2009 Buffalo Bills Offense Preview: After years of futility, the Bills are looking to the past in order to move their offense into the future.
The old adage “Defense wins championships” is still very true in the 21st century NFL. But “Offense wins games” and “Offense sells tickets” is also still true.
Obviously the latter two are more important in regards to the current state of the Buffalo Bills. If they don’t have the offense to win enough games in the regular season to position themselves for a playoff birth, the former is irrelevant.
For the greater part of this decade the Buffalo Bills' offense has been put on the PUP. Not the ‘Physically Unable to Perform’ list, but the "Pathetic, Unbearable, and Predictable" list.
In fact, those are just a few of the many words that come to mind when describing the Buffalo Bills offense, which has been ranked 25th or worse in each of the last six years.
And ironically, the coaching staff in Buffalo (who can also be described by the same words) has opted to make bold and unprecedented changes in 2009 by retooling the entire offensive line. They signed one of the greatest (and most controversial) wide receivers to ever play the game and implemented a fast-paced, no-huddle attack. Their actions will no doubt bring a smile of hope to fans of the early '90s super bowl teams still yearning for a return to greatness.
So, for this piece I’ve decided to look at the projected 2009 Bills' offensive depth chart and figure out if enough changes were made to finally get back to the playoffs. I will use a 1–10 grading scale in evaluating each position:
1-3: Terrible, 3rd string at best
4: Below Average
6-7: Above Average
8-9: Pro Bowl Caliber
10: Elite (Top 5 at position)
Also, if I have a back up graded higher than a starter, it doesn't necessarily mean he's better than the starter. It just means he's a very good backup with potential and could start for the Bills or another team.
Projected Depth Chart: Trent Edwards (starter), Ryan Fitzpatrick, Gibram Hamden
Trent Edwards: Grade 8/10
Make no mistake about it, the 2009 season will be determined by one player. My grade is purely based on the expectation that Edwards will progress in 2009 as the leader of this offense and solidify himself as a franchise QB for the Bills.
He also must silence the critics regarding his durability and stay healthy for a 16+ game season in 2009. If you’ve followed his progression, you really have to like what you’ve seen from Edwards in just two NFL seasons.
He’s clearly made significant strides in several key metrics last year, including completion percentage, QB rating, and yards per attempt. His most recent stats put him among the league leaders last year. He’s been given the keys to the brand new convertible, and I expect a pro bowl caliber season from him in 2009.
Ryan Fitzpatrick: Grade 5/10
Despite the early negative reads from our new back up QB, Fitzpatrick did show some promise when he stepped into the starting lineup for the Bengals last year and led that mess of a team to some late season wins.
Regardless, I’m not sure he’s the right fit for what Buffalo is trying to accomplish in 2009. We’ll know a lot more in a few weeks, once camp is well under way, and hopefully he'll be able to handle more than just mop up duty.
Gibram Hamden: Grade 3/10
Hamden is nothing more than a third string journeyman whose career highlight was having an MVP season in the now defunct NFL Europe league. He’s good friends with Edwards, but other than that, he brings no added value to this team.
I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s cut this summer, especially if Fitzpatrick fails to inspire confidence among the coaching staff, and they need to bring in another body. However, I’m told that he’s very popular with female Bills' fans in certain circles.
Overall Unit Grade: 8/10
The starting QB is expected to play 16 games, so the rating has to reflect his. But if Trent does get hurt again, there will be little to no confidence in Fitzpatrick or Hamden to carry the load for an extended period of time.
Signing John Kitna or Byron Leftwich would have been a shrewd move, but we are going to have to live with the current QB depth chart unless a surprise move is made via trade or FA signing. Brian Griese has to be on Buffalo’s radar if it is considering other veteran options this summer.
Projected Depth Chart: Lee Evans (starter), Terrell Owens (starter), Josh Reed, Steve Johnson, James Hardy, Roscoe Parrish
Terrell ‘TO’ Owens: Grade: 9/10
You know the name, and you know the MO of TO. And he was definitely the biggest free agent addition in Buffalo since Drew Bledsoe. He may no longer be the best wide receiver in the NFL, but even at age 35, he’s more than capable of being a game changer.
The real benefit he brings to the table is opening things up for the rest of this offense. I still have to pinch myself sometimes as I try to come to grips with the reality that TO is a Buffalo Bill.
