There's plenty to be excited about in Buffalo with the Buffalo Bills off to a 4-0 start for the first time since 1992. Yet despite four straight wins to open the 2008 regular season, Bills fans seem increasingly negative about the team's play, specifically in the last two weeks. I'm here to quell some of that pessimism - because what I saw in tape in reviewing the Bills' 31-14 victory over the Rams was quite encouraging. The tape never lies.
Four games, four very solid performances for Buffalo's defense. Yes, Rams running back Steven Jackson was able to rush for 110 yards and gain 188 yards overall. Yes, the Bills gave up some big plays. But their second half performance - especially defensively, but also as a team overall - was simply dominant. Buffalo was in control of this game from the moment they took the field after halftime, and the defense was once again the catalyst.
Active defensive line
A lot of folks like to reference poor defensive line play, particularly in the pass rush department, as a weakness of the defense. I watched the defensive line quite closely in this one; trust me when I say that our guys up front are playing extremely well.
It tends to be forgotten, but a pretty important reason for the Bills' "lack of a pass rush" from their defensive ends (read: lack of sacks) is because of the type of defense we play, and the way that blitz packages are utilized. Very rarely are quarterbacks taking more than a 5-step drop against Buffalo. Zone defenses call for quick routes, and opposing offenses are getting the ball out quick. Really quick. Cover 2 defenses blitz all the time to create pressure because of that specific issue. The Colts have Bob Sanders; the Bears have Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher; now the Bills have Paul Posluszny, Kawika Mitchell, Ashton Youboty and Donte Whitner. The ends are playing very well - though they do still crash too hard on run plays and lose contain on occasion. Chris Kelsay does this frequently. And on plays where quarterbacks are waiting on more intricate routes, the ends are in their faces.
In fact, the main cause for Buffalo's inability to stop the run in the first half of this game was simply over-pursuit and poor tackling. Defenders were literally running past Jackson, who utilized the cutback on most of his best rushes. That overpursuit stopped in the second half, especially from our ends and the secondary.
Speaking of the secondary - these guys can hit. I'm not just talking about the lick that Leodis McKelvin put on Dane Looker that left the receiver stumbling toward the sideline. I'm talking about across the board. Whitner had a big hit on Trent Green for a sack. Ko Simpson made some really nice, tough open-field tackles on Jackson. Jabari Greer hits a receiver whether or not the receiver makes the catch. We all know exactly how well Youboty has tackled to date. Every one of these guys can lay the lumber. It's fun to watch.
The hitters extend beyond the secondary, too. Posluszny packs a punch when he tackles, as does Kyle Williams - they're jolters. Buffalo has a fast, athletic and hard-hitting defense. Even on bad plays, Buffalo's defenders are handing out punishment. That's important as each game wears on, and you could see the Rams starting to get a little gun-shy after the Bills re-established a lead in the fourth quarter.
State of the CB position
The loss of CB Terrence McGee hurts. His knee injury will keep him out of the Cardinals game, and probably a game or two after the bye week as well. Naturally, with this in mind, I paid pretty close attention to the play of McKelvin, who is now Buffalo's "nickel" back but will spend most of his time lined up on the outside receiver. What I saw wasn't all that bad.
As I noted earlier, McKelvin can hit. But like any rookie, he's too over-eager. McGee is such a good fit in this defense because he's calm, collected and technically sound. McKelvin's not any of those yet. He blew contain on Jackson's 29-yard touchdown run looking for the big hit. He's not very good playing forward yet because he's too aggressive; his eagerness hinders his natural athleticism. But he actually played pretty well, which surprised me. When he plays within himself, he's a lock-down corner - right now. But he doesn't play that way nearly often enough, which is hardly surprising, considering he's a rookie. Expect more of the same from Leodis - mistakes, big hits and occasionally a big play. Greer and Youboty will be fine; McKelvin is the key to Buffalo's pass defense for the next few weeks.
Special teams review to come. Stay tuned...