Originally written on Buffalo Wins  |  Last updated 11/10/14

For about the last 15 years or so, everyone and their mother has been wondering when the Bills would find the next Jim Kelly? The QB position has been a black hole of futility since #12 hung up his uniform, and fans have grown tired of waiting for the next one. For pretty much the same time frame, I've been wondering where the next Bruce Smith is. Sure, Smith was here for 3 years after Kelly retired, but Smith was pretty much a shell of his former self during those years. And since he left, the Bills pass rush has been pretty anemic.

The only time they seemed to be able to get a pass rush was during Gregg Williams heyday, when he would send in the kitchen sink to blitz the opposing QBs. Forget Jauron's cover 2 defense. The Bills haven't been able to get a pass rush with their front four since the days of Bryce Paup and Smith.

  • Since 2007, the Bills have ranked 29th, 28th, 18th (4-way tie), 27th, and 27th (4-way tie) in sacks. Put it together and the Bills have had the least amount of sacks in the league during that time.
  • Also during that time span, the Bills have given up 23 points or more, 42 times out of 80 games.
  • The last time the Bills were ranked in the top 10 in defense was in 2004. Since then, 28 teams have been able to crack the top 10 (excluding: Bills, Rams, Lions, and Chiefs).
  • The Bills gave up over 400 yards in offense in 8 games last season.
  • Take out the 14 sacks they got against Denver/Washington and the Bills only had 15 sacks in 14 games.

Not good. Not good at all.

I have a lot of memories of sitting at McFaddens with my friend Scott, who would turn to me and say "No pressure" while rolling his eyes when Brady, Sanchez or Rivers would eat our secondary alive. Seriously, it was a weekly ritual. Different players or different rushers, same results. Since 2001, only one player has been able to get more than 10 sacks a year for the Bills and that was Aaron Schobel (4 times). Since 2007, the Bills LBs have accounted for 32 sacks. How bad is that? The Steelers LBs had 27 sacks...just in 2010. Any way you slice it, Bruce Smith and Cornelius Bennett are rolling over in their graves.

The NFL is a passing league and because of that, you need guys who are going to pressure the QB. Last year, 6 of the top 10 defenses in sacks went onto the playoffs. You know how many of the top 10 passing teams went to the playoffs? 7. Not that big of a difference. In 2010, the top two teams in sacks, Steelers and Packers, went to the Super Bowl. If you are good at one or the other, you will be successful. This is why the Bills signed Mario Williams and Mark Anderson. Amazingly, they are one of three NFL teams (Giants and Lions) that have three players on their roster with 10 sacks or more in a season (Williams, Merriman and Anderson).

By my count, the Bills have 10 defensive linemen on their roster who could contribute. They are worth almost 200-million bucks in contracts.

  • Chris Kelsay
  • Alex Carrington
  • Torell Troup
  • Marcell Dareus
  • Kyle Williams
  • Spencer Johnson
  • Dwan Edwards
  • Mario Williams
  • Mark Anderson
  • Shawne Merriman

10 players, four positions. That's a lot of bodies and not enough spots. Still, it is a nice problem to have in comparison to other problems the Bills defense has had over the years.

Who benefits most because of #94?
When Bruce Smith played in Buffalo for 15 years, he pretty much made Phil Hansen. Hansen, who will never be confused with being an all-pro, ranks 3rd all-time in sacks for the franchise (61.5). He may as well thank Bruce Smith for about 50 of those. When Smith was in his prime, so was Hansen. From 1992-1997, Hansen had 41 sacks. From 1998-2001, Hasen's sack total fell to 18.5. That's what you want out of your star DE, you want him to be able to make the guys around him better.

Obviously, we know what Mario Williams brings to the table. He's the outside rusher the Bills have been lacking forever. Spencer Johnson and Arthur Moats coming off the edge last year was an epic disaster. What makes this move even better is what it will do for the other guys on the DL. Who are you going to double? Mario, Kyle, Marcell? Someone is going to be free. I think Dareus will be loving life more than anyone else on the line. I think #99 had a solid rookie year, especially when you consider he did it with pretty much spare parts around him at different points. His 5.5 sacks were the most by a Bills rookie since Schobel in 2001. He has the talent to dominate the line of scrimmage. I'd give some love to Kyle Williams, but he's coming off a major injury. Chris Kelsay is also a consideration, but I've just never been a fan of his game. He played with Schobel over the years and it's not like he benefited all that much from it.

Wannstedt factor
As I've written in the past, Wannstedt knows a thing or two about defenses. In Dallas, Chicago, and Miami, Wannstedt's defenses were ranked in the top 12 eleven times, and never less than 20th overall. Judging by what he did in Dallas, Miami, and Chicago, Wannstedt is a big believer in having 8 men in the box, relying on his defensive line to put pressure on the QB, and having his corners be aggressive in bump and run coverage. He wants his defensive linemen to be quick. "Speed, speed, speed"...just like Mickey would yell during Rocky II's training montage. Remember the times his mentor, Jimmy Johnson, would preach about speed? That's what Wanny wants. When the Bills were getting their asses handed to them by the Cowboys (Crying), Big D' was big on having a defensive line rotation. Like the Bills, they had a rotation of 8-10 defensive linemen who would come in and out on any given possession. Sadly, I remember those d-lines.

