Call this ripping the band-aid off quickly, or pinching your nose to avoid the bad taste. I typically run film reviews on Tuesdays, but I couldn't force myself to watch a second of Buffalo Bills football on an otherwise valuable Monday evening. So this is the short, get-it-over-with-quickly version of what we usually do on Tuesdays. I sincerely doubt many of you will mind, given the sad state of affairs that was the Bills' 41-17 loss yesterday to the Tennessee Titans.
To discuss (briefly): Trent Edwards and the quarterbacks, Alex Van Pelt, the offensive line, John McCargo, the linebackers, Jairus Byrd and Dick Jauron.
On Trent Edwards and the quarterbacks. Edwards' numbers weren't as awful as they've been before on Sunday (18/28, 185 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT), but if you watch closely, you see a quarterback that is completely and utterly shell-shocked, and it's leading to breakdowns in his game. He's even struggling to take the snap and cleanly get into his drop consistently. His throws, particularly in the second half, were erratic and lacked precision. Edwards doesn't play like he trusts anyone - his line, his receivers, or himself. Yes, he made a few big plays in the passing game - and yes, he's still clearly a much better quarterback than Ryan Fitzpatrick - but I'm ready to officially declare him the latest in a long line of failed experiments at quarterback in Buffalo.
On the Wildcat and Alex Van Pelt. Folks - it really, really sucks to be Alex Van Pelt. Get that into your head. The man has proven this season that he knows how to set big plays up. Terrell Owens' reverse for a TD? Set up by Van Pelt's faking the reverse. Fred Jackson's Wildcat TD throw to Lee Evans? Set up by Van Pelt's extended use of it on back-to-back plays over the last two games. The man clearly has a knack for setting the table for his players to execute. But his players rarely execute, and his offensive line's enormous amount of miscues and terrible quarterback play overshadows his solid play-calling. As you recall, Van Pelt was made the offensive coordinator just days prior to this season after the firing of Turk Schonert. Now, with Dick Jauron's tenure in Buffalo likely to last only another seven games, Van Pelt's one shot to be an NFL coordinator might be wasted despite his putting in some good efforts.
On the offensive line. No, Andy Levitre was not OK at left tackle, folks. There's a reason the Bills drafted him to play guard - he's a good player, but he's not an NFL-caliber tackle. He struggled on the edge. But to be fair, Levitre wasn't the only one who struggled. Edwards was sacked twice and forced to scramble or throw the ball away at least another half-dozen times. The line as a whole committed another five false starts, which has gotten to the point where the penalties are so redundant that it's laughable. There is solid talent up front, but when are these guys going to start showing that they get it?
On John McCargo. Given this was the ninth game in McCargo's fourth season as a pro, it's probably too late to expect him to stay in Buffalo based on any of a number of solid performances he has a chance to put up the rest of the season. He's been a complete non-factor after the Bills drafted him in the first round in 2006, but to his credit, he came to play on Sunday. McCargo may have been Buffalo's best defensive lineman in Tennessee; I realize that isn't saying much, given the dominant performance of Chris Johnson, but McCargo piled up five tackles and was far more active than he's ever been in his career. Clearly, the performance will likely fall under the "too little, too late" umbrella, but McCargo is good enough to kick around in this league for a while as a reserve.
On the play of the linebackers, Poz in particular. I know everyone here is very anti-Paul Posluszny at the moment. Poz had another typical week, finding himself behind plays far too often and making himself a factor in the backfield far too infrequently. Many will continue to point out his ugly missed tackle in the fourth quarter that led to Johnson's second TD, which also happened to be the game-winning points. He's very obviously having an awful season. I still think he's a legitimate NFL-caliber starting linebacker. He might even be able to do it at middle linebacker, but the Tampa 2 is not his friend. His talents are wasted in a gap-control defense. Poz needs to be in a system similar to Minnesota's, where he's got massive tackles in front of him and can flow to the football in a more natural manner. He'll never be a dominant defender, but we don't have enough information to condemn him further than "he's having a bad season."
As for the rest of the linebackers? Not much to say. I thought Bryan Scott did about as well as could have been reasonably expected playing a new position. Even with the healthy return of Kawika Mitchell in 2010, this position is still very obviously the Achilles heel of Buffalo's defense.
On Jairus Byrd. Go vote this kid into the Pro Bowl. He's now got eight interceptions on the season after picking off Vince Young, giving him the NFL lead as well as picks in each of his last five games. He might be the elite ball hawk in the NFL, at least this season. Rarely do you see rookies make the most of their opportunities. Byrd is still very much a one-dimensional presence - he struggled against the run once again yesterday - but Buffalo might actually have an elite player on their team. He just produces.
On Dick Jauron. After guiding the Bills to a 24-32 record in his first 56 games as head coach of the Bills, this game may have been the straw that broke the camel's back for Jauron. No, the team didn't look discernibly better or worse than it has all season, but for the first time with the team, Jauron coached as if he had little to no confidence in his team on the whole. The decision to decline a holding penalty and let Rob Bironas kick a 51-yard field goal to give the Titans a 27-17 lead spoke solely of a complete lack of confidence in his defense. The decision to pull Edwards late in the fourth quarter for no glaringly apparent reason spoke of a man who literally has run out of options at the game's most critical position and is just flying by the seat of his pants. Jauron is a professional, and he'll get all he can from his troops over the next seven weeks. After that, the odds of Jauron being in Buffalo are astonishingly small.