Paying the Price
Ryan Fitzpatrick (Getty Images)
Ryan Fitzpatrick (Getty Images)
BFR Publisher
Posted Dec 20, 2009


Still trying to fathom the Bills' struggles on offense? There is one common denominator. The sacks and three-and-outs can be traced to one, regretful trade. Months ago, the Bills ridded themselves of a Pro Bowler. Since then, everything has snowballed, says BFR's Tyler Dunne...

You want to feel bad for the Bills’ offensive line. You really do. But it's hard to.

Yes, injuries have ravaged the unit to a point of embarrassment. Compound fractures, knee injuries, bad shoulders, you name it. If it can be broken, twisted or sprained, it has been. Things got so bad this week that Buffalo signed the angrier, dirtier reincarnate of Kyle Turley.

This season, journeymen and street pickups are the status quo up front. Mainly because the team has no other choice. It is all one, swollen self-inflicted wound. Don’t pity the Bills. Their front office asked for disaster. Classic bringing-a-knife-to-a-gunfight naivety. All of Buffalo’s problems on offense can be traced to the line. And all the problems on the line can be traced to the offseason.

With commitment back in February, March and April, the Bills would have never allowed 38 sacks in September, October, November and December. By now, Ryan Fitzpatrick must be flinching when waitresses hand him the receipt.

But it did not have to be this way.

Thanks to The Blind Side, even anti-pigskin moms and girlfriends realize the value of the left tackle position. For nearly every team, it is the starting point to building a winner. It’s the biggest difference between 13-3 and 3-13. They protect. They run block. They anchor your offense. Yet here in Buffalo, the position is ignored. Forgotten. Treated with the passiveness of a popcorn vendor on the 300 level.

One ill-fated decision led to a 50-car pile-up on the I-90 — dumping Jason Peters. After a lingering contract stalemate, the perennial Pro Bowler was dealt for a draft pick. Peters for Eric Wood, a lockdown tackle thrown to the curb. Buffalo figured it could promote within — something eternal 7-9 teams simply cannot afford to do.

Not surprisingly, the decision set the tone for the season. This story arch isn’t for the faint of heart.

Overweight right tackle (Langston Walker) was shifted to the left side, struggled all preseason and was released five days before the season-opener. With no other options, a project that had never played a NFL down before was suddenly starting against the New England Patriots. At left tackle. On Monday Night Football. Presumably for the entire season. A no-win situation for Demetrius Bell. After a laundry-basket string of false starts and growing pains, Bell’s season was eventually cut eight games short by a knee injury. And now, Jonathan Scott — a player the Detroit Lions abandoned — is protecting the back door.

Injuries aren’t to blame for this sad, avalanche of bad news. Hardly. At the core of Buffalo’s offensive-line apocalypse was the team’s refusal to pay Jason Peters. The Bills’ confusing who’s-in-charge front office decided to play hardball with its best player and it backfired. Badly. Buffalo's quarterbacks are constantly under siege, handicapping the offense from the snap. The guy Buffalo got in return for Peters with that 28th overall pick was off to strong start but could be a full season or two from playing football again.

Wondering why Terrell Owens flopped? Confused why Trent Edwards’ career abruptly fell apart? Scratching your head at why Fred Jackson is met by a convoy of defenders the moment he touches the football?

Blame the guys in charge. Not the football gods. Buffalo ignored the most important position in football. And, really, the offensive line in general.

Take a trip down the line. Sloppy decision-making didn’t end at left tackle. Buffalo was perfectly content starting two rookies at offensive guard — a death sentence in today’s game of 350-pound defensive tackles with the speed of small woods animals. Someday, Andy Levitre may be the mobile, pulling guard Buffalo wants but not yet. Geoff Hangartner has been a bright spot, somewhat solving the team’s trouble against 3-4 nose tackles.

But an overall lack of veteran depth doomed Buffalo when the injuries piled up. When de facto tackles Brad Butler and Bell suffered season-ending injuries, there was nothing left. The Bills have been shuffling and reshuffling its line ad naseum.

Of course, it’s too late to do anything about it. The Bills keep lunging into a batch of leftovers on the waiver wire. Reaching and hoping to find anything out there. The latest is Richie Incognito, a ticking time bomb that St. Louis gave up on.

Let’s hope the team learned a lesson, at least. Hire a general manager that realizes the importance of the offensive line. Specifically, left tackle. On a roster smattered with blemishes, adding a premier tackle (or two) must be the top priority this offseason.

And maybe this time next year, Buffalo will be playing relevant football.

thdunne@gmail.com

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