The pre-season is the time for predictions, often bold ones. So here it goes: the Buffalo Bills will field a top-five defense in 2010.
Everyone talks about defense winning championships, and indeed, this cliche has already been featured here at Rumblings. However, the Bills will most likely find difficulty in winning a championship with their offense in 2010, but that discussion is for a different day. With that being said, I don't believe that it's a stretch to say that the Bills can field an elite defense.
Looking at the Bills' defense of 2009, they finished No. 19 overall in total defense, allowing 340.6 yards per game. Through the air, the Bills were fantastic, allowing 184.2 yards/game, good for second overall in the NFL. On the ground, however, they allowed 156.3 yards per game, which slotted them No. 30 overall. Should the Bills maintain their prolific pass defense and improve on their run defense, the Bills can climb the overall rankings quickly. For example: the Washington Redskins were No. 16 in run defense, allowing 112.4 yards per game. If the Bills had achieved that last year, they would have finished third overall in total defense, allowing 296.6 yards per game.
The keys to the Bills' potential success after the jump.
Depth. The Bills have a lot of depth throughout their defense, starting from the secondary in. Buffalo's secondary in 2009 stood head and shoulders above of the rest of the defense. Looking at them in 2010, there is only more to like. Donte Whitner and Jairus Byrd form a formidable safety tandem, and with Bryan Scott and George Wilson as reserves, the Bills can feel comfortable interchanging pieces based on the current game situation. With the return of Leodis McKelvin, the Bills can feel comfortable facing three-receiver sets in a man-to-man situation. Once again, the Bills currently have depth with Ellis Lankster and Reggie Corner waiting in the wings.
The middle linebackers comfortably go two deep in both the MLB and WLB positions. The outside linebackers are not as comfortable, but with a sound rotation, the Bills will be able to bring constant pressure and get after the quarterback each and every snap. The possibility of Kawika Mitchell perhaps taking a snap or two on the outside adds to the depth on the outside.
Earlier this week, Brian talked about the depth and versatility issues on the line. Although the Bills don't have the same depth on the line as they do in the other spots of the defense, they have loads of talent. With the Bills planning to use four down linemen looks, the Bills can move individuals in and out based on situations. This is where general talent can shine in winning those one on one match-ups in the trenches.
Playmakers. Yes, the Bills have playmakers, and a good chunk of them. Based on his 2009 performance, big things are expected of Byrd. The team leader in interceptions will continue to looked upon to gobble up stray passes, and with Whitner feeling more comfortable in the 3-4 and McKelvin back at full health, the secondary is filled with players who can make game changing plays.
Paul Posluszny could have a career year this year. Given the flexibility to do what he does best (running from sideline to sideline making tackles), we could finally see the total package that he was hoped to be when drafted in 2007. Everyone's favorite whipping boy, Aaron Maybin, can produce in the 3-4 using speed and hustle. I would not be surprised to see him end up with six or more sacks on the season and shed some of those bust labels.
On the line, I expect big things from Torell Troup - not necessarily from a statistical perspective, but in making life easier for his teammates. He should (hopefully) be able to consistently take on two linemen and keep them occupied, creating gaps for the linebackers to fill and make plays. As well, I absolutely love Alex Carrington, and would not be surprised if he found a way into the starting line up by the end of the year.
Hustle and Heart. Looking at the Bills' defense as a whole, their mix of veterans and youth is going to serve them very well. The core of this defense remains unchanged, with only 2-3 new starters. This was a defense that regularly kept the team in games that they had no business being in, and with another year of maturity under their belts, they can only improve. These players will play from whistle to whistle, and will be hungry to prove to the league and to themselves that they are capable of playing in this league and playing well.
Obviously, health can be an issue, and it would be hard to assume that the Bills will go the entire season without experiencing some types of bumps and bruises. If they can avoid any catastrophic injuries, I believe that the depth on this defense will show, and the fans and coaching staff will be pleased with the results - even if those results don't lead to wins.