Stroud, select teammates need more help (buffalobills.com)
We know what the hot-button topics are surrounding the Buffalo Bills these days. Everywhere we turn - including right here at Buffalo Rumblings - the popular topics of discussion are Dick Jauron, the front office, the Bills' general suckitude, and, unsurprisingly, how to fix the team's ailments. Draft talk, depressingly, has already sprung up here. As distressing as that fact is, I'm taking the plunge and diving into the "how to fix the Bills" posts. But as a fair warning, this might be the last time you see this type of post out of me for a while.
In my humble opinion, the Buffalo Bills need a facelift defensively. Take a look at the NFL this year - the best teams in the league this year, if they're anything, are physical, both on the field and in their mindset. Tennessee's got a brutal defense and a run-oriented offensive scheme. The same can be said for Pittsburgh, the Giants and Carolina. Baltimore's defense has them sitting pretty in the AFC. Dallas has revived their season thanks to some outstanding defensive performances. Big, physical defenses are the big winners in today's NFL, and the Bills would do well to get themselves one of those.
Don't get me wrong - I like the Tampa 2 defense (or whatever y'all like to call it these days). I like a lot of the players the Bills use defensively. But let's face it - Buffalo's defense is consistently mediocre. Yeah, they do enough to win - and in reality, it's tough to ask for much more - but they're so close to being a borderline dominant unit; this off-season will provide the Bills some unique opportunities to make that leap.
Changes I'd make
Yeah, this post is a little self-indulgent. I realize that the chances of these moves happening seem pretty remote. I care not at this point - the Bills are 1-7 in their last eight. I'm going to talk about what I want to talk about.
Step 1: Get bigger.
That's what she said. This was a goal last off-season, manifested by the trade for Marcus Stroud and the free agent signing of Kawika Mitchell. It has helped morph the Bills' run defense from a terrible one into an average one; it's a start. It needs to be a goal once again.
When Dick Jauron coached in Chicago, his defense was outstanding. Why? Because he had two enormous defensive tackles in Ted Washington and Keith Traylor, and he drafted a gigantic middle linebacker - Brian Urlacher - to play behind them. That defense was the driving force behind Chicago's 13-3 season, and it wasn't bad during their poor seasons, either. I'm not saying Jauron should be back or anything like that, so please don't take your comments in that direction, but his philosophy in building that defense is perfect for Buffalo. I pine for more size up the middle of our defense.
That's why draft prospects like Boston College DT B.J. Raji (6'1", 323), Alabama DT Terrence Cody (6'4", 375) and USC LB Brian Cushing (6'3", 253) are, to me, ideal for the Bills. They're big players, they're athletic enough to play in the current scheme we employ, and, most importantly, they give the Bills schematic flexibility. Segue...
Step 2: Make schematic flexibility a priority. Many Bills fans pine for the days when the Bills ran a far more effective 3-4 scheme. I'm right there with you, folks. Franchises like Pittsburgh are able to play consistent football every year because they employ schemes that makes finding talent easier, and the 3-4 fits that rule. It's far easier to find a pure pass rusher who can cover a tight end occasionally than it is to fit the same type of player into a 4-3 scheme. It just is. The Bills have several players right now who have the talent to play in any scheme.
New England is the shining example of giving multiple looks week in and week out defensively, even though they play a 4-3. How terrifying would a front three of Stroud, Cody and Kyle Williams look on run plays next season? The missing piece, of course, is that ever-elusive pass-rush artist. You're well aware that "one of those" needs to be a priority this off-season. It may even be "two of those" or "three of those".
Note that I am not saying "switch to the 3-4". As I said, I like the Tampa 2 (even though I think we're a more traditional 4-3 this season), and I like being able to mix zone and man coverages. I like switching between four-man and three-man fronts, and getting athletes on the edges, whether they're down in a stance or standing up. I like applying pressure defensively, rather than limiting big plays. Simply stated, I want more guys on this team who can do a variety of things.
Step 3: Make the D a priority this off-season. Spare me the talk that we need to fix our offense, because offense doesn't win championships. We need to strive for competency and consistency on that side of the ball. People tend to forget that we have a very young offense as well. Looking at the roster, it's pretty clear that though we have holes at tight end and center, there's more young talent to work with on that side of the ball. We need help pretty much everywhere defensively.
Obviously, we need more impact at defensive end. Our DT rotation is only three-deep, and who knows how long it is until Stroud will be considered "over the hill"? Our linebacker depth has been a problem for two years. Despite drafting three cornerbacks and signing another last off-season, potential free agent departures (Jabari Greer) and injuries (Ashton Youboty) still make that position a question mark. Donte Whitner's a mainstay at safety, but he's unremarkable, and we need more help there, too. Depth is an issue everywhere defensively, and we need more playmakers.
There. I feel a little better. I've wanted to get this off my chest for a week or so now. I don't care whether Dick Jauron is coaching this team next year or not, a philosophical change defensively is needed. We need to be bigger, tougher, more athletic and a touch deeper. We need a mentality adjustment. We need playmakers. We need impact. The offense, as pathetic as they've been at times this season, has room to grow. I fear with our current personnel that the defense has peaked. It needs to be addressed.
So as you're gathering your thoughts for the just-around-the-corner off-season, bear this in mind: size matters. Aggressiveness matters. The Bills have a golden opportunity to put together a hard-hitting, physical, flexible defense this off-season. There are building blocks, but I positively salivate when I see some of the names available this off-season. Vote defense this off-season, folks. An attitude adjustment is the biggest change needed for the Bills as a team this off-season, and the easiest spot to do it is on defense.