Timing is everything. The Buffalo Bills need to take a two-week deep breath ASAP.
They're bruised, battered, reeling and oh yeah, still 4-1. This bye week could not have hiccupped the Bills' season at a better time.
After racing to a 4-0 start, the Bills came back down to earth last weekend in the desert – getting crushed by Arizona, 41-17. Now there's ample time to stare in the mirror, get healthy and rejuvenate for the toughest stretch of their schedule. The sky isn't falling. Buffalo still has the second-best record in the entire AFC, and is clearly a playoff contender.
So hold any notions of the Buffalo Curse just yet. Sure, the uneasy status of Trent Edwards has locals eating their chicken wings like hyenas more every day. Yes, the Bills have benefited from a powder puff schedule so far, which will jumps from G-rated to PG-13 with San Diego, Miami, N.Y. Jets and New England on tap – one matchup with an embarrassed, hungry Chargers bunch and three straight gut-check games that will crystallize who's who in the AFC East.
Which all makes this bye week so important.
The Bills are on the verge of realizing if they're for real. This four-pack of games will either vault Buffalo into division supremacy or shoot it back down to reality. The three least of the once-laughable AFC East have grown up. Miami's ‘Wildcat' offense is giving defenses fits. Brett Favre has changed the Jets' culture. And the Bills have – so far – shown they're the most well-rounded-textbook-strong-in-all-three-facets-of-the-game team of the pack. Well, that's at least what the records indicate. Maybe the three fourth-quarter comebacks inflated Buffalo's record? Maybe the Bills are simply this year's version of the Detroit Lions last year – that chic fall underdog that slowly fades back to reality. Knocking off division foes one-by-one officially elevates the Bills into the upper stratosphere of a wide-open AFC.
Which makes this bye week so important – the Bills must get healthy.
Head coach Dick Jauron gave his players their final bye-week practice day off Wednesday, allowing further recovery time for a much-maligned group. Core defensive players Marcus Stroud (shoulder), Aaron Schobel (foot) and Terrence McGee (knee) need the rest. Not to mention the hobbled Chris Kelsay, Ashton Youboty, Ko Simpson, Melvin Fowler and oh yeah, Trent Edwards.
In preparation for this crucial stretch, the Bills have to get as healthy possible. A game this week could have further injured Stroud and Schobel, who are each playing through pain. Schobel has struggled so far this season with only one week through five games. The Buffalo News reported that Schobel is changing his alignment at the line, which gives him a better angle at the quarterback. A week of reflection, recovery and feeding his sack hunger can only help Schobel.
Aaron Schobel only has one sack this season
The Bills need him to supply a steady pass rush to limit the use of exterior blitzers. Kurt Warner exploited the Bills' pass coverage last week – because he had all day in the pocket. Buffalo had zero sacks (the Cards had 5), and Warner operated with ease. This is a problem the Bills must correct soon. Of their 10 sacks this year through five games, only three have come from defensive ends. The New York Giants' blueprint tells us that you must have constant, reliable pressure on the edges to win in the playoffs – Ask Jeff Garcia, Tony Romo, Brett Favre and Tom Brady. The Giants didn't need to send corners and safeties on blitzes. Their ends did enough.
This week off is perfectly timed for Schobel, who must elevate his play and earn the massive paycheck he signed last year (For those counting, Schobel only has 7.5 sacks in 21 games since inking that seven-year, $50.5 million deal). Two weeks to heal the strained ligament in his left foot should ramp up Schobel physically and mentally for these crucial four games.
He said that sacks are overrated, he's getting pressure on quarterbacks and it's only a matter of time. The time has to be right now.
Switching to the offense's most important restee, this open date's greatest blessing is that Trent Edwards has another week re-focus. Buffalo can ill-afford to lose Edwards. The distinct difference between Edwards' calm, cool, collectiveness and J.P. Losman's erratic indecision once again unraveled last week when Losman's three turnovers doomed Buffalo.
All in all, everybody wins with the bye week. Bills fans would certainly love to see their team rebound quickly after last week's embarrassment, but think big picture. Buffalo needed a week off now more than ever.
Sprawl out on the couch, pack on the ice and breathe in the bye week…with the juicy venison of the schedule lurking.
"We have a few guys banged up, including myself, so this gives us a chance to get back healthy for the long run," Stroud said. "We're about to hit the meat of our schedule. We have important games, coming up starting with San Diego. We're going to go out and prepare hard next week and get ready for a great game on Sunday."
Where LaDainian Tomlinson and San Diego await to kick off the most important stretch of Buffalo's schedule.
And we'll discover if the Buffalo Bills are for real.