Editor’s note: This is the final installment in a three part series that Dustin Haefele is doing, taking a look at each of our divisional foes. If you missed the previous write-ups, check them out here: Dolphins | Jets.
No matter how we feel about the Patriots, or our chances this year, the fact is that they have dominated the AFC East over the last decade. Eight division championships in the last ten years give them that title hands down. As we all know the good thing about football is that there is always another year, and our other year is now! So how do we knock them off the top and stake our claim to the peak of this division?
Step 1: Win the Dog Fight
To answer your first question, no, this doesn’t have anything to do with Michael Vick. I’m talking about a good old fashion WWI air battle that will go on in every game against the Patriots. In the past five years the Patriots have ranked 2nd, 11th, 3rd, 12th, and 1st respectively. Even in their worst passing year, which was under Matt Cassel because of Brady’s injury, was still a pretty good year. So they are going to go to the air and they are going to do it often.
Here’s the good news: the Bills, over the last few off-seasons, have been setting themselves up as a defense that can defend the pass. The start to this turn around was through the draft. In the past two drafts the Bills have picked up four corners and a safety, including a first and a second round pick on big physical corners Aaron Williams and Stephon Gilmore. That is over a quarter of their recent draft picks addressing pass defense specifically. The next step was twofold: Free Agency and a 4-3 switch. If you watched teams like the Giants or the 49ers last year you know that a good pass rush helps the secondary about as much as anything. With the players we have on the D-line, as well as Wannstedt as the new coordinator, the switch to the 4-3 is a logical move. The Bills have been taking the right steps and definitely have the weapons defensively to win this battle, but they still have to do it on Sundays.
Step 2: Balanced Attack
The Patriots have had a pretty horrendous pass defense in the past couple of years, but their run defense hasn’t been anything great either, ending last year at 20th in the league, and giving up over 110 yards per game on the ground. With the two headed monster of Fred and CJ in the backfield we have to attack on the ground as well as in the air.
That being said, attacking in the air is still important. Over the past five years the Patriots pass defense has been steadily getting worse. From 2007-2011 they have ranked 6th, 11th, 12th, 30th, and 31st respectively. For the past ten years people have been talking about the “Patriot way” when it comes to the draft, but this is the very thing that has driven their pass defense into the ground. I just don’t believe that you can consistently improve, and build a good defensive unit, by trading out of the first round year after year. I think that they saw the same thing, and this year they shook that trend. I expect their pass defense to get better because of this, but it’s not going to turn around in one year.
In all of the excitement about Mario Williams everyone seems to have forgotten about a guy named Mark Anderson. Yes, he is mentioned as a side note after talking about how great it is to have Mario, but I think he is more important than that. Not only does he finish up the building of a great defensive line, but in the process we took away the best pass rusher, and sack leader from the Patriots, leaving their pass defense in even more trouble.
What worries me: Tom Brady
No matter how many times we make fun of him for doing ads for Ugg, or how many times we tweet “Brady is a lady,” he is still one of the best quarterbacks this league has ever seen. I always hate to admit that but it’s true. And every game that he plays in, the Patriots chances to win go up dramatically. So, Brady definitely does scare me, and he probably always will. But I don’t want to wait for him to retire; I want to take this division now. It will be far more satisfying to steal the division from his grip then to take it after he walks away.
What encourages me: The Entire Bills Organization
From the front office doing what it takes and spending the money that it takes to really build a team, down to almost every player showing up for OTAs this year, I am encouraged by this Bills family as a whole. The attitude inside the organization is about winning; it’s about getting back to the glory days of playoff appearances, and talking about how we won that last game instead of what we could have done to win. I think Stevie Johnson put it best in a recent interview when he said “It’s only so long that you can be the old Bills that are getting beat around in this conference, it’s time to turn it around and take over and I think we got the team that can do it this year. So why not go out there, go hard, and try to take this division.” That attitude throughout the locker room is something that we haven’t seen for a long time. This is our year! Let’s Go Buffalo!
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