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Rumblings Film Session: Bills/Titans, Defensive Review

The Buffalo Bills lost their first pre-season game of the 2009 season to the Tennessee Titans.  The 21-18 defeat in the Hall of Fame Game didn't leave a lot for Bills fans to chew on as the on-field play relates directly to the team's chances this season, but that doesn't mean there isn't value to looking back at the tape.  That's exactly what we'll do here.

Our review of the offense has already posted.  After the jump, you'll find our talking points about Buffalo's defensive efforts.

It's time to grow up, guys.
Buffalo didn't make many drastic changes to their defensive unit this past off-season.  That wasn't overly surprising, considering the fact that the unit had a lot of young talent that's being counted on to get better.  The dreadful offensive attack in need of much assistance helped that decision along as well.  Buffalo has a shot to have a pretty good defense in 2009, but that won't happen unless their young guns grow up on the field.  That interception that casually glanced off of Paul Posluszny's hands? That play needs to be made.  Period.  That's the shining example of opportunity lost from this particular game.  Players like Posluszny, Leodis McKelvin and Donte Whitner will get those chances this season, because they're all good players.  They need to capitalize on those opportunities to turn an average defense into a solid one.

Paging Joel Segal...
Much has been made about Buffalo's lack of a pass rush from this contest.  Their pass defense was not great, and clearly, they had trouble getting to Titans quarterbacks.  Kerry Collins in particular carved apart the first unit with quick throws, play fakes and misdirection (those latter two, by the way, still cause a lot of problems for the Bills).  The Bills will likely have another below-average pass rushing season unless rookie first-round pick DE Aaron Maybin plays like a No. 11 overall pick and a future star.  Of course, he needs to get signed first.

Beyond the pass rush issues, I thought Buffalo's defensive line was excellent.  The top four defensive tackles - Marcus Stroud, Kyle Williams, Spencer Johnson and John McCargo - looked great against the run.  Even DT Derrick Jones was pretty active, despite only being with the team for around a week.  From top to bottom, the ends held up well against the run as well.  There are solid players along the defensive line.  We just lack the one athlete that could make this line better than average.

A skill-rich secondary
I thought Buffalo's secondary was outstanding on Sunday, particularly in the tackling department.  McKelvin was the only player that I saw badly miss a tackle in open space, and that was at the ankles of Alge Crumpler.  Bryan Scott is a terrific run defender, and his stop on Chris Johnson in open space defines reliability.  Buffalo's safeties were outstanding; the only one I was less than impressed with was John Wendling, who missed a tackle in the box that led to a long gainer for Chris Henry.  The corners were solid as well, though rookie Ellis Lankster has probably heard it from the coaches on that touchdown reception he gave up - he was really dogging it on that play.  He got beat cleanly on a pump fake, and his effort to recover at the back of the end zone was minimal.  He's got a chance to make this team, and his play was solid in his first NFL action, but that particular effort was a far cry from impressive.

How Perry blitzes
We're not going to get much in the way of the plans that Perry Fewell has to create pressure via the blitz, but he did show us one wrinkle on Sunday night.  It's not even a "wrinkle," really, but it was effective.  Buffalo routinely lined up with four linemen (obviously), one linebacker to the side of one end, and a safety in the box.  Fewell would then have the weak-side end drop into coverage and overload blitz from the strong side, sending the end, linebacker and safety.  That's exactly the call that was on when Vince Young was picked off by McKelvin; Chris Ellis dropped into coverage, and even though Buffalo's blitz didn't get there, Young was flustered to the point that he didn't set his feet, threw the ball far too early, and threw a cupcake pass that McKelvin intercepted with ease.  Pretty simple blitzing philosophy - every team does it - but against a young quarterback, it worked like a charm.

The Bills play a lot of young quarterbacks this season, with the first young gun on the plate being whoever ends up starting for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  We'd love to see a repeat of this particular play in that setting.

Young linebackers shine
If you ask me which young player stood out above any other, I'm choosing between two young linebackers - and I'm giving the nod to Ashlee Palmer over Nic Harris by a hair.  Palmer looked great taking reps as the second-team weak-side linebacker.  He's quick, far more physical than anticipated, and constantly around the ball.  He had a big hit on special teams as well.  He had a shot to crack the roster, but I'm hearing he was injured in the game - he was randomly replaced by Alvin Bowen in the third quarter after making a diving stab at a tackle near the ankles (possible shoulder injury?) - and he may miss a significant amount of time.

Nic Harris was active as well, though I was less impressed with him on the re-watch than I was watching the game live.  Marcus Buggs and Alvin Bowen played well, too.  This is a group of highly unproven players, obviously, but they showed on Sunday night that they have a good amount of raw talent as well.