Buffalo Bills: Defensive Preview – They could be top 10 in 2017
It has been 17 years since the Buffalo Bills have reached the playoﬀs. They stand alone at the top of the list of teams who have not made the playoﬀs in recent memory. The next closest team, the Cleveland Browns, are still 3 years ahead of the Bills putting their dysfunction into perspective. The rest of the division and all of their organized chaos has still fared better. The New York Jets have been awful, but 6 years ago made the playoﬀs. The Miami Dolphins and their circus, a wild card spot last season. In addition, do not forget about last year’s Super Bowl Champions, the New England Patriots who might be to blame. The Bills have not made the playoﬀs since Tom Brady entered the NFL.
But that all could change this season.
The problem with the Buffalo Bills is a direct link to poor management. Either they have had the players to be successful and not a great head coach (Rex Ryan) or they have had a coach who knew enough to make the team competitive but lacked key playmakers (Doug Marrone). After seasons of waiting, it appears the Bills may have both with new head coach Sean McDermott.
McDermott will bring big changes to Buﬀalo speciﬁcally on the defensive side of the ball. As a defensive coordinator with the Carolina Panthers, McDermott often engendered one of the better defenses in the league. Under Rex Ryan, the Bills defense seemed to take a step back. A once top tier defense in the league, struggled to put teams away and barely kept games close. McDermott will bring a toughness to their defense that could only help late in the season. Think back to the year’s cold weather teams such as Green Bay or Pittsburgh won Super Bowls; they had tough punishing defenses that made it hard for oﬀenses to get in a rhythm. If Buﬀalo wants to end their drought, building a punishing defense will be key.
Where do they start?
In 2017, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier is taking the Buffalo Bills back to a 4-3 defense. Doing so plays to the strength of their pass rushers as well as simpliﬁes their defensive playbook. Having the extra hand in the dirt will push a better rush across the line and allow their defenders to make more plays. One of the biggest beneﬁciaries of the new scheme will be Jerry Hughes. Hughes recorded double-digit sacks in his ﬁrst two seasons with the team and took a step backward as a coverage linebacker in the 3-4 defense. Expect last year’s ﬁrst round pick, Shaq Lawson, to excel under McDermott as well. At Clemson, Lawson shined in a 4-3 defense and became one of the top defenders in college football. Switching back to a defense that suits his strengths will only beneﬁt the Bills pass rush.
With their ﬁrst pick in the draft this year, McDermott made a statement. By trading down with the Kansas City Chiefs, the Bills picked up a second ﬁrst round pick in 2018. With the Chiefs consistently making the playoﬀs, it will more than likely be a late round pick. However, it gave the Bills ﬂexibility to build for the future should quarterback Tyrod Taylor struggle this season. If the Bills underperform, they would get their ﬁrst round pick to use on a quarterback and a late round pick more than likely to ﬁnd another playmaker on defense. McDermott is all about having building blocks for success, which started in this year’s draft.
With their pick at 27, the Buffalo Bills took arguably one of the best defenders in the draft in Tre’Davious White. White was a top cornerback last year at LSU allowing only 3 touchdowns all season. White is a tackling expert and will more than likely shut down yards-after-catch. With a pass happy AFC East, the Bills needed both a cover defender and run stopper. White should match up well against short routes and quick passes as well as limit the opposing oﬀenses deep ball threat.
Aside from playmakers, McDermott has to ﬁnd his starving athletes. He will need players that will want to make household names for themselves by cracking the starting lineup or stepping up late in the season should injuries occur. By adding depth to their lineup, it will not only create competition but also accelerate the learning curve of the NFL. Using this philosophy, the Buffalo Bills went out and used late round picks on two linebackers a clear position of need. With picks in the fifth and sixth round, the team selected LBs Matt Milano and Tanner Vallejo. Neither player will be starters this season but will have to ﬁght to make plays on special teams and earn their roster spot.
With each pick and oﬀseason move, unlike Rex Ryan McDermott has shown his hand in the direction he wants the team to go. Much like his now AFC East rival Adam Gase last season, he will have to change the culture in Buﬀalo. Building a strong, competitive defense that plays to the strength of its playmakers as well as developing depth with competition will only beneﬁt the team late in the season. With plenty of pieces in place already, Sean McDermott has everything needed to build a top defense. Will it pay oﬀ immediately or take a year or two to build?
Editor’s Note: This article can also be seen in our upcoming NFL Preview Edition.