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Bills/Redskins Tale of the Tape: Defense

It probably wasn't the greatest idea, but I did it anyways: as I've done in the past, I flipped the proverbial bird at my mountainous pile of end-of-semester schoolwork and instead chose to intently watch the re-air of the Bills/Redskins game on NFL Network. This just gives public proof of something I've known for a while: college has my mind, but Buffalo Rumblings has my soul.

So I watched the Bills game. Again. This time, I took notes. Here's what I noticed about the defense:

On Run Defense: I can't overstate enough how fabulous Buffalo's run defense was. We're not talking about shutting down your average, run-of-the-mill runner; this was Clinton Portis. Aaron Schobel was great early on, getting penetration routinely and causing Portis to change directions. Penetration is obviously the big key to stuffing the run in this defensive scheme, and it seemed like everybody was knifing into the backfield at one point or another. Those who did it most frequently: Schobel, John DiGiorgio, John McCargo and, to a bit lesser extent, Kyle Williams. Larry Tripplett was great as well, but I'll discuss him more later on.

Terrence McGee, by the way, is one heck of a corner. Not because of his cover skills, mind you - they're pretty good - but because the dude can just flat-out tackle. I'd even go so far as to say that he's a better tackler than Nate Clements was last year - though he's not quite up to Winfield status. He plays a huge role in the run D, as he routinely keeps runs from getting to the corner. Great stuff from him on Sunday.

On Third Down D: Once again - especially in the first half - Buffalo struggled to get off the field on third down. It's not any one thing that keeps the Bills on the field, either - there were ill-timed blitzes, ill-timed deep zones, blown coverages, and other factors that led to fresh sets of downs for the Redskins. Buffalo plays their defense correctly in these situations, it just seemed that Washington had a good call in every time. They were getting first downs by the skin of their teeth at points; at others, they were picking up chunks of yardage.

Couple of things I noticed: first, Donte Whitner - who is improving his in-the-box play dramatically - still takes bad angles on occasion. Opponents like to get him in motion, get him moving behind the line, to get a read on what he's doing. The result is that Whitner is sometimes out of position, gets that bad angle, and a nice play ensues. That's something to watch out for. Also, due to the high-speed, hustling nature of this defense, they really struggle to stop plays when they're already momentous. The Redskins, on more than one occasion, called plays that went to one side, then cut back against the grain; this consistently yielded at least 8-10 yards for them as the Bills quickly got out of position. Chris Cooley was involved in these plays in most instances. Yes, the third down D improved dramatically in the second half, but only after Portis was eliminated from the offensive equation and the Redskins were throwing to sustain drives, allowing Buffalo's blitz to become effective.

On Blitz Packages: Perry Fewell is doing a nice job calling blitzes. The Bills got pressure from a ton of defenders - Schobel, Ryan Denney, Tripplett, Williams (yes, the entire D-Line), Angelo Crowell, DiGiorgio, and even Bryan Scott were seen forcing Jason Campbell out of the pocket. Fewell does a nice job disguising who's coming, and sending those guys from different angles. Whether it was an all-out rush or blitzers were sent on a delay, the Bills were getting to the QB more consistently than they had all season - a big reason they racked up 3 sacks.

Still, it would be nice to get more pressure from our front four. Blitzing was effective, but it also leaves our back defenders vulnerable. Too many times, Jim Leonhard was left isolated on Cooley - a huge mismatch, and one that Campbell exploited often for big plays. Our defensive backs and linebackers left in coverage do a nice job of wrapping up immediately, but the shell coverage is vulnerable to deep digs and corner routes. This is how the Redskins were able to pick up the vast majority of their passing yardage.

On Playmaking: Want to know what allowed this Bills defense to finally shake off the rust of two poor performances against the Patriots and Jaguars? Simple: they finally made some plays. We talked about Angelo Crowell's contributions in the game review, but I feel guilty not having mentioned the play of Larry Tripplett then as well. This, folks, was Tripplett's best game as a Bill - he had three tackles, a forced fumble (recovered by Crowell) and a gorgeous interception on a tipped pass by McGee. He was a catalyst in stopping Portis, and he made plays when Campbell dropped back to pass. He deserves a ton of credit - he played out of his mind.

Plays come in all shapes and sizes - so that's why I'm going to mention Josh Stamer. With Washington threatening to increase their lead to 13-2, Stamer - playing goal line defense - let Cooley slip behind him in the end zone. Campbell went to him; it would have been a devastating touchdown had Stamer not hustled back in time to bother Cooley into dropping the pass. That was a huge, huge play, as it ultimately led to a field goal for Washington. What's more, Buffalo could have made even more plays, as Crowell and Keith Ellison both had near-misses on interceptions. This playmaking is something that absolutely has to continue (against turnover-happy quarterbacks in John Beck, Derek Anderson and Eli Manning, no less) for the stretch run if the Bills hope to sniff the playoffs.