James Hardy's delayed development is a surprise.
No doubt about it. This season has been stocked full of surprises for the 5-3 Bills. But no single surprise trumps the horrid decline of Buffalo's offensive line. The unit was supposed to be the team's greatest strength (by far). Both Marv Levy and Russ Brandon invested heavily into the front five ($97.8 million in combined contracts to four of ‘em – with presumably a Peters' pay day on the way). Last season the group allowed only 26 sacks – the fewest amount in 25 years. They plowed out enough room for then-rookie Marshawn Lynch to rack up 1,115 yards in 13 games.
And most of all, the grouping of Jason Peters, Derrick Dockery, Langston Walker, Brad Butler and Duke Preston appeared to be the fabric of the franchise. Building inside-out. The trenches. The one area of the football team that nobody needed to worry about. The Bills built it up, watched it groom and stacked it away as a foregone conclusion.
Wow, were we wrong.
Buffalo's offensive line hit a monumental low Sunday against the New York Jets. Like Winston Justice v. Osi Umenyiora on Sunday Night Football low…Jamie Nails/Marcus Spriggs flopping around every other play low…S.O.S., season-killing low. The trend has slowly gotten worse and worse since Buffalo's 34-10 blowout of Seattle in the season-opener, the Bills' offensive line has disintegrated into one of the league's worst.
The numbers – as Saw V-gross they may be – do not lie. A team that boasts a top 5 mash ‘n dash duo in Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson should never even conjure such a vile performance in its worst nightmares.
5 ---Jets' sacks on Edwards
30---Bills' rushing yards
1.8---Bills' rushing yard average
7 yards---Bills' longest rush
And the telling trend statistic: 0--- The number of times the Bills have had a 100-yard rusher this season.
True, Butler was out with a sprained knee. But from left-to-right, player-to-player, Buffalo's line was mauled. Sunday was a battle of front-office commitments – the Jets' restructured 3-4 against the Bills' big-money studs. With one haymaker, the Jets knocked out Buffalo.
After the Bills churned out 26 straight plays for 15 straight minutes, the Jets' front line somehow mustered enough energy to stuff Jackson into a heap of bodies on 4th-and-1 in the second quarter. A game-defining play. Kris Jenkins and company should have been gassing. They should have been huffing and puffing like fish out of water at that point. Instead, they rose to the occasion on the 27th play and made a statement to entire AFC East in a hostile environment.
This was the exact moment the game was decided. Despite melting a quarter's worth of time off the clock, Buffalo was outscored, 7-0. Great teams finish. Ghosts of Steve Fairchild's choke-in-the-red-zone offense surfaced Sunday.
Even when Edwards was completing passes – like his 42-yard dink-turned-slam dunk to Lynch – defenders were in his face. Edwards' line caved instantly throughout Sunday's game, warping any sense of offensive rhythm.
Abram Elam races for a touchdown
Not to give the quarterback a Get Out of Jail Free card or anything, but on Edwards' explicit bonehead play of the day (the pick-six), Jenkins rag-dolled Dockery out his way and got to Edwards in less than three seconds. Edwards prematurely flung the ball to his left, Abram Elam easily intercepted it and the Bills suffered a painful 14-point swing.
Like Reggie White in Super Bowl XXXI, Jenkins clubbed Dockery left and right all day and blew up plays before they could begin. Let's get one thing clear: Edwards will not improvise his way out of point-blank rushes. He's a sturdy, stand-in-the-pocket dissector. Live with it, die with it, and most of all, understand it's far better than J.P. Losman scurrying to no man's land at the slightest sight of pressure. Edwards' style is stringent on Buffalo's offensive line giving him ample time – enough time to stick the ball to receivers on their breaks and develop a rhythm.
Fans shouldn't blast Edwards for his freeze-frame form. Nor should they direct their vents toward Lynch or Jackson or any rushing scheme Turk Schonert has devised. The onus falls on an underachieving offensive line. The talent's there. The production is not.
Nobody expected this unit to struggle back in August even as Peters held out of camp. Continuity should breed success. It hasn't. And unless the front five starts playing to its potential, the Bills will continue their downward spiral to mediocrity in a muddled, up-for-grabs conference.