Thank you Jerry Jones, this definitely makes up for the Losman trade a few years back.
Lee Evans: Grade 8/10
His supporters will certainly try to blame the multiple QB’s, offensive coordinators, and lack of talent around him for the reasons that Evans hasn’t been able to put up huge numbers thus far. But if Evans is truly a bona fide No. 1 NFL wide receiver, we will find out once and for all in 2009.
I do give him the benefit of the doubt and tend to believe that is the case. I also think he'll break through and have a career year in terms of receptions, receiving yards and most importantly, TD receptions in 2009.
Josh Reed: Grade 7/10
Reed has proven to be Trent’s go to guy and could be one of the better No. 3 WR/Slots in the NFL in 2009. And even though he’s been given multiple opportunities over the course of his career, he just isn’t good enough to carry the load as a No. 2 WR.
If there is one player that has significant trade value, it’s Reed. But hopefully he sticks around as a major contributor to this offense as we gear up for a playoff run.
Roscoe Parrish: Grade 5/10
As a punt returner he’s among the best in the NFL, but as a pure wide receiver he’s average at best. Parrish and his fan club have complained he’s been underutilized from day one. If that’s truly the case, then he should have a few chances per game to make plays.
In the end, he just doesn’t have the size or skill set to be anything more than a role player, and that's probably the reason we weren’t able to trade him for a decent draft pick when he was reportedly on the block this offseason.
Steve Johnson: Grade 7/10
If all the hype coming out of OBD is accurate, then Steve Johnson might be the most dangerous WR out of the entire group this season. His rookie numbers weren’t eye-popping, but he could be a steal if he lives up to billing and takes a quantum leap this summer. And if he does look good in preseason, it’s going to be awfully hard keeping him off the field despite the loaded depth chart.
James Hardy: Grade 3/10
It’s boom or bust with this kid. And after one year, he is certainly not a boom. He is recovering from injury and buried on the depth chart, so we still might not know what we have until 2010, at the earliest.
If he's activated for any games this year, I hope he will be a good red zone option.
Overall Unit Grade: 9/10
The complete body of work is very intimidating on paper. With two legit No. 1 WRs, everybody else could flourish as opposing defenses scramble for ways to contain TO and Evans as they dictate coverage. One thing I do know: if an NFL offense can dictate coverage, then it is going to win games.
If the offensive line can be average at worse (or at least no worse than last year), and Trent stays healthy, then this unit has the potential to be a top three NFL receiving corps in 2009.
There also appears to be more than enough depth to sustain production if one of the top dogs misses a few games due to injury.
Side note: Look for Justin Jenkins to make the team as the No. 6 WR to open the season if Hardy goes on the PUP.
Projected Depth Chart: Marshawn Lynch (starter), Fred Jackson, Dominick Rhodes, Corey McIntyre
Marshawn Lynch: Grade: 8/10
Lynch is no Adrian Peterson, but he’s definitely one of the better backs to enter the league in the last few years.He has a tremendous upside if he can keep his nose clean and avoid another off-the-field incident this year.
He’s missed a few games each year to injury and will miss a few more this year because of suspension. However, he still might have a career year when you consider that the amount of eight man fronts this team faces should decrease exponentially in 2009.
Fred Jackson: Grade 8/10
If Jackson gets off to a hot start during Lynch’s suspension, then it might just force the coaching staffs' hand in terms of who gets the bulk of the carries in 2009. But no matter what, he is going to see a lot of action on the field as a RB or receiver.
Jackson is definitely a poor man's Brian Westbrook, but nobody in Buffalo is complaining about that, considering how far this kid has come.
Dominick Rhodes: Grade 7/10
The addition of Rhodes was an under-the-radar signing, but he brings a lot to the table. His playoff/championship experience, great blocking skills, and familiarity with a fast-paced offense, as well as all the years he played with Manning and company in Indianapolis should make him a definite asset.
He has a lot of tread on the tires, but he’s still very capable of starting.
Corey McIntyre: Grade 5/10
We probably will keep four RBs, but I’m still not sure if McIntyre is a lock yet. He might be in trouble if Xavier Omon is a beast this summer.
