The 2008 Buffalo Bills lacked an offensive identity like Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich lacks a conscience. Were the Bills a downfield passing team? Hardly. Did they run the West Coast Offense? Perhaps shades of it, but with no kind of regularity to call it an identity. Were they a power running team? At times they acted like it, but far too often they were quick to abandon it when the scoreboard dictated. That's where the problem lies with the Bills' offense. The 2008 Buffalo Bills had no offensive identity. Was it any surprise that Buffalo's offense sputtered so valiantly at times during this past season? It didn't even know what it was suppose to be.
The year was not a complete offensive waste though. The Bills found that they have two ground-pounding, helmet-crushing, never-go-down-on-the-first-hit backs in Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson. They would be wise not to forget this going into 2009. For Buffalo to truly take advantage of their strengths, they must shift their entire offensive philosophy and establish a power-running identity.
Many of the pieces are in place. They have two bone-crushing running backs. They have the largest offensive line in the NFL, led by a Pro Bowl left tackle. They have a number one wide receiver that can burn past unsuspecting defensive backs on play action passes. And they have a QB that has the intelligence to recognize when to seize those down-field opportunities.
Although the core players are in place, the Bills do not have all the pieces. With that in mind, here are the 5 additions, or improvements, the Bills would need (in order of importance) to successfully establish a power-running identity:
1. An offensive coordinator willing to adopt the philosophy. Without this, it doesn't matter what personnel the Bills bring in this off-season. They need an offensive coordinator that is willing to put Trent Edwards under center 60-70% of the plays. They need an offensive coordinator that will stick to the run, even when the team is losing. They need an offensive coordinator who will take the play-action pass out of the archives and put it back into the playbook where it belongs. Can Turk Schonert be that guy? Absolutely. Will he be? That remains to be seen. In the end, this is Dick Jauron's football team in 2009 and he has to dictate what kind of offense they run. This offense should fit right in with Jauron's philosophy. Ball control. Calculated chances taken down the field. Old school. If Schonert can't cut it, or doesn't have the wherewithal to do so, then Jauron has the responsibility to find someone who can.
2. The fifth piece of the offensive line: Center. For Buffalo to successfully convert to a power-running offense, it would be essential to fill its most glaring need on the offensive line, the center position. If the Bills can be successful in adding a mauler in the middle, the line has a chance to dominate in the run game. All 5 starters would have signed new deals with the team within the last two years (assuming Peters re-ups this off-season). They would have the time and ability to mold into one cohesive unit. Offensive linemen love to run the ball. Why not indulge them? Give the hogs up front a healthy dose of Lynch/Jackson in 2009.
3. Trent's go-to man underneath: A true pass-catching tight end. Question: What's every good smash-mouth football team have? Answer: A tight end that can dominate the ends and ‘backers that are covering him. Buffalo has been lacking a true receiving threat at the tight end position since the departure of Jay Riemersma. A successful transition to a power-running game demands the presence of a stud tight end. With the proliferation of the spread offense in college football, pass catching tight ends have become readily available in the NFL draft. Take Dustin Keller of the Jets - he was drafted 30th overall in the 2008 draft and had a pretty successful first year with 48 receptions for 535 yards and 3 touchdowns. Or how about Martellus Bennett of the Dallas Cowboys, who was taken 61st overall and had 4 receiving touchdowns in 2008. Pass catching tight ends are out there; Buffalo needs to get themselves one.
4. A true fullback. Whether it's in the late rounds of the draft or a veteran free agent, finding a fullback in today's NFL is relatively easy and Buffalo shouldn't hesitate. They need a hard-nosed, no-nonsense snowplow who will effectively clear the lanes for Lynch and Jackson. They need a true fullback in the mold of Sam Gash, not a pass catching back like Larry Centers.
5. A home-run threat at RB. Even though this is last on the list, I actually think it is very important to have. Lynch and Jackson are great runners, but if they lack anything, it's the ability to hit the home run. Watching guys like Brian Westbrook take screen passes 70 yards to pay dirt in the playoffs has enlightened me: Buffalo needs to find a change-of-pace running back. A small, quick guy, known for his speed. Dual running back systems have been all the craze the past couple of years in the NFL, but this is a league of imitation, and if you're going to imitate someone, why not imitate the Super Bowl Champs? Why have a two-headed monster when you can have a three-headed one? Brandon Jacobs (6-4, 264 pounds), Derrick Ward (5-11, 228 pounds) and Ahmad Bradshaw (5-9, 198 pounds) have collectively been the catalyst for the Giants offense; they call them Earth, Wind and Fire, respectfully. Give this article a read. Its timing was perfect for the purposes of this post. It's a heck of a read. To establish a truly dominant running game, Buffalo would be wise to add a home-run threat to their backfield arsenal. (As an aside, isn't it ironic that pass-happy Kevin Gilbride is the Giants' offensive coordinator? If Gilbride can change his stripes and lead the best offensive rushing attack in the NFL, that gives us hopes for Turk, right?)
Although these additions may seem like a lot to add in one off-season, most of these needs are role players. Effective players in some of these positions can be found for relatively cheap in free agency or in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft. Buffalo has the means to make the switch and establish a hard-nosed, blue collar, Western New York offensive identity. What remains to be seen is whether or not they have the desire to do so.