QB Trent Edwards carries Bills' playoff hopes on his shoulders for second straight season (photo source)
In the NFL, there are a few "golden rules" that apply to every team in every situation. These rules are repeated so frequently that they're now widely viewed as cliche. "Run and stop the run." "Defense wins championships." "Unless you have a franchise quarterback, don't pass the position up at the top of the draft."
Back on March 7, when the Buffalo Bills signed WR Terrell Owens, Brandon was quoted as saying that Owens was "one of the premiere playmakers in a playmaker's league." Yet Terrell Owens has not one piece of meaningful NFL hardware even while putting up one of the most gaudy statistical careers of any receiver to ever play the game. Why? It's not a playmaker's league. It's a quarterback's league.
T.O. or no T.O., Buffalo was not - and is not - going anywhere without a marked improvement from QB Trent Edwards. Even though he's coming off a season in which his rating was 85.4 and the team sported a .500 record in his starts (7-7), much more is needed from the young signal-caller if the Bills hope to end a playoff drought that now spans a time frame dangerously close to a decade. How can Edwards improve enough to finally - mercifully - get Buffalo into the post-season? There are countless ways, but we've got a few suggestions.
Protect yourself. Edwards' most well-known reputation at this point is that he's injury-prone. Considering the fact that Buffalo's most massive off-season overhaul came amongst the five men blocking for Edwards up front, that point will be beaten to death from now until either party (Trent or the line) proves themselves capable. As much as we love him for it, Trent seemed a little too willing to sacrifice his body at times last year - a bone-jarring hit from Cardinals S Adrian Wilson and two diving touchdown runs in a win over Kansas City come to mind first and foremost. Love the grit, Trent, but we need you healthy for 16 games. It's OK for you to slide or run out of bounds; let Marshawn be the hard-nosed guy.
Beg, plead; do whatever it takes to run the no-huddle. This is the offense that good NFL quarterbacks were born to run - and Edwards has the head for it. Any offense that makes Trent more assertive on the field while keeping defenses off-balance in any capacity is going to help him in multiple ways. Those are built-in advantages that a standard huddle-play-rinse-repeat offense does not supply. This is without mentioning the sheer excitement that the offense brings to the field - Buffalo is the city where the no-huddle was institutionalized. It's meant to be played here. Did I mention that the Bills have the depth at the skill positions to pull this off as well?
Keep Mr. Owens well fed. Obviously. The best way to deal with a (reportedly) combustible personality is to keep the dude away from flammable objects - in this case, long stretches with no receptions. The guy was brought in for a reason. Use him. Most of the onus here falls on offensive coordinator Turk Schonert, but Trent will bear some of this responsibility as well. Owens can play. Let him be the player that has written highlight reels throughout his career. Feed the man.
Trust your reads and, more importantly, your receivers. This ties in with the last point, minus the whole T.O. element. For the first time in... well, a really long time, Buffalo has legitimate talent - and more importantly, more than legitimate depth - at key positions offensively. We've got a WR tandem that might be one of the league's best if things go well. We've got tight ends that can handle short-area duties in the event that our deep threats aren't open - and hey, our slot receiver is pretty good at that, too. There are three running backs on this team that have proven their dependability at every stage of their career. The talent is there - Trent knows it, and the rest of us know it. Now Edwards needs to trust it. Trust that these guys will make the plays. Russ Brandon wasn't completely wrong when he said that the NFL is a playmaker's league. Run your offense, Trent. Trust your reads. Trust your teammates. Good things will happen.
Don't be scared to piss teammates off. I'm not talking about the time-tested Icy Hot-in-the-jock gag, though I'm assuming guys like Eric Wood, Andy Levitre and Shawn Nelson should be keeping their heads on a swivel in that regard. I'm talking about pissing your guys off on the field. Players generally respond to anger - it's a motivational tool. For all of the level-headed calm that Edwards has shown through the ups and (mostly) downs of his early career, there hasn't been nearly enough rallying, in-your-face leadership that makes great quarterbacks legendary, good quarterbacks great, and so on.
I'm not asking Edwards to change his personality - that would be a disaster. I am asking him to lead. I'm asking him to be "the guy" - the ambassador of the 2009 Buffalo Bills, if you will. You do that by winning games, clearly, but if it were that simple, J.P. Losman would be a two-time Pro Bowl player, he'd still occupy the Orchard Park home I assume he's sold, and we'd be talking about making the leap to the Super Bowl, not the post-season. Trent needs to show it on the field - earn the respect of your teammates, preserve and grow it, and keep the guys motivated. Be the alpha male - lead them in the best way possible, even if you temporarily make an enemy. Be the one player that defines the attitude and mentality of Buffalo Bills football.
I'm sure there are more "keys", if you will, that you'd like to discuss. Fire away, Rumblers.