If McIntyre does stick, it will be strictly for special team purposes. He likely won’t see any playing time or carries in the regular season if we are running the no huddle and spread packages a majority of the time.
Overall Unit Grade: 8/10
With the addition of Rhodes, the Bills boast one of the deepest backfields in the NFL as they head into their 2009 campaign. There might not be a true superstar here, but all three can run, all three can block, and all three can catch.
Look for a lot of two back sets, which should create match up nightmares for defensive coordinators, once Lynch returns from suspension. If we aren’t going to be a pass first offense in 2009, I could see both Lynch and Jackson having 1000 yard rushing seasons.
Hopefully the no huddle will feature a lot of screens because all three will do some serious damage if our blocking holds up.
Projected Depth Chart: Derek Fine (starter), Shawn Nelson, Derek Schouman
Derek Fine: Grade 5/10
Fine reportedly looked very good during the OTA’s, and therefore may have the slight edge entering camp as the starter, even though Trent prefers the other Derek at this point. Fine showed flashes last year and is probably the best blocker of the bunch, which will factor into the offensive coaching staffs' decision as well.
Derek Schouman: Grade 5/10
Schouman made some nice plays last year when given the opportunity. But the biggest question at this point is: Who is the the better Derek? Right now, Schouman is just another painfully average tight end trying to stand out in training camp.
Shawn Nelson: Grade: N/A
He is a raw talent that could end up being a major factor in the passing game as the season wears on. He’s already being called a steal because he was rated as high as late first round picks on many draft boards.
While the main concern is his blocking, there is no questioning his receiving abilities. If he isn’t getting a majority of the reps at TE by midseason, it will be a disappointment.
Overall Unit Grade: 5/10
Aside from the offensive line, this is a very difficult unit to gauge because all three have the potential to be really good. Whoever is on the field at the TE position should be wide open early and often because defensive coordinators will be focused on covering the plethora of wide receivers and running backs we have.
Regardless of which one emerges as the best receiver, we really need one of them to distinguish themselves as a blocker to help the offensive line develop.
Projected Depth Chart: Andy Levitre (starter), Eric Wood (starter), Seth McKinney, Kirk Chambers
Andy Levitre: Grade: N/A
If I had to grade on strictly potential at this point, I’d probably give him a 6 or 7. The worse case scenario with Levitre is that he will be a marginal upgrade over Dockery, or play at the same level as a rookie. But anything less than improvement at this position will be a disaster for this team; especially if they plan on protecting Trent and running the football consistently.
Regardless of how his rookie season pans out, don’t be surprised if in the long run he ends up being a better player than Wood. He has the talent and ability to be a pro bowl guard in this league.
Eric Wood: Grade: N/A
In terms of grading on "potential," Wood is pretty much in the same boat as Levitre. He is definitely the more versatile player of the two rookies expected to start in 2009. And Wood has everything you look for in an offensive lineman; he was one of the top ranked center/guard prospects going into the draft.
Unless he’s a disappointment or gets hurt, he should step in as a rookie and add a lot a commanding physical presence to this new look offensive line.
Seth McKinney: Grade 5/10
McKinney is a solid veteran that might be a starter to open the season. There’s no upside here, but he does bring a lot of experience to the table, is very familiar with the division, and understands the 3-4 defenses after recently playing for the Browns.
Before the Browns, he spent time with the Dolphins, so he knows what it’s like to go up against Belichik and New England. I just hope he has enough desire and motivation to be more than another Jason Whittle clone at this point in his career.
Kirk Chambers: Grade 6/10
Chambers has come a long way the last few years, and he is making the transition to guard despite the fact that all of his experience thus far has been at tackle. His versatility and experience are invaluable to this offense, and will help him take on the starting left guard spot to open the season if the rookies aren’t ready.
Overall Unit Grade: 6/10
This is the hardest offensive unit to gauge because it’s very probable that two rookies will be starting at left and right guard when the 2009 season commences. Both are day one draft picks, and the low bust rate for interior linemen is working in our favor.
But what is working against us is the lack of chemistry and experience, and the fact that both will be playing at new positions in the pros. It’s all about potential right now, but in the long run I think we will be set at Guard for years to come.
Regardless of who starts at the guard positions in 2009, the key is if the center position can be effective against an onslaught of 3-4 nose tackles.
