The Buffalo Bills defense as whole made a surprising leap under newly hired defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. While they rose from the franchise-worst depths of 2012 to a respectable top 10 overall defense, the Bills still showed a couple of glaring weaknesses that played a major role in their 10 losses in 2013.
The Buffalo Bills Defense
The Bills defensive line was easily the brightest spot of the entire season, let alone just the defense. Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, and Jerry Hughes all posted 10+ sacks while Marcel Dareus was a dominant force in the middle, one of the top defensive tackles in the NFL with 7.5 sacks and 71 tackles, in addition to leading the league in defensive stops. With Alan Branch proving himself to be a valuable free agent acquisition, the Bills managed to field one of the best defensive lines in the NFL in 2013, consistently apply pressure on the quarterback, setting a new franchise record in sacks for a season, and generally making life miserable for opposing teams. The one area in which they lacked was stopping the run. You would think that with two top DTs they would be better at stuffing the run, but while they were ranked #4 against the pass they were ranked #28 against the run. This should be the primary focus of the Bills defense in the offseason, improving their run defense. In spite of all the allegedly increased emphasis on passing in the NFL, few teams can succeed giving up 130 yards on the ground per game.
Current Grade: 4.0 Projected Grade in 2014: 5.0
Linebacker was the Bills’ largest weakness in 2012 and nothing much changed in 2013, except the addition of #TheLegendOfKikoAlonso. There’s no denying that Alonso had a great rookie season, but a single good inside linebacker doesn’t fix anything. I blame the lack of run stopping on the LB corps more than the defensive line, they simply did not plug the gaps as much as they should have. This not only allowed the opposing offense to continually move the chains on the ground, but it also exposed the second greatest weakness of the Bills’ defense, the big play. I don’t have official stats on big plays allowed per team, but as a fan watching the games it certainly felt like the Bills gave up more than their share of big runs for TDs. This glaring weakness ties in to the aforementioned primary focus for the 2014 offseason, the Bills need another linebacker or two, preferably one who is a big, fast, mean run stuffing specialist.
Current Grade: 1.5 Projected Grade in 2014: 3.0
Cornerback was a mixed bag in 2013. Our #1 CB, Stephon Gilmore, was lost for the first 6 weeks due to an injury. The surprisingly solid play of Leodis McKlevin was all that kept us alive for the first 6 weeks of the season, as evidenced by the atrocity that was Justin Rogers’ performance in Week 3, after McKelvin left the game. Rogers singlehandedly cost us the game against the Jets that week and the Bills need to make sure that never happens again. Lack of depth due to injuries is the curse of all NFL teams, but it seems to hit the Bills the hardest at the most inopportune of times. I happen to think the tandem of Gilmore and McKelvin gives us an above average pair of CBs, and with Nickell Robey in the slot our starting lineup is more than solid, so the Bills don’t need to draft a CB early, but they definitely need to get some better back ups on the roster via Free Agency or a later round pick. If they can add a couple of solid pieces, that defensive backfield should be formidable indeed.
Current Grade: 2.5 Projected Grade in 2014: 4.0
I have only one thing to really say about this position: PAY THE MAN. Da’Norris Searcy is a decent player. Jim Leonhard is a solid backup. Aaron Williams is making the most of his transition from CB to strong safety. But, for crying out loud, Jairus Byrd made the pro bowl after missing the first 6 weeks of the season. He’s that good and he deserves a high paying contract. Keep him in Buffalo, do not let him walk away for money. We have the cap space, we need the player, so PAY THE MAN. If we have Aaron Williams, Jairus Byrd, Stephon Gilmore, and Leodis McKelvin on the field, our secondary will be a top 10 unit in the NFL. Keep Jairus Byrd in Buffalo. That is the only thing the Bills need to do at this position in the 2014 off season.
Current Grade: 4.0 Projected Grade in 2014: 4.5
That’s that for the defensive position breakdown in Buffalo. Once again, I’d like to remind everyone that the projected grades are based on the Bills front office taking my most wise advice. Since we all know that probably won’t happen, feel free to chime in with where you think they’ll be in 2014.