We’re waiting to learn whether we hate Mike Pettine for leveraging his impressive performance into a better job or admire him for loyally remaining in Buffalo. It all hinges on whether he wants to be the next to get fired after a season or so of trying to extinguish Cleveland’s present inferno.
Of course, it’s hard to begrudge someone for getting a promotion based on demonstrated success, although it’s the nature and duty of fans to at least kind of hate the guts of anyone who leaves. The Bills Mafia will end up being glad he either was or is still here. For once, fans had their preseason excitement about one of the team’s aspects justified, even if it didn’t result in anything cool like more wins or something.
At the least, the defense look better compared to everyone else. The cloaked arrangements were effective enough for a 10th-best finish in yards per game. The fairly paltry 333.4 yards allowed looked even better compared to the 362.9 they permitted the year before, when they finished an underwhelming 22nd. Dave Wannstedt is a great coordinator both to face and follow.
The defense didn’t just register a smaller, better number: they also appeared to know why they were hired. Buffalo was organized as they perpetrated chaos. The 2012 employees resembled employees of a restaurant where nobody knew if they were supposed to cook, serve, or clear tables. Now, this kitchen is in the verge of getting Michelin stars if they can avoid losing too much staff, which is the wrong kind of turnover.
It’s relatively harder to measure those stopping the ball from moving. But there are some fair measures of how little damage was allowed. A team’s tackling leader is hopefully predictable: anyone but an inside linebacker means bad news. Buffalo fit the ideal, as Kiko Alonso, destroyer of worlds, finished third- in the NFL. The best legends are based in truth, and Alonso truly acted as an ominous menace to opponents. Fans picture him spending his offseason sitting in a chair waiting until he’s allowed to hit running backs again.
The unit didn’t settle for just forcing punts. Sure, a defense can successfully curtail drives without registering interceptions, but stealing passes is a continuation of the daring tone set by pass-rushers. As a result, the lurking predators totaled the second-most picks in the league. The thieving defender usually does so because he possesses the foresight to see where it’s supposed to land, so here’s to successfully predicting the future.
Fans also enjoyed passes that weren’t even attempted. The Bills finally got sacks, as they also finished second overall in that category with 57. Recall that they only managed 36 a year before to fully appreciate the calculated relentlessness.
Defending plays with hand-offs didn’t go quite as well, as the Bills conceded a mediocre 128.9 ground yards per game. A somewhat permissive run defense could be a tradeoff of aggression plus the versatility afforded by not always using four conventional linemen.
At the same time, stopping runs sooner might not be a matter of scheme but personnel. Adding another ferocious interior linebacker with the ninth overall pick might be just what this defense needs to improve on being really good.
Belligerence with focus should remain the principle even if the front office must again post a Craigslist ad to fill the coordinator vacancy. The Bills must at least keep up the onslaught from novel locales, whether it’s Pettine or the successor setting the tone. The willingness to take calculated risks should be this club’s only predictable aspect.