We talked about it just two weeks ago, where I posed the question on whether or not Buffalo's defense was overrated or underrated. The majority feeling was that at the time, Buffalo's defense was underrated; they had been the catalysts of a 5-1 run for the Bills and were surrendering just 18.4 points per game. It didn't matter who the Bills were beating, so long as the scores were low and ticks were going in the win column.
Turns out that this Bills defense is, at a very minimum, overrated in their underrated-ness.
Just two weeks later, the Bills have surrendered 92 points in two weeks (bumping their season average to 23.5 per game), and some of the problems that cropped up early have resurfaced. This defense played well against some league bottom-feeders, but the going has gotten much tougher as the competition has.
Here's a fun little comparison to ponder: as can probably be expected, Buffalo's defense has played very well against teams with losing records, and very poorly against teams with winning records. There does not appear to be a middle ground. The point totals:
Losing Opponents: 77 points allowed in 6 games (12.8 points per game)
* Denver (5-6), NY Jets x2 (2-9), Baltimore (4-7), Cincinnati (4-7), Miami (0-11)
Winning Opponents: 181 points allowed in 5 games (36.2 points per game)
* Pittsburgh (8-3), New England x2 (11-0), Dallas (10-1), Jacksonville (8-3)
Not surprisingly, the Bills are 5-1 in games against opponents with losing records, and 0-5 against superior teams. That's what this defense is: good against inferior opponents, awful against better ones. It's not a surprising outcome, but the point differential between the two sides is astounding. (Of course, the Pats and their 94 points helped out.)
The Quick Fixes
By my estimation, there are three pretty easy ways that Dick Jauron and Perry Fewell can, at a minimum, shave down that 36.2-point average:
Create Pressure without Zoning: I don't mean zone as in coverage, I mean zone as in the zone blitz. Buffalo has a tendency on third down to run zone blitzes, rather than just blitz. The result is that the team still has only 4 to 5 pass rushers, but they're linebackers and defensive backs, while our defensive ends, Schobel and Kelsay, are out covering underneath receivers. Is it a wonder, then, that opponents convert third downs so often? Fewell needs to lay off the zone blitz, but he does have to blitz - we harp on it all the time, but this defense needs to create pressure early and often.
Use DT Personnel Better: This just in - Larry Tripplett isn't so great against the run, while John McCargo and Kyle Williams are steady. Yet somehow, the Bills continue to use Tripplett as if he's their jack-of-all-trades, while subbing in defensive ends to play tackle on pass downs. How about just letting McCargo and Williams take downs one and two, then putting either Hargrove or Denney inside with Tripplett in passing situations? You're playing to the strengths of your personnel, and maybe getting a little better production out of the D-Line. Hey, the unit hasn't been stellar, so anything is worth a shot at this point.
Get Donte Whitner Involved: Or, rather, get Whitner more involved. The second-year safety is Buffalo's third-leading tackler with 62 on the season, but here's what's hurting his team: 0 sacks, 0 interceptions, 0 fumbles forced, 0 fumbles recovered. Coy Wire could do what Whitner is doing. The Bills need to find ways to get Whitner around the ball more - believe it or not, he's probably our most talented defender. Yes, he's good in run support, and we need him up there, but opponents don't run constantly. Let him man up in the slot, or blitz more. Buffalo's defense will never be great until Whitner becomes a playmaker. He's made about one play in his career to date; it's time for him to step up.