To run or not to run? That is the question!

Over the next several weeks the Bills will begin to make decisions regarding players to be kept or released as they prepare for the March 3rd start of this offseason's free agency signing period. Those decisions will determine how much cap money the Bills have to work with when signing free agents.

To run or not to run? Seems like a silly question, right! Duh Weiler! Of course you want to run in the NFL. That's what makes winners. That and solid defense. Oh, I fully agree. However, I am confused on some things. Naturally those who read my work regularly realize that I say that with a hint, a strong one at that, of facetiousness.

Over the next several weeks the Bills will begin to make decisions regarding players to be kept or released as they prepare for the March 3rd start of this offseason's free agency signing period. Those decisions will determine how much cap money the Bills have to work with when signing free agents.

As to the topic of this article and the title question raised, here is where the confusion lies. At the hiring of Mike Mularkey to the Bills as head coach and with the assistants that he has brought on board, he has already made formal statements that he believes that he can "revive Bledsoe" and will strive to do so. What's wrong with that Weiler? Don't you desire to see Bledsoe's career "revived?"

First of all, apart from the transparency of Donahoe's insistence that he would "allow the new coach to determine Bledsoe's fate" and his resulting decision to "coincidentally" hire a head coach "all in favor of retaining Bledsoe", for the record, yes, yes I would like to see Bledsoe "revived." Also for the record, and consistent with my position since his hire in Buffalo, it simply will not happen. I will not dwell on that, but it is important for me to lay that out for purposes of the discussion at hand. It underlies the basis for my arguments.

Again, back to the questions and related confusion, here is the first of the reasons as to why I stand confused by the efforts of the team; Just as over the last many years where the run was rumored to have been the focal point of the offense yet was not, Mike Mularkey comes in yet again with more promises of making the run the featured element of the Bills offense this upcoming season.

I have no doubt that Mike Mularkey is serious in his statements about doing just that. I would even say that I would have full faith in him if the question were a simple one of an inexperienced QB or one with poor mechanics, but this is not the case in Buffalo. Where my confusion kicks in is in seemingly contradictory statements that the "run will be featured" and yet that the new regime will attempt to "revive Bledsoe", whatever that means to them. As I see it, those two things occurring are very close to being mutually exclusive occurrences for the most part. At least that is if both are to occur fully. Before anyone jumps down my throat, please read on.

Why is this you may ask? Why indeed. First of all, it is very critical to the argument to fully understand Bledsoe. After years of attempting to explain this to many of my friends and cohorts, they still do not understand exactly why I have been down on Bledsoe for years and have always considered his success more a product of the media than of his onfield performances, even while he was in New England.

It has less to do with his TD production, or lack thereof in the most important games, but much more to do with his propensity for making errors, usually in the most bumbling ways possible for a quarterback and at the most inopportune moments and in the most important games. Throw in the fact that he has not exactly redefined "mental multi-tasking" and being able to make multiple reads if his primary read or two fails. The problem clearly is not one of mechanics or play design unless that redesign includes a much more simplistic arsenal of passing plays. I am not sure that is what ails the passing game overall, but would suggest that perhaps even slightly more complicated passing plays requiring checking off on multiple short-to-medium targets quickly may in fact be the solution. Clearly those are not on Bledsoe's "strengths list" however.

I could easily go back and name many of Drew's errors and turnovers in games over the past two seasons and I am sure I would not run into many arguments from many fans. The natural differences of opinions will exist as to why these occur, but the fact remains that they do. Suffice it to say, and I will have a far more in-depth review of Bledsoe's time in Buffalo over the next few weeks, but in 75% of the games in which he has played for the Bills, he has only 15 passing touchdowns to put up against 40 total turnovers. That would be what he did in 24 of the Bills' 32 games during his era. In the other eight where he played well, the majority of those were against teams that had no chances of ever making the playoffs in the respective seasons. In other words, they were not exactly the best of teams, particularly from a defensive standpoint.

Let us get back to the argument however. Given that, my issues with Bledsoe lie entirely with his untimely knack for generating turnovers and poor play versus the better teams. We will not even discuss the fact that it is those types of teams that are in the playoffs so the Bills odds of success in the playoffs can be tied to that as well. Regardless, when Mularkey & Co. state openly that they are committed to making Bledsoe work again, which is now in essence what they have said, then the task before them is not to "put more talent around Drew." It is to figure out why Drew makes those bumbling errors and turnovers, even when given time to throw, and then to correct it. Unfortunately, that is also a difficult task and will require more than the traditional "good coaching."

Before some blow a gasket, yes, the offensive line certainly played its part in the woes of the passing game. But assuming for the sake of argument that the line was the only reason, then getting the type of line that Bledsoe is rumored to be able to play incredibly well behind should do the exact same thing for many-a quarterback in this league as well. "Many quarterbacks" who would not cost the team megabucks. Retaining Bledsoe would cost a minimum of $8 for this single season of play only if released following it.

Many fans will also rant at me at their computers asking me if I was blind as to how he played last season in '02. My answer to that is simple, and that is to ask the same question in going the other way. Fans seem to be in agreement that last season ('02) the offensive line had few issues, or at least not the significant ones that existed this season. As well, the team possessed the "speed receiver" in Peerless Price that is rumored to be what Drew needs to correct his erring ways.

