Tyler Dunne: No question, Buffalo's starting quarterback has regressed to a unforeseen level. The Captain Comeback who had directed the offense with such moxie late in the fourth quarters of the Bills' 4-0 start now appears scared and lost most of the time on the field. After passing for four touchdowns, two interceptions and posting an average passer rating of 94.6 through the team's undefeated September, Edwards fell apart. He suffered a concussion at Arizona and proceeded to toss eight picks in Buffalo's season-killing four-game losing streak.
Plenty of factors have contributed to Edwards' demise. Blame the front office for not surrounding him with sufficient weapons. Sure, Lee Evans is a bona fide deep threat. But beyond him, Edwards is working with scraps. Second-round pick James Hardy has been a non-event, Roscoe Parrish is destined to be a lifer returner and Josh Reed is just an average set of hands in the slot. That's it.
Edwards' confidence may have been severed beyond repair through Buffalo's four-game skid. He doesn't take shots downfield, on deep outs or into double coverage nearly as much as he did in the first month of the season. Case in point was Buffalo's demoralizing 29-27 loss to the Browns on Monday Night Football. After three first-quarter interceptions, Edwards was visibly afraid to throw the ball to anyone beyond 10 yards downfield. In turn, running back Marshawn Lynch caught 10 of Edwards' 16 completions and the entire wide receiver corps accumulated four receptions.
While the calls for Edwards' head are louder than ever, I do not believe it's time to abort yet. He's currently "day-to-day" with a groin injury suffered against San Francisco. If he's healthy, Buffalo must ride through this rough stretch. Trent Edwards has all of the tools to grow into a Pro Bowl quarterback down the road. He dissects defenses quickly, stands firmly in the pocket and delivers the ball on a rope. Out of quarterbacks with at least 230 pass attempts, Edwards ranks fourth in the NFL in competition percentage (66.0).
The decision-making has always been there. The production's been sporadic.
Q: Is the decline of the Bills' offense since early in the season simply a matter of Edwards' play slipping, or is there more to it than that?
TD: Definitely more to it. Buffalo's offensive line has been maddeningly inconsistent. Last season this unit allowed the least amount of sacks for the Bills since 1982. Derrick Dockery and Langston Walker — seen as overpaid free agent reaches — were stalwarts in leading rookie Marshawn Lynch to a 1,000-yard season. But as Jason Peters held out through all of training camp, the cohesion disintegrated. The Big 3 of Peters, Dockery and Walker have slipped off blocks and failed to secure the interior of Buffalo's offense, which was supposed to be the team's No. 1 strength.
Kris Jenkins should have paid rent in Buffalo's backfield in the Jets' 26-17 win on Nov. 2. Jenkins and other nose guards in 3-4 alignments have rag-dolled center Duke Preston with regularity to throw off the timing of the Bills' rushing game. The line has rebounded as of late, as Buffalo's rushing attack has garnered 513 yards in the last three games. Unfortunately, the damage was done. The line caved against a flurry of 3-4 teams (see: Lynch's 16-yard outing against Jets) and Buffalo crashed harshly back to earth. Edwards and the uneasy passing game hasn't helped matters, but the offensive line has underachieved most of this season.
Q: Why is it that WR Lee Evans went silent for a few games?
TD: Against Cleveland, Edwards simply wasn't looking for Evans. The three early interceptions prompted downfield blinders on Edwards for the rest of the game, and Evans was held without a reception for the first time in 67 games. The lack of a true No. 2 wideout has really hurt Evans' progression in the NFL. Not a game goes by that he doesn't see double teams. The Bills thought they decoded this decade-old problem by drafting 6-foot-5 James Hardy in the second round of April's draft, but he's been a colossal disappointment. Hardy has a whopping nine catches in 12 games this year. Still, Evans seems to always bust loose for a bomb against Miami. I'd expect him to sneak past the Dolphins' secondary at least once Sunday.
Q: What kind of season is Marshawn Lynch having?
TD: Above all, the best news coming from Marshawn Lynch is the lack of news. After his hit-and-run fiasco during the offseason, the character question flared up. Thankfully, he's managed to let his play do the talking as other players shoot themselves in the leg. On the field, he's fought hard. Despite poor line play in the meat of Buffalo's schedule, Lynch has 844 yards and seven touchdowns this season. He doesn't take a carry off, fighting every inch every time. Sounds corny, but it's true. Lynch is relentless. In retrospect, the best decision the Bills' revolving-door front office has made is at running back. The Travis Henry-to-Willis McGahee-to-Marshawn Lynch progression couldn't have gone any better. On an offense full of disarray, Lynch is a shining light for future years.
Q: Has tackle Jason Peters finally rounded into shape after his training camp holdout or is he still lagging?
TD: Only if you believe Cleveland, Kansas City and San Francisco are legitimate litmus tests. Then, yes, Peters has turned his season around, even if it's too little, too late. While the tackle probably won't cash in on the unprecedented contract he was seeking anytime soon, he has salvaged his season.
In the third quarter in Buffalo's 10-3 loss to the Niners Sunday, Peters body-slam block of Justin Smith sprung Marshawn Lynch loose for his longest run of the season (50 yards). The former college tight end at Arkansas appears to finally be in game shape. Albeit against three of the worst rushing defenses in the NFL, Peters is looking more and more like his '07 overpowering self. You can bet the Bills will be monitoring their blindside tackle closely over the final four games in deciding whether or not to appease to his contract demands.