Playing from ahead should aid Bills pass rush


Schobel needs help from more than one place (Getty)

A skeptical fan of the Buffalo Bills probably got more skeptical when the team signed enigmatic wide receiver Terrell Owens. The overwhelming majority of fans that approved of the move, however, pointed out that teaming up with Lee Evans, Owens - the receiver with more scores (38) than any other receiver in the league over the past three seasons - diversifies Buffalo's offensive arsenal and makes them potentially explosive with the ball. We've already examined the potential improvement Owens' presence will have on Trent Edwards' game.

Not as frequently mentioned about the arrival of Owens is the potential impact on what the Bills do defensively. If Owens can even come close to matching his frantic touchdown pace of the past three seasons next year, the Bills should be playing with more leads than ever. Considering the Bills scored first in just four of their sixteen games last season, that's (potentially) good news. The better news? If those touchdowns can turn into some late leads, Buffalo's pass rush will be helped significantly - even if the team doesn't address the much-maligned defensive end position early in April's draft.

Bills rarely play with leads
Seriously - think about that statistic, folks. Buffalo was attempting to climb out of an early deficit in 75% of their games in 2008. While the struggling offense scrambled to make up for early losses, Buffalo's defense was forced to limit mistakes and play balanced offenses. The result? An anemic pass rush, which every Bills fan is painfully aware of.

There are scarier stats, though. For example, the Bills have only had comfortable fourth-quarter leagues (a matter of opinion, I realize) in six games throughout the past three seasons. Once every half-season, the Bills can play pin-your-ears-back defense in the fourth quarter and really get after the quarterback while protecting a lead. Not unsurprisingly, the results have been positive. The six games are listed below.

2006: Bills 16, Dolphins 6 - Bills pick up 6 sacks
2006: Bills 31, Jets 13 - Bills pick up 5 sacks
2006: Bills 21, Dolphins 0 - Bills pick up 1 sack
2007: Bills 38, Dolphins 17 - Bills pick up 4 sacks
2008: Bills 34, Seahawks 10 - Bills pick up 5 sacks
2008: Bills 54, Chiefs 31 - Bills pick up 3 sacks

There have obviously been other fourth-quarter leads, but they've been far closer - and that includes the 11-point lead the Bills held over Dallas on Monday Night Football in Week 5 of 2007. In just these six games, the Bills picked up 24 of the 90 sacks they've had in the last three seasons. That's 27% of their sack total in 12.5% of the games. In these six games, the Bills averaged four sacks per game. In the other 42 games (you know, just 87.5% of the past three years), that average plummeted to 1.57 sacks per game.  I shudder to think what the total is in losses; I'm not sure I have the stomach to break it down further.

It's not all about sacks
I know what many of you are thinking right now - "It's not all about sacks; it's far more important to have pressure on the quarterback." I could not agree more - and that's why this piece is not a "don't draft a DE in the first round" piece. The Bills have three defensive ends who will turn 30 during the upcoming season. Clearly, more talent and youth is needed at the position, and I fully hope and anticipate that the team addresses the position in April. But many are operating under the idea that merely adding talent will fix the pass rush woes. That's not happening, folks - a lot more goes into a successful pass rush than mere talent.

We already know that during the 2008 season, the Bills blitzed on 32% of pass plays, a figure indicative not only of the team's unnoticed defensive aggression (at least in terms of play-calling), but also of Perry Fewell's need to cover up for his lack of an impact rusher in his front four - yes, including veteran Aaron Schobel, who missed most of the 2008 season with a foot injury. That figure isn't likely to change much, even if the Bills were to draft an end in the first round.  Perry Fewell is aggressive with his front seven.  A rookie end won't significantly alter that.

What Owens' presence will hopefully change is the circumstances under which those blitzes are called.  When playing with leads, teams can be more aggressive in their disruption of opponents' game plans.  If Owens can match his 2008 production of 10 touchdowns, and pave the way for another 10 from his offensive teammates and perhaps even the defenders he'll indirectly help, that's another nine points per game.  Even if that figure seems overly optimistic (and admittedly, 20 extra scores does seem far-fetched), even if that extra total is 10-15, that's a significant point swing, particularly if they come in bunches.  That point swing alone (cross your fingers!) will have more impact on the Bills' 2009 pass rush than any combination of rookie speed rushers.

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