As a Bills blogger, each week I'm asked several questions by fellow bloggers as well as anonymous fans writing e-mails. Over the team's current win streak, one question has been asked most: "What's the cause for the Bills' turnaround?" The answer to that, in my mind, is simple: Buffalo's defense, a group often referred to as "no-name", has been lights out for the past month. From forcing 6 turnovers on a Monday Night game to holding the powerful Cincinnati Bengals to under 300 yards of total offense, it has been Buffalo's defense that has allowed the Bills to win four of their last five games.
The anomaly here is that the defense has been so steady despite losing starters all over the field early in the season. The turnaround has been so dramatic - and so unexpected - that "no-name" has now become a point of pride for this unit. Perhaps the biggest individual surprise of this resurgent group is the biggest "no-name" of them all - free safety George Wilson.
Starting By Default? Not Anymore
Not many people outside of Buffalo know Wilson's story - how he spent two years clinging for dear life on the Bills' roster as a practice squad receiver. How he switched to free safety this past off-season, having never played the position. How he picked up the defense quickly enough to earn a spot on the final roster as the team's fifth safety. And most importantly, how he was pressed into a starting role after the Bills lost the two men in front of him, Ko Simpson and Jim Leonhard, to injury.
The most remarkable part of Wilson's story is that with Leonhard fully healthy again, the converted wideout has yet to relinquish his role. Why? Wilson's play has been outstanding over the team's last four games (a 3-1 stretch in which he's started every game). He's developed a flair for the big play, even - in his first NFL start, Wilson intercepted a Tony Romo pass and returned it for a score to open the Monday Night game in early October. His second pick, coming two weeks ago in New York, sealed the win (and a 3-point defensive outing) for the Bills. Wilson's background as a receiver supplies him with perhaps the best ball skills of any safety currently on the roster - and the more he plays, the more that will show through.
Not Just a Pass Safety
As Wilson continues to accumulate starts, he becomes much more assertive and comfortable in all facets of the defensive scheme. This is especially true in run support, where Wilson struggled early on in his starting career. That's changing rapidly, as Wilson himself acknowledged after the Bengals game:
Not only does it make the defense more explosive, it made Wilson more explosive on Sunday. Wilson finished the Bengals game with six tackles; three of those came at or near the line of scrimmage in run support. (He also nearly intercepted his third pass of the season in the contest.) Again, run support is an area that Wilson has shown steady improvement - watch any highlight from the Bills/Ravens game, and you'll notice it's Wilson getting blown over by Willis McGahee on McGahee's 46-yard touchdown run. Just two weeks later, however, Wilson was far sturdier against the run, as he was part of a defense that held the Bengals to 28 rushing yards.
Two things are certain here: if Wilson continues his steady progression, it's going to be hard for head coach Dick Jauron to replace him in the lineup - this year or next. The other certainty: if Wilson continues to play the way he has, he'll very quickly shed that label of "no-name".