It's important to start this off by saying that if there's a unit on the Bills that deserves to have their grades curved a bit for their early-season performance, it's the defense. When you lose two defensive ends, three linebackers, two cornerbacks and an up-and-coming safety, you're destined to be weakened a bit - and boy, how that's happened. So I curved these grades a bit, taking into account that we're playing defense with many former undrafted free agents and a few guys playing out of position. With that said, the grades are still poor:
Defensive Line: C-
With Ryan Denney injured and Anthony Hargrove suspended (note: that suspension is now over, and Hargrove is eligible to play this weekend against Dallas, which could be good news), starting defensive ends Aaron Schobel and Chris Kelsay have been forced to play far more than they've been asked to in the past. Without being fresh the whole game, the two players have suffered immensely, both in stuffing the run and getting heat on the quarterback. The Bills have amassed just four sacks this season, good enough to tie them for the fourth-worst total in the league (the New Orleans Saints, believe it or not, have not recorded a single sack on the season). Their play has been so poor that this grade should be in the D range, but give credit to the defensive tackles: their play hasn't exactly been stellar, but they've also done a nice job thwarting most run attempts up the middle. The play of Kyle Williams and especially John McCargo saves faces a bit for a unit that needs to improve one hundred-fold if the Bills want to get better soon.
This unit, more than any other, has been ripped apart by injuries. Losing rookie Paul Posluszny for the season was a big hit to the unit's morale, especially with Coy Wire and Keith Ellison on the shelf for an undetermined period of time. The only remaining starter, Angelo Crowell, leads the team with 35 tackles, but a few coverage lapses have led to some big plays for opponents. The other two current starters, John DiGiorgio and Mario Haggan, are playing about as well as you can expect them to, given that they both made their first career starts this past weekend against the Jets. The outside 'backers have been partly responsible for some long rushes to the outside, and fully responsible for giving up some chunk yardage underneath in the passing game. Once Wire returns, the run defense should improve. Once Ellison returns, the pass defense should improve. For now, the grade is a C-.
Defensive Backs: C
The Bills exit quarter one with the NFL's lowest-ranked pass defense, surrendering 282 yards per game (have at it, Tony Romo). A major part of that has been the lack of pass rush, to be sure, but this injury-decimated secondary has not been helping the cause. So why are they the highest-rated unit on the defensive side of the ball? Simple: they're the only unit making plays. Safety Jim Leonhard has recorded two interceptions filling in for Ko Simpson, and corners Terrence McGee and Jabari Greer doubled the team total with a pick each off of Chad Pennington this past weekend. Meanwhile, strong safety Donte Whitner is second on the team with 32 tackles (Leonhard is third with 30), and he's been stalwart making big tackles on third downs and in the red zone. With that said, a ton more is needed from this group - especially Whitner, who needs to start making plays on the ball as well. They'll be helped out by the returns of Denney and Hargrove, and if Ashton Youboty can shake the injury bug, it will solidify the unit as well. Keep an eye out for CB Jerametrius Butler - he could become a presence in this secondary sooner rather than later.
Agree? Disagree? Something to add/subtract from the report card? You all are teachers in this school too, so let's hear it - how would you grade out the Bills' defense thus far? Note: report cards for Special Teams and Coaching will be out later today/early tomorrow. Stay tuned!