The Buffalo Bills rushed the ball 30 times or more in four of the team’s seven wins last season. Buffalo only broke 30 runs three times in their nine losses and two of those games saw the Bills’ quarterback throw three interceptions. With those numbers, and a much-deserved four-year deal for breakout running back Fred Jackson, you might think the Bills will ram it down opposing defenses throats this season. You’d be wrong.
Like last year, coach Dick Jauron and offensive coordinator Turk Schonert will rely too heavily on the passing game. In 2008, the coaching staffed unnecessarily forced Trent Edwards into situations that called demanded a ground attack.
In a close contest that came down to the final minute of the game, Trent Edwards threw for three interceptions in the first quarter against the Cleveland Browns on Monday Night Football. The first interception came right out of the gate on the first play of the game. The third came in a short yardage, 3rd-and-1 situation.
Ready or not though, the Bills will put even more pressure on Edwards this season. Luckily for him, Buffalo bought Edwards a shiny new weapon—Terrell Owens. His presence will relieve Lee Evans of double team coverage and allow one of the NFL’s fastest receivers to return to Pro Bowl form.
The three and four wide receiver sets Schonert favored last season will prove much more effective in 2009. Evans and the equally quick Parrish can go deep. If Edwards sees nothing downfield, hopefully Evans and Parrish will have spread the defense enough to open up Owens over the middle for the last second dump off. If Owens improved his ball-handling skills in the offseason, Edwards may soon have the go-to, emergency receiver he’s always needed.
That will come none to soon either for a quarterback working with a decimated offensive line. The departures of Derrick Dockery and Jason Peters leave the Bills perilously thin up front. The shotgun will become almost default in all passing situations.
Luckily for the Bills, that caters to the rumored return of the infamous K-Gun, or no huddle offense, popularized in Buffalo by the legendary Jim Kelly. Trent Edwards’ leadership is his greatest strength on the field and the no huddle rewards strong command. Edwards also works better in fast-paced, pressure situations. Two of Buffalo’s first three wins last season were 4th quarter comebacks engineered by Edwards.
The Bills defense remains mostly intact from last year’s revamped lineup. The team only lost two key players, Angelo Crowell and Jabari Greer. Buffalo knows how to play without Crowell, who underwent season-ending knee surgery last year before ever playing a down. Kawika Mitchell stepped in and made a huge impact. Mitchell tied for the most sacks and finished second in tackles, racking up two interceptions along the way.
Mitchell, along with the newfound depth at defensive end, will allow the Bills to improve on their 13th best passing defense. Anchored by the Aarons—returning veteran Aaron Schobel and first-round rookie Aaron Maybin—coupled with the leadership of Chris Kelsay and impressive backup Ryan Denney, the Bills boast one of the most formidable yet underrated defensive end corps in the league.
Look for the Bills to give offenses some interesting looks by sending three, maybe even four, of those defensive ends across the line of scrimmage. They’ll support DT Marcus Stroud who finds himself without much help over the middle for the second straight year, save for defensive leader Paul Posluszny. The blitz will once again make or break Buffalo’s defense as they look for the opposing quarterback to make mistakes rather than their secondary make big plays.
The Bills will rely on that philosophy more than ever with the aforementioned loss of Jabari Greer. While Leodis McKelvin proved a fantastic backup as a rookie, the Bills will need even more from him as he settles into the starting lineup. Buffalo didn’t go out and get a cornerback to replace Greer, opting to instead draft Jairus Byrd, who finished college second on Oregon’s all-time interceptions list.
Right now, the Bills have Byrd listed as a free safety in the depth chart but look for them to try him out at cornerback in deep passing situations. The team already has depth at the safety position and need the help at cornerback if they expect to expand their nickel packages and run any dime defenses at all. Otherwise, expect Buffalo more of the same on both sides of the ball from Buffalo as the team relies on upgrades in talent rather than changes in the playbook.
All statistics courtesy of NFL.com, buffalobills.com, and ESPN.com