Offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships.
The two teams that met in last year's Super Bowl were both better known for their offensive attacks than for stalwart defenses. Despite Drew Brees being named Super Bowl MVP, the two biggest plays of Super Bowl XLIV, however, were an onside kick to begin the second half and the interception return dagger that put the game out of reach. Neither involved Brees or the offense.
To put the Saints over the top, the team hired Gregg Williams to run their defense. With the help of Williams and some key free agents (including former Bills cornerback Jabari Greer), New Orleans turned up the heat on Brett Favre and the Vikings in the NFC Championship game, and put the game away against Peyton Manning and the Colts. While Brees was the face of the franchise and the lifeblood of their offensive attack, the defense played a key role in their championship run.
In 2009, eight of the top ten scoring defenses in the NFL made the playoffs. It also explains why so many people are high on the San Fransisco 49ers this off-season as they were ranked fourth. The Bills ranked No. 16 in that statistic, ahead of the Saints and Eagles, giving up 326 points. With a below average offense, an average scoring defense won't cut it.
The biggest change on the defensive side of the ball comes in the scheme. Chan Gailey hired defensive coordinator George Edwards to help the team transition from the 4-3 Cover 2 scheme under Dick Jauron to the 3-4. Edwards has coached in the NFL since 1998 with four different teams. Prior to joining the Bills, he spent five years in Miami as linebackers coach, where he was part of the team's transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4. Before that, Edwards was an assistant defensive coordinator and linebackers coach with Washington before getting promoted to defensive coordinator. He then spent a year as the linebackers coach in Cleveland before heading to Miami. Edwards got his first NFL job from Gailey in Dallas, who hired him as his linebackers coach in 1998. Edwards spent four seasons in that post.
The majority of Buffalo's free agent additions have come on the defensive side of the ball. Dwan Edwards, Reggie Torbor and Andra Davis have joined the team since last season. Torell Troup, Alex Carrington, Danny Batten and Arthur Moats were all added in the draft in order to improve the defense.
We've already discussed in our series the Bills' need to upgrade the run defense and how they went about doing that. Here's the long and short of it - the Bills need to stop giving up 150 yards rushing a game. But the team also let in 19 touchdowns on the ground in 2009, good for No. 28 in the league, and faced the second-highest opponent rushing attempts in the league.
The Bills' defense needs to force more three and outs and get off the field quicker. The offense ran 911 plays (57 plays a game), while the defense faced 1,086 opposition plays (almost 68 plays a game), meaning the defense was on the field for 175 more plays than the offense. That's more than three games' worth of plays for the Bills' offense. Yes, offensive improvement will assist in that area, but the defense needs to get out of their own way, too, and get off the field.
During this off-season, the Bills' defense have transitioned to the 3-4 defense and improved their size up front through the draft and free agency. If the secondary can continue - or even come close to - the great success they enjoyed in 2009, the defense should be a very improved unit in 2010.