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Questionable Pass Rush Could Mean Less Zone Coverage

It's the time of the NFL off-season when rosters are being picked apart, scrutinized and optimized as teams head into training camp. That must be why there is a buzz surrounding the Bills' defense currently - more specifically, its apparent shortcomings. Here's two little tidbits that I found interesting this past week that have a lot to do with each other:

Chris Brown's blog has an interesting statement about the Bills' plans in the secondary this season:

I think Whitner was somewhat at a disadvantage for interceptions as a rookie because he was playing down close to the line so much because Buffalo needed all the men they could get in the box to stop the run, which they didn't do very well last season. But with more man-to-man coverage responsibilities anticipated this season and hopefully improved run defense from the front seven his numbers should go up in terms of plays on the ball.

Whoa, wait a minute. Don't we talk all the time about Buffalo's Cover-2 (zone) scheme? It's true that after a few bad games last year, the Bills turned to a lot of man coverage to keep defenses from picking too much on Terrence McGee. But that was with Nate Clements - and he is now obviously gone. I don't really see a purpose to using more man coverage than last season when the current CB personnel is probably better suited to playing short zone coverage (i.e., these guys are solid tacklers but not so great staying with receivers, with the possible exception of McGee). Perhaps it has to do with...

... the lack of a consistent pass rush. Connor Byrne has written a good article with the following thesis: Aaron Schobel is overrated. I found this particular statistic interesting:

The problem with the 29-year-old Schobel is that most of his sacks have been accumulated during less-than-crucial times. Fewer than half of the 60½ (28) have come in victories, while a total of 46 have been accrued in either blowout wins or losses. That's obviously not the sign of a big-time gamechanger like Miami's Jason Taylor, who doesn't just sack QBs but also intercepts passes and forces fumbles on a regular basis. Schobel has two career INTs to Taylor's six, which isn't a massive difference, but the former has 23 fewer forced fumbles (13) than the latter's 36.

Schobel is the only player on the Bills' roster who can say that he is a pass rush specialist. Playing a defense that depends so heavily on quarterback pressure (the Cover-2) is a bad idea when your star defensive end isn't as reliable as most think. We've been saying this for a while here at Rumblings - a more consistent pass rush is needed to make this defense work. Without that feature, we need to find a way to tighten up our coverage. That means more man defense.

So for now, it seems, the only defensive position that has the ideal personnel to succeed in Perry Fewell's scheme is linebacker. Go figure.

I'll have much more on the secondary tomorrow morning. For now, I'd love to hear what everyone thinks about the man vs. zone coverage argument.