10 Answers: What Needs To Happen For a Bills Return To The Playoffs in 2009?
One of the burning questions this off-season is as follows: what exactly needs to happen for the Buffalo Bills to return to the postseason? On the surface, simple answers include improving the offense, keeping Edwards healthy for 16 games, and improving the anemic pass rush.
But the more complex answers are in reality a multitude of factors that need to manifest themselves for this team to overcome the odds in 2009. In a perfect will everything will come together, but the Buffalo Bills live in a not so perfect world.
So let’s take a detailed look at just what needs to happen for the bills to make an elusive postseason appearance in 2009:
1. Attrition and Parity
On paper, the Bills play three of the toughest divisions in the NFL, including their very own AFC East. And on this same piece of paper the schedule is far more brutal and unforgiving than it was last year.
Given recent history, it’s probably safe to assume that some these teams will take a step backwards in 2009, or will flat out disappoint and not live up to lofty expectations. After all, only 6 teams in each conference make the playoffs when it’s all said and done.
But conversely, there are always teams that come out of nowhere to make a run when very few believe they would. So in banking on the former scenario, we all know that Jauron has no problem beating the sub-.500 teams.
2. Reanimation of the corpse
Not to be confused with the 1985 cult classic film, but Richard "The Corpse" Jauron needs to find a pulse in 2009 and recapture some of his early coaching career magic when he was the NFL coach of the year in 2001.
Jauron is known for being smarter than the average coach with his Yale pedigree, but his record against good teams (i.e. teams with a record above .500) is downright pathetic. And many of his critics have said he’s one of the best coaches in the league when it comes to Monday–Saturday, but come Sunday he’s simply in over his head.
But the bottom line is that with the most talented offensive roster he’s ever fielded, he needs to turn it around in 2009 because if he don’t Buffalo will no longer have any use for a limp...(you know).
3. Exterminating the injury bug
There’s no question that Trent Edwards is the key player that must stay healthy for 16 games in 2009, but for the Bills to take the next step they need to squash the nagging injury bug that has hit this team hard the last few years.
Sending 10+ players to the injured reserve by midseason seems to be the norm in Buffalo as of late. And although it’s a convenient excuse as to why the Bills have struggled and failed to get back to the playoffs under Jauron, this is one trend that cannot continue in 2009.
At some point the strength and conditioning staff need to be held accountable, especially if we see another rash of injuries starting next month in camp.
Injuries are part of the game, and they’ll be some again in 2009, but at some point you need to win games and overcome them like all playoff teams do.
4. Edwards, TO, Evans and Lynch doing their best impersonation of Kelly, Reed, Loften, and Thomas
The news that Buffalo is going to utilize a no huddle offense in 2009 has brought tears of joy to many hard core nostalgic fans yearning for a return to glory. And even though it probably won’t be used more than 50 percent of the time, the personnel on the field needs to execute it early and often or it might be scrapped by midseason.
But regardless, many jaded fans are skeptical as to whether or not we’ll use it all. And there are definitely lofty expectations considering all the talk and hype about it this off-season, and if Jauron is serious about keeping his job than drastic change is needed regardless because his offensive philosophy the last three years has failed miserably.
It’s time for a chance one way or the other.
5. Taking advantage of the home field advantage
Cold weather teams are supposed to have a major advantage in their home stadium come November and December. But unfortunately the Bills have struggled in the cold weather at home the greater part of this decade, even against warm weather teams that aren’t supposed to win games in the north east.
This is going to have to change and change fast, especially since this team was near invincible at home during the glory years of the late 80’s and early/mid 90’s. Last year was a clever façade as the Bills started 3-0 at home, but then they went on to lose their last five including the Toronto "home" game.
What’s the point of playing games outside if you can’t win them? Might as well build a new dome in downtown Buffalo if this franchise stays put long term.
6. Continue to build on recent road success
One thing that hasn’t been talked about much under Jauron is the Bills road record. Jauron himself will tell you that it’s very difficult to win games in this league, especially on the road.
And his 10-14 record on the road isn’t too shabby when you factor in all of the losses against good teams that could have been wins with a better game plan and a healthy roster.
The Bills quietly went 4-4 on the road last year and were a J.P. Losman fumble away from finishing 5-3. If the Bills are going to make the playoffs in 2009 they are going to have to break even at minimum to have a chance.
Beating bottom feeders and other mediocre squads on the road is nice, but now is the time to beat some contenders away from home as well.
7. Turk Schonert as an offense taker opposed to an offense maker
Remember the Chiefs game last year? If the aforementioned no-huddle plan comes to fruition, we could see a lot of similar outcomes in 2009 in Buffalo’s favor. But for this to happen, Schonert needs to hand the reigns off to Trent Edwards and not look back.
After losing four straight last year, Schonert moved upstairs to the coaching box to see the field and get a better idea of the flow of the game. It was a great start, but he still needs to relinquish control of the offense because if he can’t swallow his pride this offense will be stuck in neutral.
Edwards is a smart QB that is more than capable of letting the offense run through him.
8. Significant production from the unexpected
I did a piece recently about 9 players who will breakout in 2009, and even though it’s highly unlikely that all of them do, we need at least three of them to. The ones that are most crucial include John McCargo, Trent Edwards and Leodis McKelvin.
But here’s hoping that somebody like Aaron Maybin, Poz, or even Chris Ellis can emerge as an untamed beast on defense in 2009 because we still have several gaping holes on that side of the football that could hold this team back.
It would also be nice if Schobel regains his 2006, pre-mega contract form as well because this team is starving for sacks.
9. Refusing to raise the white flag in the trenches
Cliché time: The game is won in the trenches, and all eyes will be on Buffalo’s retooled offensive line in 2009.
The brain trust in Orchard Park believes they’ve addressed the interior of the line more than enough to handle the onslaught of nose tackles in a division where all three rivals play the 3-4, but the biggest questions will be at the tackle positions that protect the pass rush from the outside.
This line was brutal in 2008, and if they are worse this year than there will be no chance of making it to the postseason, let alone Edwards lasting 16 games. Conversely, the defensive line needs to produce some semblance of a pass rush in 2009 and hope the run defense holds firm like it did last year.
10. Rise of a superstar
The last and most important aspect that will determine the 2009 Buffalo Bills playoff fate is simple. Most playoff teams have one thing in common: they either send multiple players to the pro bowl or they have one key player that single-handedly carries the team in MVP fashion.
If one player truly needs to rise to the occasion in 2009 and have a career year, it’s Trent Edwards. But even if Edwards is marginally improved from 2008, that could pave the way for somebody like Evans, TO or Lynch to emerge as a prime time player capable of taking a game over.
On defense McKelvin and Whitner are young defenders that have shown flashes, but to truly become a playmaker, somebody needs to make plays and consistently take the ball away from opposing offenses.