Why Fix The Bills' Defensive Line First?

Ed. Note: Another good, front page worthy FanPost that I greatly appreciate seeing on a busy day for Matt and I. Nice work, J2. - BG

The question as to why Buddy Nix and Chan Gailey have decided to fix the run defense before the pass rush and offensive line is one that gets a lot of play here on Buffalo Rumblings. Some view it as an old school philosophy that doesn't mean as much as it used to, and some still live and die by the "run and stop the run" philosophy. Honestly, I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle, but there is some good evidence that stopping the run is a great place to start for the Buffalo Bills.

I've always said that you should build your team to win the division. Maybe I'm right and maybe I'm wrong, but it seems to me that teams do this all the time. The Texans are built to stop the Colts, the Jets are built to stop the Patriots, and so on and so forth.

While perusing Pro Football Focus and their offensive line rankings, I noticed the Jets and Pats having the first and third ranked offensive lines for 2009 and 2010, respectively. Essentially the Jets and Pats have two of the three best offensive lines in football.

Football games are won and lost by dictating play to your opponents - making them do what you want them to do. There are exceptions, but a consistent winning team dictates play. The Bills' defensive line has been notoriously subpar for a long time; they could not control the line of scrimmage, and as a result, they couldn't dictate play.  

Jets and Pats Run/Pass Distribution 
I decided to include only the Jets and Pats, because as far as i'm concerned those are the two teams we need to beat to win the division; let's face it - those two teams are Super Bowl contenders year in and year out at this point.

  • Last year, the Jets ran on the Bills 99 times and passed on the Bills 49 times. I actually had to double check that stat because of how unbelievable it was.
  • Last year, the Pats ran on the Bills 79 times and passed on us 54 times. Think about that - the NFL's best quarterback last year handed the ball off against Buffalo 25 more times than he threw it.

Why would teams pass on us? Clearly, teams were insanely successful running the ball and running the ball has some major advantages over passing the ball.

  1. Controlling the game clock. You are wearing out your opponent and keeping their offense off the field. This way, it's harder for the offense to get into sync. and you're making the defense play long stretches, so they are more tired and easier to push around. Defense is harder to play than offense because you're reacting.
  2. Fewer opportunities for turnovers. When you pass, there is a chance for interceptions and fumbles. When you run, you're less at risk for turnovers.
  3. Protecting the quarterback. You are not exposing Tom Brady or Mark Sanchez to the risk of injury. There aren't guys falling at their feet or hitting them on a consistent basis. Just hand the ball off 50 times a game and get out of here with a victory. Then, when they do pass, the defense is so tired there isn't as much pass rush because of fatigue, so the quarterbacks get all day to sit in the pocket and pick apart a secondary.

You can argue whether to build a good offensive line or a good defensive line first - and there are good arguments both ways - but clearly, the Bills have focused on building their defensive line first. I wish got more play here, but that seems to get lost in a lot of discussions.   

I think some of the reason why Nix decided to build the defensive line first is because it's tougher to play defensive line than offensive line. Reactive movements and technique are tougher to learn for a defensive line, which is why you traditionally don't see defensive line draft picks light the league on fire immediately. It typically takes a couple of years for those guys to develop. Plus, we play in a division with two of the best offensive lines in football, who dictate play against us on a consistent basis.  

Dictating Play
In the past two drafts, the Bills have drafted football players - which to me are different than draft picks. Torell Troup and Alex Carrington exemplify that: their work ethic and passion for the game of football makes them football players, not draft picks. Those are guys that need time, but are going to put more effort out than draft picks, if you catch my drift.  

Having the front three in the 3-4 dictate play to the offensive line allows the linebackers to do their jobs more effectively, and it snowballs from there. You are all smart enough to know that once you make a team one-dimensional, you have an advantage over them - something the Bills are clearly aiming to do. Not to mention the fact that we have three starting corners and a free safety that loves to catch other teams' passes. I'd go into specifics on how having a great defensive line does wonders for your football team, but that would be another post and you are all smart enough to understand that anyway.

Obviously, the Bills need better linebacker play, better tackles and probably a new quarterback, but you cannot deny the benefits of starting a re-build with the defensive line. There are arguments both ways, but starting there is clearly a smart choice - even if you would have gone a different route. I've always liked big fat linemen on my team, and you can clearly see Buddy trying to get this team bigger and fatter - which is something I love to see as a fan, because then you have a better chance to dictate play to your opponents. 

Time will tell if Buddy's plan plays out, but let's focus for once on what he's doing and how that's going to help the Bills instead of focusing on how he's a terrible GM because he didn't get us a tackle or got us a couple of injured linebackers that could fall apart - or could be stars - at any point.

Just another great fan opinion shared on the pages of

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