Throughout the first five games of the 2014 season, the Buffalo Bills have overcome several obstacles en route to a 3-2 record that leaves them tied for first place in the AFC East. In order to overcome those setbacks, several players have stepped up to make an impact. Of course, while a handful of players have risen to the occaision, there’s also a few players that had high expectations going into the season that have failed to meet them thus far.
Surprise: Jim Schwartz’ Defensive Scheme Halting Offenses
The Bills have loads of talent on the defensive side of the ball, so it’s not surprising that the unit is playing well. What is surprising is the fact that Jim Schwartz’ unit is not only shutting down the run, but also tied for first in sacks. Mike Pettine’s scheme from a season ago emphasized pressuring the quarterback, but the recklessness of the blitz calls led to the team giving up the most 20+ yard plays in the league.
This year, the front seven is much more gap-concious, which has let the players use their talent to create pressure, rather than scheming for it.
Schwartz has done a good job mixing up coverages and clouding the middle of the field, allowing the cornerbacks to play man coverage on the outside and limiting big plays.
Disappointment: Offensive Line
Doug Marrone came to the Bills as a former offensive lineman that coached the position, but the unit is one of the worst in the league, particularly at the guard positions. Erik Pears has been arguably the worst offensive lineman in the National Football League, and the team is starting two rookies (fifth-round pick Cyril Richardson and seventh-round pick Seantrel Henderson).
EJ Manuel and Kyle Orton have only been sacked seven times, but the offensive line has allowed them to be hit 22 times and pressured another 33 times. Inside runs have been largely ineffective (3.6 yards-per-carry), due to the fact that the guards lack the movement skills to pull on trap blocks, and haven’t been able to get a push.
Surprise: OT Seantrel Henderson
When the Bills selected Cyrus Kouandjio in the second-round of the draft, it was widely assumed that he’d be the immediate starter at right tackle. Instead, seventh-round pick Seantrel Henderson has handled that responsibility, while Kouandjio has been a healthy scratch in each game.
Henderson, a 6’7” 340 pounder was widely viewed as a Top-50 pick, based on talent alone, but off-field concerns caused him to fall to the seventh-round. While he hasn’t been flawless, he’s made big strides each week and looks like a future Pro Bowler on the right side of the Bills’ offensive line.
Disappointment: CB Nickell Robey
Last season, Nickell Robey was probably the biggest surprise in terms of impact on the defensive side of the ball. In Mike Pettine’s pressure scheme, Robey was constantly put in a position to make plays, where his lack of size was “hidden” for the most part. This year, Jim Schwartz is playing more of a “read-and-react” scheme, where Robey has been exploited by opposing offenses.
In the first five games, Robey has allowed 14-of-17 passes to be caught for 398 yards, while opposing quarterbacks are posting a 118.8 passer rating when targeting him.
Surprise: LB Preston Brown
When the Bills selected Preston Brown, a 260-pound middle linebacker out of Louisville, it was believed that he’d get a “redshirt” as a rookie, as he learned the position behind Brandon Spikes. However, things quickly changed when Kiko Alonso tore his ACL and Nigel Bradham was suspended for the first game, forcing Brown into a major role on the Bills’ defense.
Through five games, Brown has played the most defensive snaps of any player (343) and has looked very good, playing the “Will,” the “Sam” and serving as the primary Nickel linebacker. Brown’s 43 tackles are currently the 11st most in the league, but it’s where he’s made those tackles that’s most impressive. ProFootballFocus’ credited Brown with 15 “stops.”