Ask any Bills fan who Buffalo's best defensive lineman is, and the vast majority of the time the answer will be given quickly: "Aaron Schobel". One of the Bills' two Pro Bowlers last season, fans have been distraught over our star defensive end missing voluntary OTA practices. Yet more statistical analysis by Football Outsiders indicates that Schobel may be more of a liability than most Bills fans realize. But is he the weak point of our run defense?
Run D isn't all about the tackles
According to the stats linked above, our run defense was bad. (Of course, you don't need stats to realize this, but I do have a point.) Yet our tackles - who were blamed most by Bills fans as the culprits of our terrible performances - may not have been the worst performers against the run. When opponents ran directly up the middle, the Bills ranked 30th against the run. This compares to a 28th ranking when opponents ran to left tackle, where Schobel lines up. While it appears that the tackles were worse off, opponents' run average was actually larger on runs to the outside (5.11 as opposed to 4.83 ALY, or Adjusted Line Yards).
Schobel's weakness is especially highlighted by the stellar performance of our left ends, Chris Kelsay and Ryan Denney, against the run. The Bills ranked 16th and 17th on runs to right tackle and right end, lightyears ahead of Schobel's side of the line. Despite the relative weakness of the left tackle/left end run defense, teams still felt the need to run directly up the middle 58% of the time. If it ain't broke, don't fix it - and opponents' run games certainly weren't broke when they played the Bills.
How Much is Attributed to Linebackers?
In short, quite a bit. Many fans believe that London Fletcher's diminutive stature was a big reason that teams ran up the middle on us - with small defensive tackles, Fletcher was often engulfed by blockers and ended up making tackles six or seven yards downfield. The addition of the bigger, meatier Paul Posluszny should help that situation a bit.
What's interesting is that last season, Takeo Spikes lined up on Schobel's side of the defense. That, again, was the weak side of the defense on outside runs. Angelo Crowell and Keith Ellison were on the strong side of the edge rush defense last season. Notice that the weaker of the three linebackers no longer resides on this team. Ellison was surprisingly strong against the run, as evidenced by the Bills' stats on the LE side of the line.
So Where's the Real Weakness?
This is a very debatable topic. Stats show a general weakness all around, except for left end, where the club is only average. Is Aaron Schobel the run defense's weakness? Or is it our tackles? How about our linebackers? I'm going with tackles for the moment; the fact that teams decided to pound it at them 3 out of every 5 runs speaks volumes to me, despite the weaknesses showed by Schobel and the linebackers. But that's just me - what do you think, Bills fans? Leave a comment or two letting everyone know where you stand on this issue.