Charles Haley was probably the best player on the d-line, as he would come off the edge with a burst of speed and was the Cowboys main pass rusher. He'd probably be our version of Mario Williams. Russell Maryland, Jimmy Jones, Tony Cassilas and Leon Lett rotated as defensive tackles. Maryland was the most talented of the foursome, as he was the 1st overall pick in the '91 NFL Draft. He was mostly known for his speed, but wasn't exactly the biggest DT you'd want. So no, he's not Marcell Dareus, who is a lot bigger. I'd say Lett was probably a lot more like Darues. Lett had the size and speed to be the best DT in the NFL. He had some issues, but by 1995, the dude was an All-Pro. Overall, the DTs for the Cowboys were faster than the Bills but not as big.

Who plays when?
I have absolutely no idea how the Bills plan on rotating their guys. If the Bills are facing a 3rd and long, who is rushing the QB? Normally, you'd like your best pass rushers on the field for this down. If we go by spring practices, the starting lineup was Mario-Kyle-Dareus-Anderson. Who would you take out on 3rd down? I would say maybe Kyle Williams because he's coming off a serious injury, but really, he can still go after the QB pretty well when at 100%. You could try lining Mario inside and then maybe bring in Shawne Merriman, but that would be counterproductive because Williams isn't big enough to take on guards or centers and you want him coming off the edge.  I can definitely see a situation where Kelsay and Anderson switch up. Anderson is a pass rush specialist while Kelsay is better at playing the run. I can see Troup, if he's healthy, playing on 3rd and short or goal line defense. As for Carrington, Edwards, and Johnson...um...help? All three are better suited at playing the run and aren't exactly known for going after the QB. You aren't taking K. Williams or Dareus out for those three, right? Honestly, the more I think about it, maybe they won't rotate as much. I mean, they didn't really rotate Jason Taylor or Tim Bowens in Miami, did they?

Chopping block
I love depth, but I can't see the Bills keeping all 10 of these guys. I think Merriman is safe because the Bills pretty much paid for most of his salary. Of course, if he gets injured during the preseason or training camp, all bets are off. Dwan Edwards is my choice to get sent packing. He's making 3.8 million bucks this year and that's just too much for a guy who is coming off the bench to make, especially since his forte is playing against the run. Normally, you'd like your bench guys to be able to rush the passer on 3rd down, and Dwan hasn't really been able to get after the QB since he's been here. Could it change with a more staked defensive line? Of course. But for 4 million bucks? I think you can find someone else. The same goes for Spencer Johnson, who is making 3 million a year and doesn't really bring much to the table besides the (awful) experience of playing OLB. Also going against him is that he wasn't picked by Nix/Gailey while Edwards was. The only way either guy stays IMO is if Troup and Carrington bomb out in training camp.

Obviously, we know that the 2nd and 3rd picks made by Nix have been major disappointments, but they have being cheap and being young on their side. To me, Troup is a bigger concern because he can't even get on the field. Troup missed 10 games last year because of a back injury and I can't recall him ever making a play since being here. When you hear him talk about how tough it was to get out of bed because of injuries, that becomes a major red flag. Even if he evolves, it is not like he'll be playing much cause Dareus and Williams are in front of him. As far as giving up on draft picks, keep in mind this is the same regime that cut Aaron Maybin and James Hardy after their 2nd years. As for Chris Kelsay, he has nude pictures of something bad that went down at Ralph Wilson Stadium in 2003 and has been guaranteed a roster spot forever as long as he keeps quiet. Kidding...maybe?

Injury concerns?
The Bills had 18 players on IR last year and three of them are from the defensive line (Kyle Williams, Troup and Merriman). Add Mario Williams to the list as well since his season was cut short after 5 games in Houston. Chris Kelsay, who is normally an ironman for this defense, missed four games last year. If you goto 2010, Dwan Edwards finished the season on IR as well. Overall, the Bills 10-man rotation have missed a combined 62 games since the start of 2010. Hmmm..Maybe they will keep everyone after all. Only Marcell Dareus hasn't missed a game on the Bills defensive line depth chart.

Merriman healthy??? Maybe?
This is when preseason hype gets to you. After last year, I was pretty much done with Merriman, but once you start hearing the interviews about how he's the healthiest he's ever been and you see the workout clips, you start getting trapped. "Hmmmm...maybe...just maybe...He'll get back to his dominate self." Of course, I wouldn't bet on it, as he's already missing practice. But let's just say that Mr. Miyagi did the same treatment he did to Daniel Larusso's leg in Karate Kid Part I to get his achilles back into shape. Look out. You are talking about Merriman and Williams coming off the edges. Of course, will he last? Him playing DE won't help him when it comes to the ache and pains of his achilles tendon. You will get beat up more when you are in a 3-point stance than when you are standing up as an OLB. Look for Merriman to play like 20 snaps a game and unlike last year, the Bills aren't going to be counting on him to be their speed rusher because they already have Williams and Anderson, which means, you don't have to crowbar #56 into the lineup as much if he's not 100%.

Final word:
It all starts up front. Yes, standard cliche, but it is completely true. If you get pressure on the QB or penetration through the line of scrimmage to stop the running game, it will make your LBs and secondary that much better. Simple as that or see the Giants success on defense. If healthy, the Bills defensive line should be able to get a constant pass rush with 4-men rushing the QB. That means no blitzing, meaning the secondary won't be in a position to get toast. If Mario Williams goes down, we are screwed. He will be the straw that stirs the defensive line drink. This defense has the capabilities of being a top 10 unit if healthy. They have more talented players on their defensive line than any other team in the division. If you wanna stop Tom Brady, you need to copy what the Giants did and be able to rush four guys. This is the blueprint the Bills hope to adapt. This needs to be a unit that will actually win games for the team. No more holding leads or praying we are playing some of those classic Browns teams or that Fitz will save our lives. They gotta dominate because their salary says so.

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