Coming into the 2012 regular season, Buffalo Bills fans were salivating over the potential over a Bills defense that had undergone radical change - not just during an exciting off-season, but over the three-year run of GM Buddy Nix.
Today, Buffalo's starting lineup on defense features five Nix draft picks, the $115.5 million in defensive ends that the team signed in the spring months, and four former first-round draft picks. Expectations were high almost by necessity, but it was certainly justified - there's an awful lot of athletic talent on the field. Add in a switch back to a player-friendly 4-3 scheme, propagated by new coordinator Dave Wannstedt - and everything felt like it was coming together smoothly.
Naturally, the fact that the Bills arguably have the worst defense in the NFL at the moment - in the face of all of that talent and the accompanying hype - has led to perhaps the biggest collective disappointment in the recent history of the organization. Our question for you: which player or area has been the biggest letdown for you?
The pass rush. To be fair, the pass rush is improved from 2011; the Bills have 17 sacks right now, putting them on pace to surpass the 28 sacks they had a year ago. Plus, last year's sack leader, Marcell Dareus, had 5.5 sacks; Kyle Williams already has 4.5, and is likely to obliterate that mark and perhaps put up the Bills' highest single-season sack total since Aaron Schobel had 10 in 2009. Even still, the pass rush has not been as consistently dominant as it was expected to be.
Mario Williams. Ah yes, the $96 million man with 3.5 sacks in seven games. Williams has not only been a buzz kill on the field, he's exacerbated that start by alienating himself with fans, mostly by making comments to reporters (notably regarding getting punched in the face in Week 1, as well as his wrist injury) that sound an awful lot like making excuses.
The defensive line. The contracts of Buffalo's four defensive line starters are worth a combined $174.9 million. Nix has famously said that the unit reliably goes two-deep across the board. Those four players have combined for 11 of Buffalo's 17 sacks this season. Yet the defensive line has been banged up almost to a man, all but Kyle Williams have been inconsistent to varying degrees, and it can be easily argued that the team hasn't yet gotten its money's worth.
The run defense. Nix also famously told reporters during training camp that fans would be surprised at how well the Bills' new defensive ends would play the run. The idea was that the Bills would be better at setting the edge with those ends and the switch to the 4-3, and the team drafted linebackers and cornerbacks that could play the run, as well. The result? Buffalo has, by far, the worst run defense in the NFL right now, and they're giving up nearly 40 more yards per game than they surrendered in 2011.
Nick Barnett. As the only linebacker on the team that plays more than just a portion of snaps, there's a lot riding on Barnett; we talked that fact up repeatedly over the summer. Barnett is currently second on the team with 37 tackles and has added 1.5 sacks. Yet the player that had a Pro Bowl caliber stat line in 2011 has more frequently been swallowed up or out of position this season, and appears to have regressed switching to an outside linebacker role in the 4-3.
The young cornerbacks. Stephon Gilmore, this year's first-round pick, is the only cornerback that is truly an every-down player. He's taken his lumps, but has grown more consistent as the year has progressed - though he's in need of major improvements against the run. Beyond Gilmore, who can be shaky at times, two more Nix draft picks - Aaron Williams and Justin Rogers - have been monumental disappointments despite not playing a ton compared to Gilmore. Both have proven to be highly susceptible to getting torched. It hasn't helped that other corners have failed to spell those younger players for one reason or another.
George Wilson. We wanted to pick on one player from each level of the defense, and Wilson gets our vote in the secondary. One of the team's better playmakers last year, Wilson has not flashed in that area in 2012; in fact, he dropped an interception last week that could have allowed Buffalo to beat Tennessee. Wilson currently leads the team in tackles, but is not the difference-maker that he was in 2011, his first year as a full-time starter.
Dave Wannstedt. Chan Gailey promoted Wannstedt to the post of defensive coordinator very soon after the 2011 season concluded, and it immediately became apparent that the team would be switching to a supposedly player-friendly 4-3 scheme. Nix gave Wannstedt talent to work with within the confines of that scheme. Today, players are ardently defending the scheme and the coach, but on a weekly basis, the team looks soft, slow and unprepared on that side of the ball. However you want to paint it, Wannstedt has done a pretty horrible job this season.
Lots to choose from here. Have at it in the comments.