Bledsoe Watch 2004

I thought it would be an interesting sideshow this season, for as long as it lasts, to track Bills quarterback Drew Bledsoe's performance through each and every game as the season progresses.

Regular readers of my columns realize that I consider Bledsoe's play to be the biggest single issue surrounding the poor play of the offense notwithstanding the notion that other issues also exist. I would also like to make it unmistakably clear that my criticisms of Bledsoe are limited to his play as a quarterback in the NFL and by no means at all any indictment of him beyond that. His involvement through his foundation Parenting with Dignity and efforts therein are nothing short of commendable.

However, as a Bills fan and as someone that has avidly tracked Bledsoe's performance for over 8 seasons now, several things are clear to me the least of which is not that for as long as Bledsoe is the quarterback of this or any other team, that team will never win a Super Bowl with him under center. His play is such that he consistently is unable to play well vs. better teams. Yes, there have been exceptions. However, his play is such that he will make costly mistakes in those games costing either his team points or directly setting opponents up for points. The best that can be hoped for in those games is an "error-free" game. It is sad indeed when all that you hope for as a fan is for your QB to make no critical errors. I do not imagine that Niner fans ever had that in mind when Montana took the field as the general of his offense!

While he may make it through a single playoff game without doing so, the odds of him making it through a string of three or four such games to bring the crown back to Buffalo is slim to none, closer to none. It would be a shame for the team not to recognize this and then get so close and fail for this reason. The rest of the team is only going to carry a quarterback so far. It will not carry a quarterback through a championship game.

I also realize that this is not the only issue that the team has. But because I am a fan of the Bills, it is my desire that this team be in a position to be ultimately competitive with the goal of having a team possessive of all the elements thereby making it fully capable of beating any and all possible playoff teams in any given season such that it is in a position to win a Super Bowl. This is simply not possible with Bledsoe under center.

Based on comments made at the beginning of the season by Quarterback Coach Sam Wyche placing Drew Bledsoe in the same category as Joe Montana and Boomer Esiason, short of falling out of my chair from laughter, I thought it would be intriguing to track Bledsoe's play this season with those statements as the backdrop. It will be a running piece throughout the season so fans following it should keep up weekly lest it become to extensive to peruse in one sitting.

I will also digress directly with Coach Wyche and state the exact opposite. While Bledsoe was in New England I was forced to listen to my Patriot friend's rantings as to how marvelous Drew was. I came to the conclusion then, back in 1997, that as long as Bledsoe was with the Pats they would never win a Super Bowl. Lo and behold, the moment Tom Brady, "Mr. Sixth Round" stepped in, the Pats passing production doubled instantaneously, the number of unforced errors and mistakes dropped substantially, and the Pats won their first Super Bowl. He now speaks as highly of Tom Brady as he did about Drew Bledsoe, more highly in fact. I find myself in complete agreement with him today however.

Simply because Bledsoe came to Buffalo did not alter my stance on Bledsoe at all. In fact, I was the only media member openly and publicly stating that that signing Bledsoe was a mistake before he ever even inked the contract and long before the idea was conceived; and that hiring Gilbride was an equal mistake; but that the combination of the two was a disaster waiting to unfold. There is no need to discuss the results. My past works more than adequately justify this position.

Now, here we are, we as Bills fans, again. Same old, same old!

Mike Mularkey has made it unequivocally clear that he does not think that Bledsoe has any issues that he and his staff cannot correct and in short enough order such that there are no significant issues with Bledsoe's play starting from week one. Frankly, I believe that these notions are more force-fed by GM Donahoe who is now grasping at straws to salvage any of his credibility as a GM in this league. Nevertheless, these are extremely bold and confident statements considering that Bledsoe has possessed the same issues throughout his career including his time in college and has been led by coaches such as Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick, two of the best coaches to ever coach in the NFL along with their staffs of outstanding assistants.

Sam Wyche has added regarding Bledsoe, "He's unusually good, and I've been around some unusually good ones with Boomer and Montana," Wyche said. "But he's right there with them. He has not lost anything with his arm strength. He has not lost any of his accuracy. But the most impressive part for me right now two days into it is his recognition and his decision-making. He recognizes the defense. Eight snaps out of 10, he's throwing it to the right guy. And one of those other two, if it's not there he's laying it off to the right guy."

What has caused Coach Wyche to come to such conclusions is beyond many a fan. As well, many of those statements were made based on what was occurring on a practice field that does not come anywhere close to representing a game situation. A simple glance at Bledsoe's career statistics season by season should raise an eyebrow as to what Wyche considers to be "unusually good." If Bledsoe wants to be as good as Montana then a good start would be figuring out how to throw an effective timing pattern, the likes of which Montana and Rice hooked up on with regular frequency.

