Last season as the Buffalo Bills defense was getting gashed by opposing offenses, cries rang out from Bills Nation. “Fire George Edwards” implored the fans. “Promote Dave Wannstedt” they strongly suggested.
Ask and you shall receive. In the off season the Bills did just that, giving Edwards, a relatively inexperienced Defensive Coordinator, his walking papers and giving the job to the more than qualified Wannstedt.
But moments after last week’s colossal collapse by the defense to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, fans calling WGR’s post game show were asking for Wannstedt’s head on a platter. The honeymoon lasted about as long as Kim Kardashian’s marriage to Kris Humphries.
It would be ridiculous, in my opinion, to can Wannstedt after just four games on the job as DC but that doesn’t mean you can’t question some of his strategies and wonder whether or not the 2012 Bills defense will be better than the 2011 unit that finished near the bottom of the NFL in most of the key statistical categories.
In fact, if you grade out Wannstedt’s game plans through the first four games, he’d be failing since two of the four didn’t work very well.
In the opener against the Jets, the Bills had no answer to the short drop, quick release passing philosophy utilized by Mark Sanchez. In addition, the secondary was way too soft, giving Jets receivers too much cushion throughout the game and making it easy for Sanchez(who completed 70% of his passes that day but has completed a pathetic 43% since) to find his targets.
Last Sunday the Bills opted for a mostly no blitz/ use the nickel personnel, approach to defending Brady. I don’t have a problem with that because Brady is a surgeon when it comes to slicing up blitzes and the Bills were supposed to have a front four that can generate pressure on its own.
But it wasn’t working and the Pats to their credit, decided to run the ball against the “little people” as Brady called the grouping. Even though the Bills were giving up big running plays as often as Barack Obama and Mitt Romney basically call each other a liar, Wannstedt stayed with the nickel package and opted against blitzing. You needed to change things up. You gave up six straight touchdowns so how could it have been worse?
The defense was much better against Kansas City and Cleveland as the front four dominated their matchup with the opposing offensive line. They combined for nine sacks, got consistent pressure which led to turnovers and plugged holes so the Chiefs and Browns could never get their running game going.
At the quarter pole, the defense looks like I thought it would. It features an improved front four but at this point, lacks playmakers in the linebacking corps and suffers at times from an inexperienced but talented group of cornerbacks.
The top three corners are a rookie(Stephon Gilmore) and two second year players(Aaron Williams and Justin Rogers) and the group has had its ups and downs through the first quarter of the season. They need to come up with more big plays for starters. Gilmore and Williams have combined for 11 passes defended thus far but neither has come up with an interception. As a group, the corners have combined for just one interception and it came from Leodis Mckelvin who played himself down the depth chart.
Despite the improvement up front from last years group of linemen, Mario Williams has been the biggest disappointment on the team from an individual standpoint. The big ticket free agent signing has been on the field for 82% of the defensive snaps but has managed only 1.5 sacks. That means he is on pace for 6 sacks, which would be Williams’ lowest total in a full season since his rookie year(2006- 4.5 sacks).
Williams hasn’t exactly faced a slew of pro bowl right tackles either. But maybe he is constantly going up against double and triple teams? That was far from the case in last week’s game as WGR’s Joe Buscaglia pointed out after going back and reviewing the tape.
Out of 29 drop back passes by Brady, Williams faced true 1 on 1 blocking 25 times. He was chipped three times and double teamed just once. Yet against an opponent the Bills probably were thinking about the most when debating whether or not to open the vault and pursue Williams, he had no sacks and only two QB hurries.
We shouldn’t forget about Mark Anderson either. Granted he cost one fifth of what Williams price tag was but the right defensive end has but one sack while being on the field for 71% of the plays.
In case you were wondering, here’s how this year’s defense compares to last year’s in some of the key categories:
pts/game 25 29
rush yds/game 139 137
pass yds/game 232 269
3rd down % 39% 44%
sacks 29 40*
compl. % 63% 61%
takeaways 31 32*
big runs/10+yds 64 60*
big passes/20+yds 48 64*
*The Bills are on pace for these numbers projecting out current stat over 16 games*
Right now it looks like the defense will get some help from the schedule. 6 of the remaining 11 opponents the Bills will face, have an offense ranked in the bottom 11 of the league when it comes to points per game and total yards per game.
Only two opposing offenses are in the top half in terms of points scored. New England is first and Houston is second. The Bills face the Texans and Pats in back to back road games.
Only three teams are in the top ten in yards. New England is first and the Miami Dolphins are 9th.