Nursing a broken arm for the second time in three years, Buffalo Bills middle linebacker Paul Posluszny underwent successful surgery on Tuesday and is expected to miss roughly six weeks of this season. While it's obviously good news that Posluszny won't be placed on season-ending Injured Reserve, as he was in 2007, the fact that he'll miss around half of the 2009 regular season is clearly bad news for Buffalo's defense.
BuffaloBills.com reported yesterday, after confirming with defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, that Marcus Buggs would be Posluszny's replacement for the foreseeable future. Buggs, a second-year player (and former undrafted free agent) out of Vanderbilt, replaced Posluszny solely in base 4-3 looks in New England. The team changed up sub-packages, and they should continue to do so until Posluszny returns. Here are the basics.
Buggs will be a 4-3 defender only. Fewell put it pretty accurately when he said that Buggs is capable of doing a "yeoman's job" of running the defense, but that he "is not Paul Posluszny." Bang on. Buggs is feisty, athletic and competitive, but he's also overmatched physically and a liability due to his inexperience. He can shoot gaps and plug lanes against the run, and he can handle making stops underneath on short throws. He's smart, and he's reliable as a tackler. But he won't be asked to do much beyond that, particularly outside of the team's base defense.
Ellison will take nickel, and perhaps dime, reps. I realize that most fans are making a stink about the fact that Ellison was involved in coverage responsibilities on Ben Watson's two scores late in the loss to New England. Let's not pretend that Ellison belongs in that situation in the first place, because he's not on the field if Posluszny is healthy. But Ellison is a smart defender who is becoming increasingly adept at picking his spots, and no matter how distraught you are about the loss, his coverage on the second Watson score was actually quite good. Ellison can play. Fewell confirmed yesterday that Ellison is Plan B at middle linebacker (in that scenario, rookie Nic Harris would man Ellison's usual spot), but for now, he'll stay on the strong side and line up next to Kawika Mitchell in nickel packages.
Bills can tinker with safeties, too. Fewell confirmed that the Bills had a third option to replace Posluszny, but would not elaborate; I'm just speculating here, but that third option could be Bryan Scott. He's no middle linebacker, but if the Buccaneers (or any future opponent before Posluszny's return) come out in base personnel (2 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB, 1 FB) in a passing situation, the Bills could slide Ellison inside for a play, let Scott man up in underneath coverage, and play Donte Whitner and Jairus Byrd as deep safeties. They did this on occasion against New England, with mixed results. Even if the Bills were to have that lineup on the field against the run, they don't lose a ton from having Buggs in, as Scott himself is a pretty stout run defender.
This situation is far from ideal. Posluszny is a team captain, and his prowess defending the run is severely underrated. You never, ever want one of your young, developing leaders out of the lineup. But the Bills are in good hands (as long as this remains temporary) because of the smarts of Ellison, the versatility of Scott and the skill set of Buggs. This is precisely why the Bills target these types of players, but again, it's merely a band-aid. Get well soon, Poz.