Understatement of the century: there is a lot of pressure on the Buffalo Bills organization at the moment. Two men - head coach Dick Jauron and quarterback Trent Edwards - have had pressure on them for months. There's always pressure on the head coach and the quarterback. Over the weekend, the team ramped up the pressure by firing offensive coordinator Turk Schonert and replacing him with Alex Van Pelt - barely a week before the team's regular season opener.
While the bulk of the stress is currently riding on those three men, there's a fourth person in this organization we're forgetting when it comes to carrying a lot of weight on his shoulders. Every player on any NFL team is under pressure to perform, but receiver Terrell Owens is a cut above the rest - both in production and in pressure. Jauron, Van Pelt and Edwards all need to perform to win some games and save some jobs. Even their best effort will likely be wasted without production from Owens - so add T.O. to this list as well.
Owens was the catalyst for offensive change
When the Bills signed Owens to a one-year, $6.5 million deal this past March, most of us realized that his presence alone meant change was coming. It was at this point, I firmly believe, that Jauron and his coaching staff decided to move forward with plans for a no-huddle offensive philosophy. Up until the moment Owens signed his deal, Buffalo had never had offensive personnel that would allow them to dictate to defenses and attack. With Owens on board, they now had that type of talent.
But Owens only played in one drive in the pre-season, as he nursed a bum toe back to health - and he caught two passes for 27 yards on that one drive. For nearly five full games, Buffalo ran the no-huddle with the same offensive personnel that left them one of the worst offenses in 2008. That, at least in part, got Schonert fired. Had Owens been in the lineup, there's at least a small chance we're not still talking about a new offensive coordinator this morning.
That's the key - the Bills need Owens on the field more than most fans and experts realize. Without Owens, we're the same mediocre offense that has rarely proven its capability to take leads and close out wins. With a performing Owens, the offense has a chance to finally, mercifully, make some things happen.
Keying the no-huddle offense
The no-huddle offense is all about getting a defense on its heels. The way Jauron wants to run it, the tempo will be quick and unpredictable, and the Bills will be running plays that they know they are capable of executing to perfection. That's still a work in progress, but if the Bills can get to that point quickly, that's when defenses will start playing their corners off of Owens and running mate Lee Evans. That's when this offense can do serious damage.
Without two receiving threats on the outside, however, Buffalo's offense falls right back into the rut it's been in for much of this decade. Players such as Josh Reed, Roscoe Parrish, Steve Johnson, any of the team's tight ends, and running back Fred Jackson are useful weapons - but they are not weapons with which to dictate to a defense. They are role players; all can make things happen, but you can't build an offense around any of them.
This is why Owens was brought in (you know, besides the spike in season ticket sales, that is). One might believe the same can be said of Evans, but that's not entirely true, either - unlike Evans, Owens has the ability to hurt a defense at any level of the field. Teams can bracket coverage on Owens just as they do on Evans if only one is on the field, but Owens has shown that he can take a short pass for a big gain. That's something Evans has failed to do throughout his career.
Let's not forget Owens' situation, either
Owens is the key to the no-huddle working - and yes, arguments can be made for Edwards and the re-built offensive line. The fact is, good performances from all three areas are needed, so let's not diminish the importance of - and the pressure upon - Owens.
T.O. is nearing the end of his career. He's only guaranteed to be in Buffalo for one year, despite agent Drew Rosenhaus saying he'd like to stay beyond the 2009 season. No one's really sure just how healthy his toe is, despite Owens reporting himself that it is fully healed. Experts do not believe teams will be interested in signing Owens after his year in Buffalo is up if Owens is not on his best behavior. Oh, and there's a large contingent of folks who believe that Owens' once-pristine skill set is diminishing.
There's pressure on Owens personally to perform. The team needs him more than most are willing to admit. There may be pressure on Jauron, Van Pelt and Edwards this morning, but Owens deserves mention as well. With production from all four areas, the team has a chance to do good things this year. If not... well, you know the rest.