Edwards' decline highlights Bills' slide (Associated Press)
Losers of four straight, there are a lot of documented issues with the 2008 Buffalo Bills. Line issues; poor play-calling; coaching concerns; these are all discussed ad nauseum amongst a rather distraught Bills fan base, most of them with good reason.
Chief amongst the concerns, however, is one question: Where on earth has the Trent Edwards we know and love disappeared to?
Statistically, Edwards' drop-off over the past four games - again, all Bills losses - is borderline mind-boggling. It's difficult to fathom how a QB can drop from this stat line through six games...
Weeks 1-7: 106/152 (69.7% completions), 1209 yards (7.95 yards per attempt), 5 TD, 2 INT, 98.82 rating
... to this stat line over the past four.
Weeks 8-11: 74/119 (62.2% completions), 784 yards (6.59 yards per attempt), 3 TD, 8 INT, 61.75 rating
When the team started 5-1, Edwards was sacked 11 times in what really amounts to five games and one drive (he missed all but three plays in the loss to Arizona). He lost 2 fumbles in those games. Over the four-game losing streak, he's lost 2 more fumbles on 9 more sacks. To put it lightly, Trent Edwards has sucked.
What's Gone Wrong
There are a lot of theories as to why Edwards is struggling; I'd like to put one of them to rest right away. Edwards isn't struggling due to post-concussion symptoms. Nothing about the way Edwards has played has changed aside from confidence; it's what the Bills are doing, coupled with some unorthodox approaches by our opponents, that are doing Edwards in.
First and foremost, Buffalo became too dependent too quickly on Edwards. He got off to a blazing start this year, and with the offense struggling to run the ball, the fate of the entire team was placed on Edwards' shoulders. Naturally - and not unsurprisingly - those shoulders gave way. Buffalo re-discovered its rushing game against Cleveland. That's going to help Edwards work through his mega-slump.
The lack of a run game can be directly attributed to that predictable play-calling we've discussed thoroughly here; it also has a lot to do with poor line play. Buffalo's offensive line has regressed mightily from 2007 to 2008, most prominently in the interior. As a result, Edwards is getting hit, though that has changed of late with teams blitzing less. Ron from NM accurately pointed out that early in the season, Edwards was burning opposing defenses that blitzed him. Our opponents paid attention; they rarely blitz these days. Cleveland spent most of Monday Night rushing three linemen. (Blame Ron!)
All of these factors - lack of a run game, poor line play, poor play-calling, unreasonable expectations - have snowballed into four catastrophic games for our young quarterback. That's not figuring in the injury to Edwards' favorite target, WR Josh Reed, and the subsequent lack of production from the folks trying to replace Reed in the lineup. (Reed is likely to return to the lineup this weekend in Kansas City.) His confidence is clearly shot. Feel free to blame Edwards for the team's four-game losing streak; he can take it. Just don't put all of the blame on him.
How to Fix It
In my estimation, there's only one way to right the sinking ship that is Trent Edwards. I like to call it the "Joe Flacco offense". Baltimore has cruised to a 6-4 record behind their rookie quarterback because they're doing offensively what the Bills should have been doing all along - protecting their young signal-caller.
I don't blame Buffalo's coaching staff for putting more on Edwards' shoulders after the way he started the season. We were all excited; Edwards wasn't putting up Peyton Manning numbers, clearly, but his efficiency was remarkable for such a young player. It's natural to put more on his plate when he's amongst the five highest-rated passers in the league. He's not there anymore, and it's time Buffalo recognized it.
Edwards is the future of the franchise, whether you like it or not. I love it. Kid's a leader, and he works his tail off. But that future is in serious doubt if the Bills don't find a way to boost this kid's confidence before the '08 season ends. He's done everything by the book. Now Buffalo needs to go by the book, too - run the ball, get Edwards moving, get creative with the play-calling. Make it easier for Edwards to get the ball to his playmakers. Doing that will bring back Efficient Trent. Efficient Trent is confident, and leads the Bills to wins. That's really the long and short of it. Keep it simple, and we'll see the "Trent of old" come roaring back into the picture.