Maximizing defensive playmaking a priority for Buffalo


LB Posluszny might be on the move (buffalobills.com)

If the Buffalo Bills fancy the idea of putting a winning product on the field in 2009 (thus preserving their own jobs in many cases), it's painfully obvious that more playmakers are needed in town. Most Bills fans, when they hear the word "playmaker", immediately associate the word with offense. There's no doubt that big names like Anquan Boldin, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and, to a lesser extent, Owen Daniels would have positive impacts for a Bills offense that needs a player of their caliber.

But playmakers aren't limited to one side of the ball. Buffalo lacks defensive playmakers as well, and defensive coordinator Perry Fewell knows it. In a recent interview, Fewell made it plain that he's lobbying hard for the Bills to diversify their pool of defensive talent. Playmakers are needed defensively, too.

Fewell's ideas should be considered
If there's one coach/team politician I'm listening to right now if I'm a member of Ralph Wilson's vaunted "inner circle", it's Fewell. In a league that's more trendy than innovative, teams with difference-making defenses are winning the big games in recent seasons. Just take a look at the last two Super Bowl champs (the Giants in '07, the Steelers of '08) for proof.

In a not-so-far-fetched sense, the Bills have the framework for a consistent, game-changing defense. They have some heady veterans at end, a solid defensive tackle rotation (which might get further depth fortifications), two solid athletes at linebacker, and some enviable depth in the secondary. But as of right now, the vast majority of Buffalo's defenders are more complement than feature. Adding just one or two unique talents to said framework would instantly give Buffalo a playoff-caliber defensive outfit.

Fewell's campaign platform? It's one of simplicity and telling it like it is. From the coordinator's mouth:

"We did not take advantage of that opportunity to get the ball. That’s definitely going to be an emphasis for us. I’ve said often times to my staff in the offseason that we need to add more playmakers to our defense."

Four Steps to Success
There are four simple ways to maximize Buffalo's ability to make plays defensively. Here's how I'd go about it.

Step 1: Find a way to re-sign Jabari Greer.
- My philosophy - and apparently the philosophy of the folks in the organization - is that you can never have enough solid cornerbacks. It's not a foregone conclusion that Greer has priced himself out of Buffalo; the fact that the Bills are aggressively pursuing Greer is indicative of that mindset. Greer may also quickly come to the realization that the money he's ready to seek (reportedly $7-8M per season) likely isn't coming. As one source put it to me, Greer's intangibles won't be valued any higher than they are by the Bills. I'd put the odds that Greer ends up back in Buffalo much higher than most at this point. He's a good player with good ball skills; that's necessary in our defensive scheme, and obviously a trait valued by Fewell.

Step 2: Move Paul Posluszny outside.
I've gone on record claiming myself completely comfortable with Posluszny as our middle linebacker, and nothing has changed. But the key word in this article is "maximizing". Posluszny is a smart player and the type of guy that can quarterback a defense; those are skills that fit the profile of a middle linebacker. But his playing skills are best suited (read: ideal for) the outside, where his aggressive demeanor and abilities in the box will be better exploitable and leave the Bills less vulnerable up the middle. Fewell hinted that such a move is possible, though claimed it's "not Plan A". If such a move were to occur, Posluszny would likely retain his defensive play-calling responsibilities.

Obviously, moving Posluszny would create a hole at inside linebacker. Every day, I get the sense that USC linebacker Rey Maualuga is going to be at or near the top of Buffalo's draft board in April. He's just their type of guy. Call it a gut feeling if you like, but I think the idea of a Posluszny-Maualuga-Kawika Mitchell linebacking corps is highly appealing to Buffalo's coaching staff.  All three can make plays.

Step 3: Get an edge rusher.
File this one in the "duh" drawer. Fewell spoke most freely in his interview about adding a "unique" talent to the defensive end rotation. A quote for you:

"He might not have to be a full time starter, but if he can give us (help) in long yardage situations or passing down situations to increase our pass rush, that will work for us. And then we can work him into being an every down player because football right now is so situational. It’s a situational game that sometimes you can pick a situational player."

Trouble is, there isn't an awful lot to get excited about at defensive end via free agency. There are serviceable veteran-types available in Bertrand Berry and Kalimba Edwards (who played for head coach Dick Jauron for two seasons in Detroit), but how much impact can those types of players have? However, there's also a prevailing theory that not only will the draft's top defensive ends not be available when the Bills choose in the first round, they might be difficult to project into our scheme. It's the latter idea that is currently fueling the Maualuga speculation.

Don't be shocked if the Bills sign a veteran edge rusher, then look to supplement that player with a speed guy before the third or fourth round. Of course, don't be shocked if they ignore the veterans and draft a player in the first round, either. But if Fewell has his way, Buffalo will undoubtedly add some speed to their defensive end rotation.

Step 4: Find Whitner's complement.
This step isn't completely necessary, but again - "maximizing" is the key word here. The Bills have two serviceable safeties in Donte Whitner and Bryan Scott, but playmakers they are not. The team even has two serviceable reserve-types in George Wilson and Ko Simpson - but playmakers they are not. (Sensing a theme here?) Buffalo isn't likely to shake up Whitner's role much; he'll still be asked to cover a lot and move around positionally. The Bills would be wise to add a free safety with good ball skills that can play situationally (there's Fewell's favorite word again); Tennessee's Vincent Fuller is a good candidate, but only an example.

***

Clearly, nothing is set in stone aside from the fact that Buffalo can easily and efficiently add one or two difference-makers to their defense over the next couple of months. Doing so would instantly and dramatically increase the team's playoff chances next season - after all, a good defense can get you anywhere in this league (and allow you to, you know, actually compete in games, particularly on the road). There isn't just one good way to go about adding difference makers, but I believe that the plan above is the most likely route that the Bills will take as of today. Feel free to poke holes in the logic or offer your own counter-proposals to improving defensively, but just remember this: playmakers can be defenders, too.

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