Other than the ridiculous comparisons to performance and offensive production, the soft and intangible aspects of the play between the two not only speak, but scream volumes about the differences.

For starters:

Joe Montana played 15 seasons and started for all but one of them losing about as much time to injury as Bledsoe has to date proportionally in 12 seasons now.

Montana has a career 1.96-to-1 TD to INT ratio. Bledsoe: 1.22-to-1. This is less than two-thirds (62%) that of Montana.

Montana had 14 of 15 seasons whereby he threw more TDs than INTs. Bledsoe: 5 of 11.

Montana had a career 7.5 yards-per-attempt. Bledsoe: 6.6. Nearly a full yard less.

Montana had a career 63.2% completion percentage. Bledsoe: 57.0%.

Montana had 20 rushing touchdowns. Bledsoe: 6.

Montana produced one TD for each 148 yards thrown for. Bledsoe: 183.

Montana was among the league's top-10 TD producers 8 times: 1st twice, 2nd once, 3rd twice, 4th twice, and 8th once. Bledsoe: 6 times: 3rd twice, 4th once, 7th once, and 10th twice.

Montana was among the top-10 in the league in adjusted yards-per-pass 11 times, ranging from 1st to 10th. Bledsoe: thrice; 8th, 9th, and 10th.

Montana had a very effective rollout. Bledsoe is fortunate if he can move three or four steps and still throw effectively.

Montana had a timing pattern with Rice which he executed with the grace and comfort that most of us get dressed with. Bledsoe has never had a consistent, effective timing pattern with any one of his receivers. Certainly nothing approaching the Montana-Rice timing pattern that graced the NFL for over a decade.

Montana was capable of scanning the entire field usually finding the most optimal receiver for the play. Bledsoe locks on to one target often and is rarely effective when forced to look beyond his primary target and almost always ineffective if he has to go to a third or fourth option on a consistent basis.

Montana was a master under pressure sliding or rolling out and often making incredible plays while evading defenders. Bledsoe looks more like the moose that I almost hit in Canada years ago standing there staring at my headlights as I slammed on the breaks in the station wagon we were in. The difference between the moose and Bledsoe, I stopped, defenders don't.

Montana had a career 92.3-passer rating. Bledsoe: 76.8, a full 15.5 rating points below Montana.

Where the differences really distinguish themselves are in the playoffs.

In 23 playoff games, Montana is 460 for 734, 5,772 yards, 45 TDs, 21 INTs, (2.14-to-1), 62.7% complete, 7.9 yards-per-attempt, and a passer rating of 95.3. The per game averages are 20 of 32, 251 yards, 2 TDs, 0.9 INTs. That's over twice as many touchdowns that interceptions in the playoffs.

In 6 and ½ playoff games, Bledsoe is 129 for 252, 1,335 yards, 6 TDs, 12 INTs, (1-to-2) 51.2% complete, 5.2 yards-per-attempt. Playoff passer rating unknown, but clearly very low. The per game averages are 20 of 39, 205 yards, 1 TD, 1.8 INTs. That's almost half as many touchdowns than interceptions in the playoffs and a fourfold difference from what Montana put up in the playoffs.

Furthermore, Bledsoe has only had a single full playoff game whereby he threw more touchdowns than interceptions. That was a wild card game vs. Miami whereby the defense once again set the Patriot offense up at the Dolphin 29-yard line. Bledsoe's game otherwise was poor yielding barely over 100 yards passing on 4.3 yards-per-attempt and 50% completions. Certainly not "Montana-like!"

Many fans seem to have the mistaken notion that Bledsoe played well in relief of Brady in the 2001 divisional playoff game vs. the Steelers. Nothing could be further from the truth however.

In the Steeler playoff game in 2001 he finished the second 40 yards of an 80-yard drive begun by Brady and scored while the Steeler D was running around clearly attempting to adjust on the fly. That touchdown came at the end of the first half. In the second half Bledsoe was completely and utterly ineffective going 7 of 18 for 66 yards on 38.9% completions and 3.7 yards-per-attempt. The contrasts even beyond that are stunning leaving any football fan wondering what on earth has prompted the aforementioned remarks by the coaching staff.

Nevertheless, we decided to follow Bledsoe's progress this season to see if his production and play comes close to matching that of Joe Montana. Each week following Bledsoe's the Bills games, we will track Bledsoe's performances via analysis and commentary.

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Week 1:

Opponent: Jacksonville

Performance: 17 of 26 for 153 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs, 1 sack for –6 yards.