My follow-on question then is this; given all that, given that in '02 he had that "speed receiver" that his apologists say he needs, secondly, given that the offensive line was intact and had what practically amounts to an injury-free season, thirdly, given that Travis Henry was a 1,400 yard running back, why is it that Bledsoe still had 18 turnovers vice only 7 touchdowns in 7 of the Bills 8 losses last season and played poorly over the last ten games of the season as well?

That is the question of 2004 for Mike Mularkey & Co. If they can figure that out, then they can "revive Drew." They should also be given some sort of award if they can accomplish that. Mike Mularkey will also be considered a genius by me and will earn a spot for his bust on my mantle piece, proverbially speaking of course. If not, then there is not a seer in the world who can do anything to revive Bledsoe. It will certainly be interesting since prior to doing anything else with the team they have already pigeonholed themselves into doing just that. What Mularkey and Clements are up against is not better coaching. It is not better play calling. It is not better protection.

What is it then Weiler? It is Bledsoe's mind and psyche. Bledsoe's biggest issues casting doubts in the minds of many fans are the mental component(s) to his game. New England fans have seen this for years. Unfortunately that has been completely and utterly misdiagnosed by coach after coach and fan after fan and media person after media person. Again, to many football fans who know the game, it is obvious. Players such as Steve Tasker have correctly diagnosed and identified the problem by openly stating that "Drew has a mental clock that is broken." Frankly, it is more than just his "mental clock", but that statement pretty much identifies the issue. Perhaps Tasker should be a "football doctor."

But again, in attempting to stay-the-course here, let us look at what Mularkey and Clements have set themselves up to try and achieve. They have already formally hitched their wagons to trying to get into Bledsoe's head and play psychiatrist in large part. They will need to determine why Drew can step up to the line, see 8 men showing blitz, realizing that he will only have five men in to block those 8 after his tight end releases, then determine why Drew seems to feel that he has time to set-up in the pocket under those circumstances and not prepare to throw the ball away virtually immediately saving either a sack or a risk of a turnover, especially given his being "agily-challenged."

Personally, I think it is quite the tall order and perhaps even out of their league to be able to correct. Nevertheless, that is what they will have to do in order to "revive his career." At this point, it may also be what they have to do to avoid a first hit in the credibility department. Again, I sure hope they can and will be happy to eat my words in the event that they do and will openly credit Mularkey & Co. if they do.

I simply see the task as too big for them or any coach for that matter and out of their league as coaches and not football psychologists. If Belichick, now arguably the best coach in the game, along with Parcells, the only other candidate to argue that point with, along with their respective assistants cannot do it, then how are Mularkey and Clements going to? What qualifies Mularkey and Clements and pushes them ahead of Parcells and Belichick in this department?

Correspondingly, and sticking to the point of this piece, the second question and point of resulting confusion is one of asking why a team that will focus on running the ball seems to need a second "speed receiver?" Most teams in this league do not have a wide receiver the caliber of Eric Moulds. By my rough count, at present, 22 teams did not have an Eric Moulds type of receiver this season. Of those same teams, many have excellent running games, several significantly better than that of the Bills. In fact, of the teams possessing the league's top 10 rushers, almost none of them have a wide receiver better than Eric Moulds let alone a tandem that is rumored to be "what Drew needs" in order to "revive his level of play."

So why is it that a "speedy receiver" is somehow linked to making the running game more prominent? The simple answer is that it is not linked. It merely serves as a convenient excuse for those hanging on to false hopes regarding Bledsoe's play. A simple glance at teams with the league's top 10 rushers will clear that up without any doubts or arguments whatsoever. Yet, the talk amongst fans and now many media even, is talk of the Bills adding a top-notch receiver to the Bills roster.

As well, I am not against having a second premier wide receiver, but with so many other pressing needs on the team, particularly the lines, I simply do not see how the Bills given only a moderate amount of "wiggle room" in their cap to "play with", spending cap money or high draft picks on a receiver falls into the luxury category at this point. No matter how you slice it, it certainly does not represent the proverbial biggest bang for the buck.

Mark Campbell made some excellent grabs this season, grabs that rival the best among receivers let alone tight ends. How about simply working him in more. Dave Moore can catch too. How about utilizing running backs out of the backfield more as well? Those do not play to Bledsoe's strengths. Again, not dealing with play calling, but with touch mechanics and mental awareness, that is what Mularkey and Clements will be hard pressed to correct at this point in their stated goal to "revive Bledsoe" who is an eleven year veteran and not a third year inexperienced quarterback.

Obviously, if the Bills had unlimited cap resources we would all scream for them to staff the team with Pro Bowl type talent at every position. But which teams would not. So it stands to reason that the team will have to work under the same constraints as every other team.

The third question/point-of-confusion is if the Bills really do plan to run the ball more, then how should and will the passing game fit into the plans of the offense, particularly the passing offense? With two high profile receivers on the team, both will surely want the ball. But if the team is to be run-oriented, it should stand to reason that the team will pass less. It appears that all that the team needs is a receiver to "open up the field" every now and again so as to keep opposing defenses "on their toes" and less prone to crowding the front.

