, not the starter. Behind Ellision is a bunch players who are very unproven, and don't provide much upside in a starting role either.
The Bills could really use an addition like that of free-agent linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa, the leading tackler on the St. Louis Rams for the last few seasons, but he might be looking for too much money.
Seeing as the Bills are not going to be bringing anyone new in, the players already there need to step up and play consistent. Players can't just disappear for stretches of key games (or never show up for the game altogether).
They don't need to be the best linebackers in the NFL, they just need to play to their potential for 60 minutes every game.
The Bills Win against teams in their Division
It is well known that the Buffalo Bills have been annihilated by the New England Patriots who have won 16 of the last 17 games between the two teams (including 11 straight).
That of course can not repeat if they have any chance to be playing football games in January.
It gets no easier this season as the Patriots get back Tom Brady while the Jets and Dolphins still have top squads in the AFC. The Bills have to go at least 3-3 in the division if they want any hope of making the post season.
How they do it is up to them. Will they end the Patriots domination over them? Can they sweep either the Jets or the Dolphins?
It doesn't matter how they do it, but they need to be competitive and win games in the division. They certainly aren't winning the AFC East, but they will need the wins now as they will have to make it in as a wild-card team.
Those tie-breakers will be critical if the Bills have any hope of making the post season.
Special Teams Unit Remains at the Top of the NFL
This one isn't as big as a concern as the others, but with the new rule changes, the Bills need to remain at the top of the NFL in the special teams department.
The Bills have a excellent punter (Brain Moorman), kicker (Rian Lindell), return players (Roscoe Parrish, Leodis McKelvin, Terrence McGee) and coverage teams, however, the rule changes this season will bring new challenges for ST coach Bobby Aprils.
The special teams coach of the year should easily field another strong unit in 2009, but it will be a little harder than previous seasons.
The Bills Open up the Offense
Last season every fan in the stadium and watching on TV knew what play the Buffalo Bills were going to run.
Run on first down, run on second down, incomplete pass on third down, then punt.
Just think how easy it must have been for NFL defensive coordinators to figure out what the Bills were going to run.
Offensive coordinator Turk Schonert has no excuses not to succeed this year. He has weapons at all positions on the offensive side of the ball.
Marshawn Lynch, Fred Jackson and Dominic Rhodes can all make plays from the tailback spot. The wide receiving core is one of the deepest in the league and the tight end position features two young players in Derek Fine and play making rookie Shawn Nelson.
The Bills have talent all around to become one of the top offenses in the AFC, but it is up to the coordinator to help the unit reach its full potential.
If the offense doesn't produce this year with all of the talent, it is most likely only one persons fault, Turk Schonert's.
This is an all or nothing year for the Bills this season and making the playoffs is a realistic expectation. Anything short of making the postseason is a complete failure.
And if the Bills make it 0-for-the decade in terms of making the playoffs, it will result in drastic changes in the off-season.
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