It is “do or die” time for the Buffalo Bills and their defensive line. We know the story of the highly-rated defensive tackles, the pass rush specialist and the highest paid defensive player of all-time. But the story, and the contracts, just aren’t adding up.
Through five games this season the Bills rank dead last in footballoutsiders.com defensive efficiency ratings. When you go beyond the numbers to the tape you see the problem starts upfront with the men who were supposed to key the Bills defensive turn around. It began in week one when Mario Williams had a favorable match-up against a NY Jets right tackle making his first pro-start ever. Instead of taking advantage of the situation it was the Bills who were dominated as Williams was whipped up and down the field all day. The results have only declined from there as the Bills have failed to make a dent in the high-powered offense of the New England Patriots and the ground attack of the San Fran 49ers. The Bills four defensive line starters have failed to live up to expectations so far this season and if they can’t get the job done when the Bills travel to Arizona this week then it will be time to write them off.
I wrote about the Bills defense in the offseason. While I tried to be optimistic for the sake of Bills fans, I had to point out that the gathering of these D-line parts the Bills’ had assembled would not guarantee any success. Remember that in 2010, Houston had both Mario Williams and Mark Anderson and they were one of the worst defenses ever. I don’t believe all is lost for the Bills, however.
They have looked terrible lately, but keep in mind the level of competition they have faced. New England is a dominant offense that knows the Bills well and has studied how to attack them. Going on the road to San Francisco will be a tough match-up for any team this year, remember that last week was only San Fran’s second home game this year – the other being a dominant win over the Detroit Lions that ended a lot closer than it actually was at 27-19. It is clear that any good team would have put up a better effort in either of those games, but we are past the point of talking about the Bills as a good team, and now need to turn our attention to salvaging some respectability and possibly reach .500 against a weak remaining schedule.
It is understandable for a team to get crushed by that schedule, and it is happening elsewhere in the league right now, yet nobody is pushing the panic button in Denver. That’s right, in three games versus top flight competition (Atlanta, Houston, New England) Denver has fallen behind by nearly 20 points early in each game. Peyton Manning was able to claw his way back into the game and make them look respectable, but the final scores were much closer than the games. The problem for the Bills is that we now have the last 14 games of evidence that Ryan Fitzpatrick is not going to lead a high-powered Bills attack. Over that time they are only 3-11. Making matters worse for the Bills this season is their injuries at running back. What began the year a dynamic 1-2 punch has deteriorated into a back field of replacement level players. If the Bills are going to make any turnaround it will have to come from the defense.
What is important for Buffalo is that the defense continues to take care of business against the bottom feeders of the league – or risk joining them. The Bills own a 2-3 record because they have played Kansas City and Cleveland, two of the league’s worst teams, and they have looked good against them.
Make no mistake that Arizona is also amongst the worst the league has to offer. The Cardinals record of 4-1 is deceiving – in reality they have only outplayed one of their opponents – the Eagles in week 2. There is a reason the Cardinals were only a 1-point favorite over the lowly St. Louis Rams on the road last week, and there is also a reason why the Cardinals looked like they had no chance to win once they fell behind by 7-0 in that same game, because they really didn’t. Nobody is fooled into believing this is a legitimate 4-win team this early in the season. The main reason for this doubt is because of their horrendous offensive line.
The Cardinals lost both of their starting offensive tackles prior to the season and they have had to patch together their line with players nobody else wanted, and it has shown. Over the last two games the Cardinals have giving up a stunning 17 sacks. This seems bad, but their pass blocking is not nearly as bad as their run blocking has been. The Cardinals as a team have failed to break the lowly average of 3 yards per rush in all but one game this season. Against the Seahawks this season their leading rusher was a receiver who had only one rushing attempt all game – and it went for 15 yards! Futility like this is just what the doctor ordered for the Bills defense.
The Bills have their backs against the wall. Even though they sit at 2-3 their recent performances place an added emphasis on this weeks match-up. It feels like the Bills need to do something to change the momentum of the season or they will get lost in a seemingly endless string of 6-10 performances. If the Bills defensive line has any juice at all then Sunday against the Cardinals will be the time to show it. A failure by the Bills D-line to impact the game this week will mean it is officially time to label them overpaid, and then start looking on toward next season.
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