At 3-5, the Buffalo Bills enter their Week 9 bye with the No. 29-ranked offense in the NFL. If it seems incredible to you that three NFL teams could field worse offenses than a Bills unit that has picked up 18 first downs in their last two contests, that's because it is. Welcome to the NFL, where the gap between playoff contender and bottom-dweller is monumental. And yeah, there are a lot of bottom-dwellers.
Despite the Bills' offensive woes, the team entered yesterday's home date with the Houston Texans on a two-game winning streak. That streak came with backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick at the helm, and whenever an offense is struggling and a backup is managing to win football games, controversy reigns supreme.
After yesterday's 31-10 home debacle, in which the Texans threw up 22 points in the final quarter after trailing 10-9 through three quarters, the brewing quarterback controversy is no longer really controversial. Unfortunately, the Bills have entered a no-win situation at football's most important position. Trent Edwards has struggled. Fitzpatrick has struggled. The Bills will likely choose the lesser of two evils (so to speak) before their Week 10 contest in Tennessee, and if the Bills are smart, they'll allow Edwards to re-assume his starting role. If he's healthy, that is.
Number comparisons: it's all ugly
This season, Edwards has started - and finished - five full games. Fitzpatrick has played four full quarters in the Bills' other three games. In games that Edwards finishes, the Bills are 1-4. In games that Fitzpatrick finishes, the Bills are 2-1. That might be enough for people to stop thinking and claim that Fitzpatrick needs to continue to start, but the records don't tell the whole story.
Edwards-led offenses this year have put up 290 yards, 15.6 first downs, 15.4 points and a little over 2 turnovers per game. Clearly, those numbers are awful. Well, the 290 isn't, but that number is inflated by solid performances in Weeks 1-2; in Edwards' last three full games, that yardage stat dropped to 246 yards per game. But here are the extenuating circumstances: Edwards-led offenses were hampered somewhat by a Bills team that averaged 9 penalties per game and only forced a single turnover per game.
Fitzpatrick has gotten the support Edwards didn't. The penalties per game have dropped from 9 to 5 in games Fitzpatrick finished. More importantly - and much more obviously - turnovers forced has quadrupled, as the Bills are forcing over 4 turnovers per game over their last three games, including 3 in yesterday's loss to Houston. Despite that fact, Buffalo's offense has put up its two worst statistical outings under Fitzpatrick's guidance - and both have come in the last two weeks. 222 yards per game. 12.7 first downs per game. 15.3 points per game. Aside from turnovers committed (a little over 1 per game), Fitzpatrick's offenses have been statistically worse than Edwards' across the board, despite having all the help he could reasonably ask for from his defensive teammates.
I quite realize that we're comparing two extremely mediocre sets of numbers here. The difference might be meaningless in the long-term or to the Bills' chances of turning the season around, but they do make picking a starting quarterback easy.
It has to be Edwards... right?
Fitzpatrick is a backup quarterback for a reason. He has limitations. He does some things well - and some things better than Edwards, if we're getting right down to it - but his limitations have severely hampered Buffalo's offensive production. Edwards is younger and more talented. The offense has been very marginally better when he's been in the lineup, particularly considering the aforementioned extenuating circumstances (penalties, turnovers forced).
Re-inserting Trent Edwards into the starting lineup probably won't save Buffalo's season. Keeping Ryan Fitzpatrick in won't save Buffalo's season, either. Buffalo will be looking at quarterbacks starting early next January (and the respective college and pro scouting staffs had better be on it right now). But when it comes to choosing between Edwards and Fitzpatrick to start for the duration of this season, the choice is easy. You take the more talented, more productive player, and right now, that's Edwards.
Of course, given Edwards' injury history (including his most recent concussion) and the continued horrendous play of the Bills' youthful offensive line, we're likely to see both quarterbacks - and perhaps even a little Gibran Hamdan (shudder) - over the second half of the season. Saddle up, Bills fans, because it can get uglier. On principle, however, it's time to lay this "quarterback controversy" to bed. Edwards should, and probably will, re-claim his starting role.