RB Lynch sees role change slightly (buffalobills.com)
To say that the Buffalo Bills have "improved" offensively from 2007 to 2008 would be one of the biggest understatements ever recorded in human history. Granted, it was never going to take much to improve, as Buffalo suffered through a historically bad offensive effort in 2007 - a year in which the Bills scored only 20 offensive touchdowns and ranked at or near the bottom of the league in nearly every major statistical category.
Now it's 2008, and the Bills have made improvements. We're all aware of the reasons - namely, the rise of Turk Schonert to offensive coordinator and the maturation of second-year quarterback Trent Edwards - but the level to which the offense has risen (while still leaving a level of satisfaction to be attained) shows how dramatically different this year's version of the Buffalo Bills offense is. The Bills played 16 games in 2007 and scored 20 touchdowns. In three games thus far in 2008 - all wins - the Bills have scored 7. That puts them on pace to nearly double last season's output.
Here are some themes to Buffalo's offensive resurgence.
Picking up yardage in chunks has long been a favorite saying of head coach Dick Jauron. Now his team's offense is actually doing it, and at an above-average level of proficiency, at least when it comes to the rest of the league. Did you know that Edwards currently ranks fourth amongst NFL quarterbacks with 10 passing plays of 20 yards or more? Nor did I. The Bills may not be throwing deep, but they're making big plays in the passing game. It's these plays that have allowed the Bills to up their yards-per-passing attempt statistic (arguably the most important at the QB position) from the 6.39 YPA they put up last season to 7.8 YPA this season.
What's even more interesting is that the Bills are picking up said chunk yardage through the air, something they simply could not do last season. Marshawn Lynch was the team's workhorse between the twenties last year, but Lynch thus far has just one carry in which he picked up more than 20 yards. He's being relied on more as the "tough yardage" guy in the new offense, and it's a role that he excels at - and which also inhibits some of his statistics.
When Schonert took the job, he said he was going to get the ball into the hands of his playmakers and let them go to work. Boy, has he delivered on that promise to date (with 63 huge assists from Edwards); the Bills are currently on pace to field five players with 40+ receptions on the season, and a sixth could be added to that group depending on the production of Roscoe Parrish when he returns from injury. The Bills had just two players - Lee Evans and Josh Reed - cross the 40-catch plateau last season.
In particular, Schonert has worked to get the ball into the hands of Lynch and Fred Jackson in the passing game - and it's worked. Last season, Beast Mode and Action Jackson combined to catch 40 passes. They're currently on pace to end the 2008 season with a combined 85. The 16 grabs the duo have put up in three games have all been essential to Edwards and the offense, especially when it comes to moving the chains.
Lynch as "The Closer"
With such an inept passing attack last season, Lynch was counted on as the "do-everything" guy for the offense. It's the reason he led the league in average attempts per game (21.5), and it wore him down a bit. This season, he's only logged 71% of Buffalo's carries, with Jackson eating into some of his rushing workload (he has 21 carries to the 60 of Lynch). The result? Lynch has been free to do other things, particularly catch passes, and he's been effective in the fourth quarter (see the Oakland game for proof of that).
Edwards and the passing game are taking care of business between the twenties, but Lynch has now become "The Closer". Buffalo's red zone offense was terrible last season, and the one player with a nose for the paint - Lynch - had some trouble getting there due to his heavy workload. He scored 7 times last season; he's already notched over half of that total with 4 through three games this season, good for the second-highest total in the league. What's more, he's doing it on big plays - of his 4 scores, three have come from outside the ten yard line (on runs of 21, 11 and 14). Don't be fooled by his lowered yards-per-carry average (3.6) - Lynch is every bit the explosive player we saw frequent glimpses of in 2007.
The Formula = Efficiency
This isn't exactly rocket science - in fact, it's mostly common sense, something a Buffalo play-caller hasn't had in quite some time. Schonert's instinctive play-calling has worked wonders on Buffalo's skill players, and it's led to a dramatic increase in production by Buffalo's once-inept offense.
Yet the group isn't satisfied, and they shouldn't be. Edwards has been harder on himself than anyone has ever been on his predecessor, J.P. Losman. They're aware that there are holes to patch up, particularly on the offensive line, whose run blocking has been questionable and pass blocking deteriorated (the group has given up 7 sacks this season). There are still cries to get rookie receiver James Hardy more involved in the offense, a move that might now necessitated by the Parrish injury. They'll work on it.
What matters is the competency. No longer do the Bills have to pray for breaks for their offense. Now the group is getting it done on their own, and they have plenty of room for growth. That's great news in the short-term and most definitely in the long-term - and the credit goes to Schonert's formula, with some help from Edwards' development. If this pace is kept up, Buffalo's going to win a lot more football games in 2008.