Given that, the current crop should be able to accomplish that without spending millions on someone brought in only to be underutilized otherwise. Else this offense would really not be more running oriented. Shaw has the speed, as does Coleman to stretch the field without mentioning Moulds. I will not even delve into the question as to why this does not seem to be an issue for other quarterbacks in the league without a Moulds type of receiver and a speed demon!

The fourth question/point-of-confusion is a simple one of resource management. This is not exactly Tom Donahoe's forte, nevertheless, it is something that if not managed well results in a lesser talented that need be team on the field come the season. Fans and media cry out that the reason why the passing game was not effective was because Drew did not have time to setup and throw. With the very tenuous status of Reuben Brown along with the fact that the "Teague/Pucillo gap" was the weakness of the offensive line, how will signing a big name/big play wide receiver or tight end help things if our quarterback, Drew in this case, still does not have time to setup and throw the ball?

It is easy to scream out that "the Bills miss Price" even contrary to the statistics refuting that above. It is easy to envision Drew playing like he was nearly a decade ago now tossing a long ball to Terrell Owens or a rookie TE Winslow. But those thoughts need to be tempered with a dose of reality and quite frankly, this all eventually comes back to my original question number one. Because if Mularkey and Clements cannot figure that out, the rest is moot!

This is why I believe many fans to be concerned and tentative. Had Mularkey come in and openly stated that no job is guaranteed, that Bledsoe in particular will have to earn his starting spot, and that all things would be considered in the improvement of the team, then I believe there would not have been as much derision amongst fans at Mularkey's hiring and the bringing in of Clements to "revive Drew." Even if the fans were united on their support for the new coach, that still would not change the realities here.

Instead, what fans have been treated to is how the current cast will be able to "revive Drew" while without cracking a smirk tell us in the proverbial same sentence that the running game will be the focus of the Bills offense this season. Y-A-W-N. We will know how serious they truly are as the season progresses and scarce cap dollars reallocated. Will they address the lines, both offensive and defensive, or will they focus once again on more skill position players where the primary issues do not lie.

As I see it, the Bills can do an awful lot with an extra $6 million that releasing or trading Bledsoe would free up immediately. In fact, the argument is strong that the Bills would actually be better off without Bledsoe and with a $2 million quarterback instead and by putting the extra cash into the offensive line above and beyond what current cap space will be allocated to the line. This of course also does not take into consideration the additional $2 million that the Bills will have to suck up in order to buy their way free of Drew should they not desire his services beyond this season or the alternative $7 million required in order to activate the next three years of his contract in addition to his salaries in those years.

There simply is not enough money this season to sign both skill position players of the caliber talked about as well as fix the lines. It's fun to talk about, but it isn't going to happen. Good linemen do not come cheaply. The Manning led, Owens at WR, Winslow at TE, with five acquisitions on the lines including Jevon Kearse and Damien Woody is a nice dream, but not a viable reality.

A more realistic scenario would be the acquisition of a Woody type offensive lineman and a Berry or Wistrom type DE with some lesser caliber more unknown up-and-coming types of free agent linemen in addition coupled with a draft that actually selects players in positions where the biggest holes/needs exist. The Bills can also free up that $6 million clean by releasing Bledsoe, but then that would make the goals of the incoming regime as stated by them impossible, eh.

Coming full circle and on point with the purpose of this piece, if the Bills are serious about turning this team into a run-oriented team, and it would be well with them to do so, particularly if McGahee develops into the player expected, then what is needed from the play of the quarterback is not a propensity for the deep ball absent a decent short game and a sketchy ability to make proper reads. In fact, it will be exactly the opposite. Especially since once the team is down inside the 30-yard line or in the red zone, the merits to the "deep ball" dry up and quick reads and a good short game clearly takes precedence. What is needed is an ability to count on few mistakes and turnovers from whomever it is that plays that position. Unfortunately, that is not nor ever has been Drew's strength.

So while Mularkey & Co. seem to believe that simple "coaching" is what currently ails the Bills' passing game, I must say I do believe that they do not fully understand exactly what they are up against in the task that they have formally chosen to undertake and make a pivotal element in putting a competitive team on the field come this autumn. Nor do I remain confident that it will be so easily corrected, if at all, as the cavalier statements made in the press conferences seem to suggest they believe the task will be. Certainly time will not be on their side this fall. I am not sure that time allotted by fans and media was even a consideration for them given their hasty statements.

I will end this piece with yet another question/point-of-concern that I have as a Bills fan. Namely, for how long will they be committed to "attempting to revive Bledsoe" should the results not be immediate? That is a question that should be at the forefront of every Bills fan concerned with having a winning season's mind entering this season. Correspondingly, coaches, fans, and media should also consider which goal is more important, to move the team forward, or to revive Bledsoe and his career. Hopefully the words "next season" referring to the '05 season, will not even enter into the discussion should their stated desired results not come fully this season. The answer to that question may also very well set the tone and determine many things regarding the incoming coaching staff for years to come.


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