Lynch struggling to make plays in '08 (buffalobills.com)
Entering the 2008 NFL regular season, one thing was obvious when it came to the Buffalo Bills: the team would live or die with Trent Edwards, but its heartbeat would be Marshawn Lynch. Despite his concussion, Edwards has lived up to the billing; he's the league's eleventh-highest rated passer (93.5), has orchestrated three fourth-quarter comeback wins, and the Bills are 4-0 in games he's finished. (How's that for tweaking a stat to fit your priorities?)
Lynch, however, hasn't been as potent as anticipated. Yes, he started hot - he scored four touchdowns in the team's first three games - but other than scoring and receiving, Lynch has seen decline in every important statistical category. Now, it's catching up to his team. The good news: it's not necessarily Lynch's fault. But it could be a festering problem as the team moves forward
Touches, yardage, involvement down
Lynch hasn't been perfect when he's had the ball, but it's easy to tell he's still the same player. No running back fights harder for yardage after contact other than the possible exception of Cowboys star Marion Barber III. He's versatile, he's dynamic, and he's the consummate teammate. He is, in reality, an elite player. Yet his stat line leaves a lot to be desired to this point:
|2008 - Marshawn Lynch||5||92||330||66.0||3.6||22||4||15||91||18.2||6.1||17||0|
His rushing yardage per game is down by 20 yards. Lynch led the league in 2007 with 21.5 rushes per game; he currently ranks tenth in that category at 18.4 rushes. His 3.6 yards-per-carry average is rather mediocre, even considering the fact that a large percentage of that average comes of his own accord. Lynch never once rushed for fewer than 60 yards in his rookie season; he has three such games in '08 (in all three of Buffalo's road games). Even with Lynch far more involved as a receiver - his 15 receptions to date nearly equal the 18 he hauled in as a rookie - his effectiveness has largely been muted.
It hasn't been pretty. Rest assured, however, that Marshawn isn't the problem.
Run blocking, bad luck and a dash of impatience
We've all become aware of Buffalo's issue running the ball. Despite having one of the league's biggest offensive lines (average weight: 332.2 pounds), Buffalo's run blocking has been borderline awful. It's been effective for stretches, to be certain; there's a good reason that three of Lynch's four scores came from 11 yards out or further. But the inconsistency in blocking up front - even with the rapid improvement of Edwards and the passing attack - is easily the team's biggest concern moving forward.
Even when the blocking has been there, penalties and miscues have negated the big plays. Lynch had two 20-plus yard runs called back by penalty in the win over St. Louis alone. The plays are there; they're few and far between, and the lack of consistency has caused the Bills to abandon the run at times, and it's been tough for them to establish balance early in football games.
The line can only shoulder most of the blame, however. Turk Schonert deserves some; we tend to forget that he's a rookie offensive coordinator, so the fact that he goes through spells in which he's pressing the action comes off as more surprising than it should be. Schonert is a smart play-caller, but there are times when he gets a little too cute, and forgets to play smash-mouth football. Lynch himself gets a smidgeon of blame as well. There are moments when Lynch seems so desperate for contact, or to make a big play, that he gets a bit impatient. His counterpart, Fred Jackson, has been a more patient runner, which is why he's averaging 4.2 yards per carry to date. Lynch needs to be a bit more patient.
Run game must improve
One thing is clear: if the Buffalo Bills fancy themselves legitimate playoff contenders - heck, they can shoot higher than that at this point; they're 4-1, after all - then they're going to need to be more balanced offensively. That starts with the line, and it ends with Lynch. Marshawn deserves credit because he's still Buffalo's offensive player despite the increased role for Jackson and the declining stat lines. Lynch is a great teammate - he's embraced Jackson's role, and the two form a formidable duo.
So has Lynch regressed? Hardly. The circumstances around him have changed, and like the rest of his team, Lynch is adjusting. There's not much to complain about with Lynch at this point - it's still quite clear that he's one of Buffalo's brightest young stars. More folks are going to realize it when the Bills iron out their run blocking woes. When winter rolls around and the Bills start playing smash-mouth football, Marshawn will make his mark.