Each Tuesday this season, we here at Buffalo Rumblings will review the week's Buffalo Bills game on film (i.e. good old fashioned DVR) to get a little more in-depth perspective on how the Bills are performing. With our reviews of the special teams and offense out of the way, let's take a look at the unit that anchored Buffalo's win - our new-look defense.
10 points allowed, five sacks, an interception and one monstrous performance marked an excellent 2008 debut for the Buffalo Bills defense. This is a team that has employed a passive scheme in the first two years of Dick Jauron's tenure as Bills head coach; with better talent at key positions this season, however, Jauron has allowed Perry Fewell to press the "Go" button - the Bills really took it to the Seattle Seahawks defensively in Week One. Here's what we saw that we felt was noteworthy...
I was surprised - as I'm sure many of you were - when the Bills went with only seven active linemen for this game, including just three tackles and with both John McCargo and Chris Ellis inactive. The team made the right decision, because the defensive line was dominant in this game, and the reason was Marcus Stroud.
Buffalo had heat on Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck all day, and most of the time that pressure was coming from the middle of the line. Especially in the first half, Hasselbeck was flushed backwards or sideways, and he wasn't particularly effective throwing on the move in this game. Stroud was the usual culprit, but Kyle Williams and some well-timed stunts and blitzes by the team's ends helped tremendously. No one was as obviously influenced by Stroud's presence than Aaron Schobel, who was quite clearly his 2006 self on Sunday.
This unit was also quite stout at the point of attack. You have no idea (OK, maybe you do have an idea) how refreshing it was to see our line avoid getting pushed back two yards before firming up each and every run play. This is a gap-oriented rush defense, and the line was allowing those gaps to be open in the run department, leading to solid penetration by our linebackers and defensive backs. There are times that I wish our defensive ends were a touch more athletic, but the line looks good after one game.
Boy, does Paul Posluszny look like he's in command of this defense. Yes, Donte Whitner is the leader, but Posluszny is the quarterback, and he did a great job of getting his guys lined up on Sunday. Seattle - the epitome of a good tempo offense - repeatedly tried to catch the Bills' defense off guard by hustling out of the huddle, and each time the Bills got lined up correctly before the snap. Our young middle linebacker was good at the line of scrimmage (which is nice, but shouldn't be a surprise), but he was also surprisingly excellent in coverage, making plays on a few balls and making some good hits.
Saw plenty of good things out of Kawika Mitchell. He's not as fluid as Posluszny or Keith Ellison in coverage, but that's not his role, and even when he's back there, he's not a huge liability. What's more, he's easily the team's most explosive blitzer, as evidenced by his sack in which he shot the A gap with the speed and anticipation of a super hero. Mitchell's presence allows Buffalo to be flexible and unpredictable in the way in which they blitz; outside of Stroud, Mitchell might be the team's most important defender.
The Bills went with only four corners in this game, and the three that saw predominant playing time were all very good. Terrence McGee tackled well and got his hands on a few balls; his interception in the waning moments of the fourth quarter was a thing of beauty. Jabari Greer is a gamer, but there are times when his size severely limits what he can do. Greer was assigned the ominous task of taking on a Walter Jones block early in the third quarter on a toss sweep by Julius Jones; needless to say, Greer was dwarfed and the run netted six yards for Seattle.
Ashton Youboty was the real story here, however. His coverage was very good, and his tackling was better. Youboty was involved near the line of scrimmage on a couple of run plays, and he has that type of ability - to be a playmaker in that nickel role. I wouldn't be shocked to see Youboty as a full-time starter by season's end, with Greer becoming the nickel back in a sense (i.e. Greer comes in on third downs but plays outside, allowing Youboty to shift inside).
I saw good things from Ko Simpson as well. He was a factor on special teams and wasn't out of position on any of Hasselbeck's 41 throws. When he wants to, he can hit hard. Whitner played faster than I've ever seen him play; he absolutely flew to the ball on a handful of occasions. Buffalo's pass rush was a big part of the good day for the DBs, but don't underestimate what this group did, either - their coverage was, by and large, excellent.
- Perry Fewell did a masterful job with his game plan. Seattle's offense was off balance all day, and even when they did make a few plays, he had a wrinkle to throw off their momentum (see: Seattle's opening drive of the second half). This is the Perry Fewell we've been waiting to see - forcing the action with his defense, rather than playing to stay alive. I'm especially thrilled with the development of Buffalo's corners playing a bit more press coverage (and I'm sure Kurupt will agree with me there). It should continue to improve.
- I'm not fussed about Leodis McKelvin not seeing the field too much (or James Hardy, for that matter). McKelvin is green, and the fact that the Bills can use guys like Bryan Scott or George Wilson as dime backs in the interim should they feel it necessary is helpful. McKelvin's got to earn his keep, and it's nice to see a Bills rookie have to do that for once. No longer are we counting on rookies to be big producers. Now they're waiting in the wings and boosting our depth talent pool tremendously.
- I actually like the idea of playing with just three interior linemen, even if it means sacrificing John McCargo to the inactive list. The rotation works well, and allows Buffalo's line to be bigger and more athletic. Let's just hope that the stunted rotation doesn't compromise the health of any of its participants, most obviously Stroud.
- The Bills employed some of what we saw the New York Giants employ last season - four defensive ends on the line, standing up pre-snap. Schobel, Chris Kelsay, Ryan Denney and Copeland Bryan were the participants (Kelsay and Denney lined up inside), and on the few snaps in which this occurred, it was effective - Bryan streaked in untouched to pressure Hasselbeck on one play. This is what depth at defensive end does for you, and the Bills certainly have plenty of it.