Projected Depth Chart: Geoff Hangartner (starter)
Geoff Hangartner: Grade: 7/10
Even if Hangartner turns out to be nothing more than average, it should be a significant upgrade over the Melvin Fowler’s and Duke Preston’s of the world. He played extremely well for Carolina the last few years and many hardcore Panthers fans expect him to become a top-flight starting center for the Bills.
He became too expensive to retain after his successful audition last year in place of starting Center Ryan Kalil, and he has been consistent his entire career at Carolina.
Overall Unit Grade: 7/10
If for some reason ‘Hangman’ ends up being another Fowler, it'll probably be Wood who takes over at center. We're fortunate to have flexibility in the roster to make adjustments on the fly.
But again, the success of the entire interior of the line will hang on Hangartner’s shoulders in 2009. Let’s hope he doesn’t fail and is ready to rumble with the best 3-4 nose tackles not only in the division, but in the entire league.
If we do keep another lineman as a back up center other than Wood, I’m honestly not even sure who that would be at this point.
Projected Depth Chart: Langston Walker (starter), Brad Butler (starter), Demetrius Bell
Langston Walker: Grade: 6/10
Walker played very well in three starts at left tackle in 2008. It’s expected that he’ll be no worse than Jason Peters and the 11.5 "pro bowl" caliber sacks he got in 2009.
There are definitely concerns about his size, especially against speed rushers, but he might just be a stop gap anyway. If Bell develops, he could be starting tackle at some point during the course of the season.
Brad Butler: Grade 6/10
It’s hard to gauge Butler as a tackle because he hasn’t played there since college. As a guard, he’s probably a solid 7/10 at best, but there are legitimate concerns regarding his switch to right tackle in 2009.
Chambers does have experience there, and Walker is the former RT. So we have the option to restore our 2008 starting right side if serious changes need to be made.
Demetrius Bell: Grade 6/10
Even though he’s only played five years of organized football, Bell is a player to watch this summer. He has all the physical tools, not too mention the athletic pedigree, to become a starter in the NFL.
If he’s ahead of schedule and has a great preseason, it will definitely make things interesting once the season starts. Let’s hope that happens even if Walker looks good as the starter.
Overall Unit Grade: 6/10
Aside from the pass rush, this is the one area that most fans and people close to the Bills' organization are worried about. Everybody assumes that our tackles are going to be horrible since we lost Peters (who was statistically the worst LT in the league last year) and didn’t sign or draft a replacement.
Depending on how the retooled line looks in camp and preseason, I still think there is room for a veteran signing if needed. There are still several big name players available, including Levi Jones, whose name has been attached to Buffalo by everybody but the front office themselves.
But just as with the guard position, it’s all about potential for this group in 2009. No matter who the starting tackles are, they will certainly be under the microscope this year. They are the ones responsible for blocking the opposing defensive ends and protecting Edwards from the type of hit Adrian Wilson put on him last year in Arizona.
Overall Offense Grade: 8/10
Perhaps my overall grade is generous, but I’m looking solely at the explosive potential of the skill positions. There are definitely concerns regarding the offensive line because it is featuring five new starters, including two rookies.
But if the no-huddle is truly going to be a major part of the 2009 offense, then it will go a long way in masking any potential deficiencies up front. All the short drops and quick passes will confuse and wear down the opposing defenses that trying to keep up. We also have to assume that we have the weapons in place to counter aggressive pass rushes and force opposing defenses to back off.
The Bills have one of the deepest rosters in the NFL at wide receiver and running back. If Edwards can put it all together, then it’s possible that the 2009 squad could be a top 5-10 offense, even with an average/mediocre offensive line. You can look at the 2002 season in one of my previous articles for proof of that.
Dick Jauron will be a on a very hot seat in 2009. But it's Turk Schonert and Sean Kugler’s seats that will be even hotter because they are the architects that are responsible for constructing the blueprint to make it all come to fruition.
For an offense that has ranked 25th or worse in each of the last six seasons, saying this unit needs to break out is an understatement.
But at worst they should be middle of the pack in 2009, barring major injuries at the skill positions and a complete offensive line implosion. At some point this team needs to start thinking touchdown instead of settling for field goals, and I hope that is the mindset in 2009. If not, we may find ourselves in many shootouts this year if the pass rush doesn’t improve.