Though the Buffalo Bills are 2-0, the team's defensive performances have been decidedly mixed to date this season. In a 41-7 win over the Kansas City Chiefs, the defense looked great, but the Chiefs also haven't been able to get out of their own way yet this year. In Sunday's 38-35 win over the Oakland Raiders, the defense forced a big turnover and a couple of key stops, but were also shredded by the likes of Jason Campbell, Darren McFadden and Denarius Moore.
This week, Tom Brady and the high-flying New England Patriots are coming to town in a game that has the makings of another shootout. If the Bills plan on passing a true litmus test this Sunday, they'll need more out of their defense.
Specifically, they'll need more from their pass rush, the area of George Edwards' defense that has been most lacking through two games. Campbell and Matt Cassel have dropped back a combined 69 times this season, but the Bills have just two sacks and a handful of quarterback hits and pressures. That'll need to change Sunday.
The key to Buffalo's pass rush, of course, is outside linebacker Shawne Merriman, who has been largely invisible through the Bills' two wins, accumulating just five tackles in those contests. Bills head coach Chan Gailey explained on Monday that the team is trying to ease Merriman back into the lineup after two injury-plagued seasons.
"The guy has not played in two years," the coach said, per The Buffalo News. "He showed flashes of what we all think he will be down the line. We've got to make sure we keep him in a rotation while he's getting back into it these first few weeks, until he can work himself into an entire ball game. I think that's sort of the plan right now to make sure we don't overextend him because we want him here. We talked about preseason wanting him for the first game and we also want him for game 16 and beyond."
Merriman has been strong against the run to this point in the season, but has appeared to be largely in cruise control rushing the passer - though he was gratuitously held on a nice rush on the final play from scrimmage in the win over Oakland. While he's been off the field, a rotation of players has been filling in for him based on down and distance, with Danny Batten and Spencer Johnson doing most of that work on Sunday.
Against two good but fairly basic offenses in Kansas City and especially Oakland, the Bills have been quite vanilla schematically through two weeks. They have not been able to consistently pressure the quarterback out of those looks, and with Brady in town, it's imperative that the rush become more effective - as in immediately. Expect a bit more of Merriman on Sunday - with perhaps his most aggressive effort to date - but more importantly, expect more exotic defensive alignments and blitz calls for the first time this season. It's hard to imagine that at 2-0 with something to prove, that the Bills will sit back defensively and let Brady pick them apart. Expect the Bills to be aggressive on Sunday.