Quarterly Report: Offense struggling

In Part I, we take a look at Buffalo's offense. Through four games, the grades aren't good. Trent Edwards has been hesitant, Fred Jackson has been misused and the receivers have underachieved. Here's the lowdown...

Quarterbacks: D

And that's probably generous. Trent Edwards has taken no distinctive steps forward in year three as Buffalo's starting quarterback. Too many checkdowns and too much hesitancy have handicapped his progression. Time is running out. He teased on those two play-action bombs against Tampa Bay, but Edwards could be one clunker away from a benching. With a glut of weapons to work with, Edwards is regressing at a Losman rate. Something tells me we'll see Ryan Fitzpatrick soon. Coaches will find some way, any way, to utilize Buffalo's crop of receivers.

Big Number: 76.5 — Edwards' quarterback rating, which ranks 22nd in the NFL.

Running backs: B

Oh, to be Fred Jackson. The poor guy is getting no respect. All he did during Marshawn Lynch's three-game suspension was take a stranglehold of the No. 1 job. Jackson climbed to fourth in the entire league rushing, clearly establishing himself as a legitimate go-to back. The new centerpiece of the offense, really. Lynch should have been rendered a footnote in the offensive gamplan — at least for a game or two. Instead, the Bills force-fed Lynch carries last weekend against Miami and "Beast Mode" faded into a whimper. In Buffalo's blowout loss, Jackson rushed for 42 yards on nine carries. Lynch? Four yards on eight carries. Jackson has chemisty with the line that Lynch doesn't. Looks like Alex Van Pelt has his priorities wrong in ground game.

Big Number: 4.8 — Jackson's yards per carry, fourth best amongst running backs with at least 60 carries this season.

Wide receivers: C

Money hasn't been wasted this bad since Derrick Dockery was underachieving. Or since Ralph Wilson unloaded a contract extension to Dick Jauron. Or since VH1 sponsored a show for Terrell Owens. Buffalo has nearly $18 million tied up in its top two wideouts for this season. And what do Owens and Lee Evans have to show for it? Two painfully mediocre seasons. T.O. is on pace for 632 yards and four touchdowns. Evans is on pace for 592 yards and four touchdowns. Somewhere, management is cringing. That scary cause-and-effect impact this duo was designed to create hasn't materialized. Despite facing some subpar pass defenses, this unit hasn't taken the next step. Owens and Evans are far too talented to slip into these disappearing spells. A lot has to do with Edwards' reluctance to throw deep, but a lot of the onus is on the wideouts themselves. They're not getting open with regularity and drops have been the norm.

Big Number: 4 — The number of drops Owens has this season, good for second most in the NFL.

Tight ends: C

Injuries are ravaging the defense, no doubt. But Buffalo's biggest blow may have been at tight end. Derek Schouman was in the midst of breaking out before suffering a season-ending knee injury against Tampa Bay. The middle of the field was vacant and Schouman became a security blanket. Against the Bucs, he had six catches for 62 yards. Since the injury? The position has been almost irrelevant. Fourth-rounder Shawn Nelson has done next-to-nothing after scoring Buffalo's first touchdown on the season. Derek Fine is a handy in-line blocker — especially with Buffalo's problems at tackle — but he brings little to the passing game. Jonathan Stupar? A project. It all means Nelson must mature faster than originally expected. With a strained shoulder behind him, maybe the rookie takes advantage of Schouman's injury. He'll be given every chance. Edwards is itching to dump the ball underneath nearly play. Nelson could be a midseason breakout performer.

Big Number: 3 — Nelson's reception total this season.

Offensive line: After trading Jason Peters — a debatable move in itself — the Bills had multiple chances to draft offensive tackles early on in April's draft. They didn't. Rather than take starting-worthy talents in Eben Britton or William Beatty, Buffalo placed emphasis on the interior. The logic was there. The Bills were 0-8 against the 3-4 defenses of the AFC East. Glue guards were needed. The decision is backfiring. Rookies Eric Wood and Andy Levitre have shown promise, but now the Bills are desperately scrambling at tackle. Langston Walker was cut. Brad Butler (knee) is out for the season. Demetrius Bell is battling injury. And now a journeyman (Jonathan Scott) and a turnstile (Kirk Chambers) are starting on the edge. Bell's return to practice this week helps, but don't expect this situation to get any rosier.

Big Number: 6 — the number of sacks Buffalo's line allowed against Miami.

thdunne@gmail.com.


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