Analysis:

On the surface, this might appear to be a good game. But the facts surrounding this game make it less than impressive. As well, the expectations for Bledsoe are so low on the parts of many that a simple game of his without giving the other team a score, setting up one, or making unforced errors is considered by many to be a "good game" when "good" by any other measure is average at best. In fact, these same stats transcribed to any other QB in the league vs. such a lax pass D would be considered very average indeed. They were in fact on the low end of that weekend's performance lines for QBs league wide.

The Jags' defense rarely blitzed and when they did they used blatant linebacker blitzes easily identifiable by anyone let alone the QB under assault. Few "looks" other than simple line stacks were used and throughout the game the standard pressure package was a simple four-man pass rush. It can be counted on one hand the number of times the Jags' blitzed a defensive back.

The run defense was stringent, but the pass defense was weak, disorganized, and easily penetrable. Envisioning Montana in this game, I have a very difficult time believing that he would not have thrown 2 or 3 touchdowns with little difficulty against a below average pass defense and secondary. Bledsoe put up one on a drive set up by the defense at the Jaguar 18 hitting Moulds on a blown coverage and missed coverage assignment leaving Moulds wide open in the left corner of the end zone. He also missed an open Damian Shelton for an easy TD on 3rd-and-1 forcing a field goal. Montana makes that play.

Montana was on on field general. Bledsoe showed little leadership and even less heart exclaiming that he was "shocked" following the game. Shocked? The only reason to have been "shocked" quite frankly is at the ineptitude of the Bills passing game to not completely take advantage of a Jags' pass D begging to be abused!

Lastly, what Bills fans saw in the Jacksonville game is the outcome of a coaching staff's approach to attempt to make things so simple for a QB that it reduces the offense's options to exactly what the play calls for and never anything beyond it. This is fine, but this reduces the effectiveness of the offense by not having a quarterback that is capable of scanning the field for the best option out of numerous ones and then executing to that option to the benefit of the offense and team overall. Thus the issues with such an approach. Bledsoe's lack of quickness, agility, and overall ability to evade would be tacklers is yet another component of his play screaming out that this experiment can only end in yet another failed season for the 12-year vet.

Bledsoe does not have the field sense and vision that the more gifted quarterbacks have and never will. This explains why he missed a wide open Damian Shelton on a 3rd-and-goal at the one yard line instead taking a sack for a loss of six yards and forcing a field goal costing the Bills four points. It is not something that can be coached into him. It is an innate ability that allows QBs to do this and Bledsoe has simply never had it. This is what this coaching staff will realize sometime soon this season.

Twenty-five of thirty-two starters could have played this game and frankly, most of them would have outperformed Bledsoe. Certainly imagining a worse performance really, really stretches the imagination given the utter lack of effective pass rushing by the Jag defense.

Notables:

Bledsoe: "I came into this game with a very strong belief this is a good football team, and I come out of this game with that same belief," Bledsoe said. "But no matter how good we are, we make those mistakes at those key times, it's going to be very hard to win. We have to put these games away."

It is a halfway decent team Drew. It only needs some offensive linemen and a new quarterback! Besides, when is the broken record gonna end.

"Honestly, I'm a little bit in shock," Bledsoe said after watching the Jaguars convert that fourth-down situation with a 45-yard pass to Jimmy Smith, then win the game - spoiling Mularkey's debut as an NFL head coach - on the final play when Ernest Wilford made a leaping catch of a Byron Leftwich pass in the back of the end zone, despite the presence of three Bills defenders.

You're in shock Drew? Let me ask you a question; how many games do you think we'll win this year by putting up 10 points? The only people who are in "shock" are those that bought into Mularkey and Donahoe's bill-of-goods. I wasn't shocked. I expected somewhat better, but "shocked", no. If you want to be shocked, then how come failing to convert a 3rd-and-goal at the one with a quick dump to the fullback does not shock you?

Here's another; Can you lead the offense to putting up 20-some points at any time over the next five games?

Heck, let me ask you another; why can't your offense seem to put up any points on drives of your own without Travis Henry rushing for 130 yards? Would you have been able to score if the coverage had not been botched on that play?

No Drew, the one's who are in shock are the fans who just watched an all-star laden Bills offense underperform the Arizona Cardinal's woeful offense on the road with barely a marquee name among them and in St. Louis with a performance that outperformed yours, both the QB and the team.

Next up, the Raiders in Oakland and a team with three times the defensive backs that the Jags had. It is difficult to imagine that the Raider pass rush can possibly be as weak as that of the Jags this past game. So fans expecting a great game from Bledsoe may be let down. Again, any game without interceptions, fumbles, and sacks setting the opponent up for points is a good game for the Bills with Bledsoe under center.

Comments: mweiler.billsreport@cox.net


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