Schonert's play-calling mystique takes a hit (buffalobills.com)
Panic. It's a word that no NFL team wants associated with anything to do with their body of work; unfortunately, the Buffalo Bills can't escape the word today. The 5-2 Bills, coming off of their second loss in their last three games - to divisional foe Miami, no less - hit the panic button yesterday. Offensive coordinator Turk Schonert was doing the button-pressing.
Schonert, who in his first season as a play-caller has revitalized what was a historically inept Bills offense, is still a rookie coordinator in this league - and we tend to forget that. He's turned the Bills into a 20+ point per game team and has developed Trent Edwards faster than anticipated, but he tends to press the action at key points in the game. In fact, he's forced the action twice this season at crucial junctures - and it's backfired on him both times. Those games? Their loss in Arizona, and yesterday in Miami.
The Bills were in command of yesterday's game, folks. Despite a half of poor play and a leaky pass defense, the Bills held a 9-7 halftime lead. Then the offense promptly took the opening drive of the second half, marched down the field, and an 8-yard touchdown run by Marshawn Lynch gave the Bills a 16-7 lead. This is where the Bills normally flourish - they've shown the ability to take multiple-score leads and shut the door on their opponents.
But the defense continued to give up big plays, particularly to - of all people - Ted Ginn. Chad Pennington had his way with Buffalo's pass defense, and within moments of taking what should have been a commanding lead, the Bills fell behind 17-16.
It was during this stretch of the game - and immediately following - that Schonert panicked, and the offense followed their leader.
Schonert presses too early
Let's flash back: the defense has made a couple of nice plays in the backfield, including a sack of Pennington, to cut a Miami drive short. The score is 16-10 in favor of the Bills. Three Bills offensive drives later, the score is 25-16 in favor of the Dolphins, and the game is effectively out of reach. What happened?
Buffalo ran just 13 offensive plays during this stretch. 9 of them were throws. During those 13 plays, Edwards was sacked twice, lost a fumble, threw an interception (the byproduct of a hit by a Miami defender), and took a safety. Those plays included a series where the Bills went no-huddle, even though they were down a point and had plenty of time to recover. Why all the passing? Why no-huddle? In short, Schonert panicked - and so did his players.
The Bills got away from the run at a crucial juncture in the game, folks. What you saw from Buffalo's offense during this 13-play stretch was, in reality, nothing close to the brand of football the team had employed through the first six games this season. By throwing so much, we're essentially turning our best offensive threat - Marshawn Lynch, who had an outstanding day yesterday - into a blocker. The panic got to Edwards; our young QB is still young, folks, and was asked to put the team on his shoulders when it wasn't absolutely necessary. You could see that he was pressing all day, and especially in the second half.
The kicker? All of this mess happened while the Bills were still within one score of the lead. The game was on the line, but Schonert choked, and then his players followed suit.
Time to Panic? Not yet.
Look, I'm not calling for Schonert's head here or anything. He has a knack for calling good plays at critical times. But that wasn't close to being the case yesterday. There is no reason for the team to be handing the ball off to Lynch 13 times in a game - he's our best player for a reason. Use him.
This isn't the first time Schonert has shown his youth. He got eager in Arizona, and his game plan backfired on him. It was only when the offense re-committed to the run in St. Louis that the offense woke up and embarrassed the Rams in the second half. Schonert needs to stop trying to show Edwards off and run his offense - because his offense works. Trent's play will speak for itself once the Bills get back to basics.
The defense? I'm not worried. Yeah, they were bad, but they still had the team in the game. That may not be enough for many of you, but I'm not concerned. Once that unit is healthier, I think their play will be more consistent. That's neither here nor there. I'm much more concerned with the tendencies I'm seeing from Schonert offensively. It's time for the Bills to get back to basics on offense - run the ball. Protect Edwards. And for the love of Pete, don't panic.