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Key to the Defense, Take Two: Improved Pass Rush

Schobel needs some help

In the first year under defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, the Bills' defense adjusted well to a brand new defensive scheme based on the famed "Tampa 2" defense. This new scheme was much different than anything the Bills have run in recent years - lighter, faster defenders were brought in to replace strong, meaty ones. Players had to adjust to new roles at their positions. Overall, the transition was pretty smooth.

Despite that success, the Bills still have plenty of weak areas. The team's run defense, in general, was pretty bad. The team gave up a lot of big plays through the air as well. A third problem area was third down defense - Buffalo often could not get off the field, leading to extended drives for the opposition. An improved pass rush would help to solve all three problems.

Sacking a Cover 2 "Must-Do"
The one thing Buffalo really lacks is a premiere pass rushing threat. Sure, Aaron Schobel went to the Pro Bowl last year after registering 14 take-downs, but he is not mistaken by anyone as an explosive edge rusher; he is merely a guy who doesn't give up on plays and gets a lot of sacks that way. The team finished with 37.5 sacks total, which admittedly is not a low number. However, the numbers behind Schobel's 14 are unimpressive, at best: Ryan Denney registered 6 (three in one game against Miami, if you recall), Chris Kelsay had 5.5, and Larry Tripplett finished fourth with just two and a half. Those numbers aren't exactly going to scare offensive coordinators into taking double teams away from Schobel.

Cover 2 defenses thrive on getting pressure on the quarterback. Pressure leads to hurried throws, and against a zone defense, hurried throws get intercepted. Without a consistent pass rush (note: consistent is the key word there), quarterbacks and receivers have the necessary time to find holes in the zone and exploit even the most talented of defensive backfields. Too many times in '06, quarterbacks had all day to sit and wait for a receiver to find a hole.

Cover 2 Sack Artists: A Rich History
Some of the league's most feared pass rushers of recent years evolved from an aggressive Cover 2 scheme. Simeon Rice and Warren Sapp wreaked havoc on quarterbacks when the two played for Tampa Bay. Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are lethal edge rushers for the Super Bowl Champion Colts. Practically the entirety of the Chicago Bears' defensive line fits the bill. Heck, even Jared Allen has become a household name thanks to Herm Edwards' Cover 2 scheme in Kansas City.

Outside of Schobel, the Bills do not have a pass rush threat that opposing offenses need to pay attention to on every play. That limits the effectiveness of Schobel. While Kelsay, Denney and even Anthony Hargrove played effectively, none are the sack artist threat that Buffalo really needs. They all can play effectively, sure, but none present the explosion and burst off the edge that all good Cover-2 defenses have.

More Blitzing in '07?
Having a better pass rush will increase the effectiveness of the entire defense - defensive tackles, linebackers and the secondary included. More importantly, however, is this: a second year in Fewell's scheme may allow the coaching staff to take more chances on defense by sending blitzes.

With two young safeties in Donte Whitner and Ko Simpson last year, the Bills were extremely hesitant to send blitzes - it would have left the young defenders in a highly dangerous situation. With a year under their belt, however, the Bills may be more comfortable in sending linebackers and nickel/dime backs on the occasional blitz. That would also help create a more consistent pass rush for the Cover 2 scheme.

One way or another, the front office has to understand that if the defense is going to truly dominate, a better, more consistent pass rush is sorely needed.