New Sheriff in Town

Last year, Buffalo's offense was often painfully predictable. With former offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild gone to Colorado State, Turk Schonert takes over. His wealth of experience through the eyes of the quarterback should greatly benefit Buffalo's offense next season.

The play signified the 2007 season for the Buffalo Bills' offense.

In the middle of Mother Nature's fury off the frigid coast of Lake Erie, the Bills' playoff lives were at stake in a virtual elimination game against Cleveland.

Down 8-0. Fifteen ticks left. Fourth-and-five from the 10. Offensive coordinators live for this moment. It's when that napkin scribble you've saved all season is finally unfolded or when you simply lean on the go-to play that has never failed all season.

And Buffalo attempted neither. The Bills' playoff hopes ended with the urgency of a preseason game. A slow-developing shotgun screen pass to Fred Jackson was stuffed for no gain. Three hours spent in a snow globe, and zero points.

Welcome to Steve Fairchild 1.0, where no new versions are introduced.

For two seasons, the former offensive coordinator droned Buffalo's offense into "Run Run Pass Punt" delirium. His play-calling was predictable, dull and ineffective. The Bills' offense ranked 30th in the league for the second straight seasons, sunk into its fifth quarterback controversy in the post-Jim Kelly Era, played without any semblance of a possession receiver, and still won seven games.

Fairchild had to go. His replacement, Turk Schonert, promises to be different. Schonert is the Bills' fifth offensive coordinator since 2000 and inherits an offense that has never ranked higher than 25th since 2002. But with a budding franchise quarterback, one of the league's best 1-2 punch duos at running back and now a deep-threat/possession receiver combo on the outside, there's plenty of reason for optimism.

One thing's for certain: Horizontal screen passes will not be used in do-or-die situations.

"The offense will be different," Schonert promised when promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator back in January. "It will be different. And I'm going to put my stamp on it. It's going to be our offense, not my offense. I want to get the coaches involved. I like having the players involved and their input."

Last season, the Bills ran the ball 58 percent of the time, handcuffing Edwards and the passing game at key points throughout the season (see: the Monday Night Meltdown against Dallas when Edwards' longest completion to a wide receiver went for 16 yards). Sure, weapons and experience were scarce, but Fairchild rarely allowed his rookie quarterback to push the ball downfield.

But now he has fled to his alma mater, Colorado State, to be head coach, and Schonert takes control of Buffalo's offense. Schonert, a former quarterback himself, plans to put the ball in the air more often, while still playing to Buffalo's strengths on the ground.

"We're going to be more diversified than the past two years," said Schonert. "I'm probably going to be a more aggressive play caller than what we saw last year. I can't say what we're going to be to this point, but I know where I want us to be."


Bills Offensive Coordinator Turk Schonert
Getty Images

Schonert played from 1980-89 in the NFL – primarily as a backup – for Chicago, Cincinnati and Atlanta. A member of the Bengals' Super Bowl XVI and XXIII teams, he has absorbed offensive dominance at the highest level. His 1981 Bengals team ranked third in the NFL in points (26.3 per game), as Ken Anderson threw for 3,754 yards, 29 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Seven years later, Cincinnati was first in points (28 per game), led by Boomer Esiason's 3,572 yards and 28 touchdowns.

Like some of the best play-callers in today's game, Schonert has been a life quarterbacks coach. From 1992-95, he was the QB coach in Tampa Bay, from 1998-00 Schonert worked under Wade Phillips as Buffalo's quarterbacks coach, and he then served one-year stints with Carolina (2001), the N.Y. Giants (2003) and New Orleans (2005) with the same job.

There's something about seeing the game through the quarterback's eyes. Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy, New Orleans' Sean Payton and Philadelphia shot-caller Andy Reid each were long-time quarterback coaches before becoming arguably three of the greatest offensive minds in the NFL. The Packers, Saints and Eagles ranked second, fourth and six, respectively, in total offense last season.

Trent Edwards is far from Brett Favre, Drew Brees or Donovan McNabb, but maybe Schonert is exactly what he needs.

Schonert has perfected the quarterback position from multiple angles. Twenty years of experience playing and coaching the position should easily help to assimilate new ideas into the Bills' stagnant offense. More roll-outs, play-action, and shots downfield will fill the playbook. Schonert's waited multiple decades just to have the opportunity to call plays. Don't expect him to be afraid to fail like Fairchild.

Fairchild, a former running backs coach in Mark Martz's St. Louis offense, could never formulate an identity for Buffalo's offense.

But as he reiterated himself, Turk Schonert is different.

His experience as a quarterback is key to the offense's scheming in general – which by personnel will still be reliant on running the football, first and foremost.

"I've known Turk a long time," said head coach Dick Jauron. "I like the fact that he's played the game at the position of critical importance. The quarterback handles the ball all the time. That guy if he doesn't perform, the odds of you winning are not very good. So Turk has played that position in the league, he understands that position. He understands the game and sees it through the quarterback's eyes and he understands the line play.

"He's seen a lot of things in this league and my familiarity with him, the character of the man, the feel for the offense that I envision us running… I have a lot of confidence in that."

The challenge for Schonert comes in relying on young running backs Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson without beating a dead horse. The "Run Run Pass Punt" predictability must be trashed. A play-fake bomb to Evans on second-and-short. A draw to Xavier Omon on third-and-long. Sporadic quick slants to the lightning bug Roscoe Parrish. The options are aplenty.

Fairchild's play-calling directly ended Buffalo's playoff hopes the past two seasons. The aforementioned dump-off screen in Winter Wonderland last season and J.P. Losman's helter skelter scramble-and-pick against Tennessee two years ago provided disturbing lasting images for Bills fans.

Now a new man is at the controls – Turk Schonert. And he has young, potential-rich ammo at the skill positions, one of the league's best offensive lines and a sound decision-maker under center.

Let the diversification begin.

Tyler Dunne is the Publisher of the Buffalo Football Report. Contact him at thdunne@gmail.com.


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