The 2007 Bengals went 7-9 and had a relatively poor season. In that season, they finished 27th in the league in total defense and allowed a whopping total of 24.1 points per game which placed them in the bottom ten in the league in terms of points allowed per game. While they kept head coach Marvin Lewis on the staff, they replaced failing defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan with Mike Zimmer who had coached the Dallas Cowboys and the Atlanta Falcons on the defensive side of the ball in the previous two years. He came in as the Bengals’ defensive coordinator and immediately made a minor improvement. In the 2008 season, the Bengals finished with less wins (Carson Palmer went down in the fourth game of the season) and went 4-12, but managed to jump six spots in total defense. In 2009, the Bengals finished fourth in the league in total defense and managed a 10-6 record that catapulted them to the playoffs. Clearly, there is a decent amount of correlation between the defensive improvement and the overall performance of the team. The 2007 had some talented starters in Justin Smith, Jonathan Joseph, Madeiu Williams, and Domata Peko, but the rest of the defense was muddled and shoddy. In 2008 and 2009, the Bengals added Chris Crocker, Robert Geathers, Leon Hall, Dhani Jones, Rey Maualuga, and other solid players. The talent level clearly skyrocketed and the defensive coordinator clearly improved. Zimmer is now a coach who has gotten consideration around the league for head coaching positions. During a study session and at many other points, Zimmer stated that they were going to succeed with “the guys nobody wanted”.
While the Bills’ situation is not a carbon copy, it is very similar. Doug Marrone is not a hold over and the Bills do not have a franchise quarterback that they can count on quite yet. Mike Pettine is a heralded defensive coordinator and is a newcomer to the Bills' organization. The defensive situation is similar. While the Bills have a lot of talent and maybe even more talent than the 2007 Bengals, there are a lot of players that would fall under the category of “the guys that nobody wanted”. Many have been worried about the fact that Marcus Dowtin may end up starting or playing a key role in the Bills defense, but that may not be a sign of defensive incompetency. Other teams have been successful with players that have been cut by multiple other teams or that had been shunned by another team. Jamie Blatnick, Crezdon Butler, Marcus Dowtin, TJ Heath, Jerry Hughes, and Brian Smith have all been cast off by other teams. I see a lot of the same potential in this defense as one can see with the Bengals defense from 2007-2009. While stars stand as the face of a defense, “the guys nobody wanted” can serve as the foundation and the x-factors.