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Bills QB Edwards must improve against the 3-4

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For the first time since Dick Jauron took over as Buffalo Bills head coach in 2006, the Bills are entering a season with a full-fledged quarterback competition. In '06, J.P. Losman beat out veteran Kelly Holcomb and had by far his best professional season as the Bills finished 7-9. We know where his career has taken him since that point.

Heading into 2010, the Bills have what appears to be a three-way competition brewing between three incumbents - Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Brohm. Believe it or not, it's Edwards - a 2007 third-round pick entering his fourth professional season - that is Buffalo's most experienced quarterback, making 32 in-game appearances (to Fitzpatrick's 28 and Brohm's, ahem, one). Because we don't yet have an indication of which direction head coach Chan Gailey is leaning, Edwards is largely assumed to be the clubhouse leader in that competition for the moment.

Edwards' career took a turn for the worse in 2009, as he struggled to assimilate to his third offensive coordinator in three years, was benched by Jauron in the latter's last game in Buffalo, and earned the infamous "Captain Checkdown" moniker thanks to his affinity for the dump-off pass. Few Bills quarterbacks are as oft-maligned as Edwards - and there have been a lot of bad Bills quarterbacks. His confidence level heading into a critical transition period of his career is a hot-button topic, but we're more concerned about two things: his injury history, and his struggles against 3-4 defenses.

His injury history is well-documented, and what follows after the jump should put to rest any lingering doubt that Edwards has struggled equally against all defensive schemes. He hasn't. To ice the cake, Edwards' injury history can be tied directly to opponents' defensive schemes, as well.

To this point in his career, Edwards has appeared in 32 games - or two full seasons' worth of games spread out over three years. Of those 32 appearances, 20 came against teams that employed a base 3-4 defensive alignment, with the remaining 12 coming against 4-3 teams. The results speak for themselves.

Career GP Comp Att % Yds Y/A TD INT Sk Fum FumL QBR Inj
vs. 3-4 20 281 464 60.6 2,980 6.4 12 17 35 6 3 72.7 5
vs. 4-3 12 225 362 62.2 2,518 7.0 12 8 23 8 2 84.7 0

The most alarming stat is the fact that of the five injuries he's incurred - all injuries that forced him to leave a game early - all took place in games against 3-4 defenses. There's a chance that that little factoid is more coincidence than pattern, but there's also a chance that Edwards' struggles to accurately diagnose pressure packages from a more exotic alignment - a struggle he shares with his offensive line - led directly to his durability issues.

In terms of pure quarterback stats, the TD-INT ratios and yards per attempt comparisons are most alarming. Edwards clearly does a lot more dumping off against 3-4 teams, as the full half-yard off his average has been detrimental to Buffalo's offensive success. Again, an inability to adequately feel out pressure and diagnose back-end coverage schemes has led to far more mistakes against the 3-4, as well - to the point where he averages a turnover per game.

He hasn't been markedly better against the 4-3, however - he still only averages a score per game, fumbles much more, and is still getting hit frequently. Let's take a quick look at Edwards' per-game averages against both alignments:

Game Rec Comp Att % Yds Y/A TD INT Sk Fum FumL QBR
vs. 3-4 6-14 14 23 60.6 149 6.4 0.6 0.85 1.75 0.3 0.15 72.7
vs. 4-3 8-4 19 30 62.2 210 7.0 1.0 0.67 1.92 0.67 0.17 84.7

Obviously, the stat that sticks out here is team success - the Bills are 8-4 in games in which Edwards has played against 4-3 teams, and 6-14 otherwise. That's the only stat that really matters in the end, and obviously the Bills have stunk against 3-4 teams - even to the point where they've lost three straight games against the lowly Cleveland Browns, a 3-4 team.

The differences on a per-game basis are more pronounced. Edwards has traditionally thrown more against the 4-3, for whatever reason, and has been a much more efficient passer against those schemes. Still, it's not like he's dealing with less pressure - he's sacked more by 4-3 teams, and is much more prone to fumbling the football. A few mistakes, however, are acceptable when you're making bigger plays in the passing game, and while Edwards has hardly been a world-beater against 4-3 teams, he's been much more efficient, and therefore so has the team.

One last stat for you: Edwards has appeared in 13 games throughout his career against teams that would go on to pick in the Top 10 in the following year's NFL Draft. More precisely, Edwards has appeared in 13 games against thoroughly mediocre teams. The Bills are 10-3 in those games, with the only losses coming to San Francisco (2008) and Cleveland (2008, 2009). (Curiously, 6 of those 13 games have come against 3-4 teams, and the Bills are an even 3-3 in those games.) In the 19 other games Edwards has appeared in, against what we'll label "average to great" teams, the Bills are 4-15. Maybe it's as simple as the fact that the Bills, and Edwards, need to do better against good teams. Regardless, the defensive scheme argument has merit - Edwards, and the Bills in general, need to do a better job preparing to beat 3-4 teams.