"They're young, but they're talented" - that's a motto that has been repeated by Bills fans throughout the off-season and the pre-season. It was a theory that held especially true for the Buffalo Bills' defense, a group that suffered considerable big-name losses and brought in even younger talent as replacements. Names like Posluszny, Ellison and Youboty didn't strike fear into the hearts of opposing offensive coordinators, but they can - albeit at some point in the future.
But Sunday's loss to the Broncos left this team battling the ever-dreaded injury bug. Kevin Everett's catastrophic injury aside, Buffalo will be playing a significant amount of time without four defensive starters - one of them particularly important to the future of the defense. These injuries have left the Bills' front office in scramble mode as they attempt to throw together a defensive depth chart before the team travels to Pittsburgh for Week Two.
Simpson Injury Severely Thins Secondary
By far the most difficult injury to stomach (again, outside of Everett) is the ankle injury to safety Ko Simpson - an injury that has ended Simpson's season. With Simpson on IR, the Bills are forced to start the overwhelmed (but very intelligent) Jim Leonhard at free safety; the former undrafted rookie played well in Simpson's stead against Denver. To further deplete the secondary's depth, cornerback Jason Webster underwent surgery for a broken arm and may be lost for the season as well. These two injures leave the Bills with just four healthy corners (Terrence McGee, Kiwaukee Thomas, Ashton Youboty and Jabari Greer) and two reserve safeties with zero NFL game experience at the position (John Wendling and George Wilson).
The Bills are thin at linebacker and defensive end as well. With Keith Ellison shelved by a high ankle sprain and his backup, Coy Wire, joining him on the shelf with a sprained knee, the Bills will be forced to start Mario Haggan this Sunday in Pittsburgh. Haggan joins Paul Posluszny, Angelo Crowell, John DiGiorgio and specialist Josh Stamer as the only healthy linebackers on the active roster. That number dwarfs 3, however - 3 is the number of healthy defensive ends currently available. Oh, and one of those is our long snapper.
The Bills released Eric Powell yesterday, leaving Aaron Schobel and Chris Kelsay as the only ends with NFL game experience available for the Steelers game. With Ryan Neill long snapping, reserve defensive tackle Jason Jefferson - at this point in time - is the team's third defensive end.
Poised to Make Roster Moves
With game plans being installed beginning today (Wednesday), expect the Bills to either promote a player from their practice squad or sign/trade for defensive depth. A diary by Kurupt indicates that the Bills will be bringing in veteran safety Omar Stoutmire for a visit; an end, linebacker or a versatile cornerback could be added as well. The team currently has two roster spots open thanks to the IR of Simpson and the release of Powell, so roster moves are evidently imminent.
There are some names out there that are intriguing; see Chris Brown's list for those names. Personally, I wouldn't mind seeing a Dexter McCleon signing - he's a veteran of the Cover-2 defense from his time in St. Louis, and he's the type of guy who could play either cornerback or free safety in this scheme. That type of knowledge and versatility could make him a good signing; time will tell, of course, if (who?) the team will bring in to help out.
If We Were the Steelers...
Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, in reality, has to be licking his chops right now. He's already got a good running attack behind Willie Parker, but now he has a golden opportunity to keep Ben Roethlisberger's hot streak going. With Buffalo thin at defensive end and in the secondary, Arians has an opportunity to make some big plays through the air against reserve defensive backs and tired-out starting defensive ends. That could allow Pittsburgh to grab an early lead and use Parker to grind away clock as the Bills play catch-up.
There are ways for the Bills to counteract this likely strategy. Pittsburgh's offensive line, while good, isn't the most athletic group and could be susceptible to stunts and well-timed blitzes. Getting pressure on Roethlisberger won't necessarily cause turnovers - Big Ben is too cautious to give up the ball more than once - but it could create a few more three-and-outs than the Steelers would like. If the Bills can effectively blitz while containing Parker, they have a chance to once again keep a lot of points off the scoreboard - even with their depth issues.