Can run game improve in time for December games? (buffalobills.com)
Heading into the 2008 regular season, Buffalo Bills fans had some concerns about their team. Not surprisingly, most of those concerns centered around starting QB Trent Edwards. Can he finally be the leader of this team? Can he lead this team to the playoffs this year? But perhaps asked most frequently was this question: Can he play well in the cold?
On the whole, Edwards has shown he is far more than capable of landing the Bills' starting quarterback job long-term. At the moment, he's the least of our concerns. The cold weather issue, however, remains a topic yet unexplored this season - and unanticipated weaknesses on Buffalo's roster make the question an even broader one, with perhaps a terrifying answer.
Rushing and defensive worries
It's no secret that Buffalo's biggest offensive problem this season - especially these past few weeks - has been its inability to effectively run the ball. Sure, the Bills have notched rushing touchdowns in seven of their eight games this season, but the team is averaging just 3.6 yards per rush this season, and running lanes have been scarce behind a suddenly terrible offensive line. Marshawn Lynch - widely regarded as, at the very least, one of Buffalo's two legitimate offensive weapons - is averaging just 3.5 yards per carry (he's got 466 rushing yards total) despite six touchdowns. The inability to run has left the Bills largely one-dimensional offensively, and Edwards has started to turn the ball over thanks to the pressure of carrying the team on his shoulders.
Meanwhile, even though Buffalo's defense has fared relatively well stopping the run this season (ranked #12 in the league at just under 99 yards per game), the Bills face some powerful backs over the second half of the season. The team has also struggled to stop the short passing game, a weapon most teams utilize heavily in sloppy or cold weather. The Bills face some efficient quarterbacks and, more importantly, very talented running backs over the second half of the season.
Can't run; could have trouble stopping the run and the short passing game. That's not a recipe for success if you call Buffalo your home city.
Team speed neutralized
In Dick Jauron's offensive and defensive schemes - and, since we're talking about it, the special teams are built this way too - the Bills have put together their personnel with speed as the primary focus. His Tampa 2 defensive scheme is predicated on speed to the football. Turk Schonert's West Coast offense is predicated on controlled throws and utilizes speed to get receivers open and to make plays after the catch.
The bad news? Speed is neutralized by poor weather.
Think about it for a second: how many times did the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lose in the cold, even during their pre-championship seasons? How many times did the Colts lose in New England? Power football is the name of the game in cold cities; it's why teams like the Giants and Steelers are perpetually competitive. They're physical. They've got the right blueprint. I'm not sure the Bills do.
Don't get me wrong - I love the merits of the West Coast Offense. That offense has turned Edwards into a pretty productive quarterback, and utilizes a lot of weapons. I love the merits of a Cover 2, which kaisertown covered well in this FanPost. But if we're being honest, are these schemes built for success in a city like Buffalo? It's possible. But I have my doubts, and those doubts are magnified by the problems that the Bills have had during the first half of this season.
Here's some irony for you: maybe the fact that the Bills are playing a December game in a dome in Toronto is a good thing. Any scheme works in a dome, particularly Buffalo's. That might not be true at Ralph Wilson Stadium in the snow.