The Bills’ DBs: Young…and good?

The Bills' secondary is a mix of good and bad, old and unproven. It is a perfect Pu Pu platter. I'm not sure what we have with the secondary. I think we have potential, but we also have a lot of hype. Gilmore has gotten a ton of recognition because of when he was selected. Remember the hype Leodis McKelvin got in 2008? Um, yeah, it was crickets. No one really went apeshit about him. Same goes for Aaron Maybin. Gilmore, on the other hand, has gotten a lot of hype this preseason. The same goes for our safeties. Just a ton of PR. PR means I have to add some reality into the Kool-Aid.

Improvements on the D-line and what they can do for the team has been a recurring theme in my writing. If your D-line can get pressure, your secondary will be better. To me, that's the reason why the Bills' pass defense has been anemic over the last 3 years. Keep in mind the numbers (18th worst last year) don't tell the whole story because the Bills were even worse against the run (28th). The opponents' offenses could pretty much take their pick on how to attack.  The Bills were only thrown on 507 times last year (tied for 24th), but they gave up 7.7 yards a completion, tied for 8th highest. The Bills were run on 29.2 times a game, ranking 9th, and gave up 19 rushing TDs, which was tied for 2nd most. That should tell you that the Bills' pass defense ranking was misleading because offenses often just choose to run against us.

If that doesn't convince you that the pass defense was bad last year, how about when Jason Campbell – yes, the immortal Jason Campbell! – threw for 323 yards against us. Remember Tom Brady throwing for over 800 yards and 7 touchdowns in his two games last year against us? Matt Moore? Don't ask because the answer is 5 touchdowns and a QB rating of 127.3!

 Here is more hot garbage:

  • The Bills gave up 30 passing touchdowns last year, tied for 3rd most in the league.
  • They gave up passing plays of 40+ yards or more 11 times.
  • They gave up 13 touchdowns to tight ends.
  • The Bills had 14 picks after 7 games and only 6 in the final 9 games.

I could go on, but I think you get the picture. Never has a secondary that got burned so much in the previous season gotten so much love during an offseason/training camp. I get how people are excited about Stephon Gilmore. Some people think Aaron Williams will be just fine. I had Pro Football Focus or some website, tell me that George Wilson and Jairus Byrd are the 5th best safety tandem in the league. That's a lot of love to give to a unit that was burned a lot last year. Of course, if you believe the theory about pass rushing being the secondary's best friend, then you can probably overrate. Frankly, this unit could go two completely different ways: It could be the magic X-factor for the Bills defense or it could be the most overrated unit on the team.

Great DL means better DBs?
That is a theory I hear a lot, but it probably has not been researched enough. What about for the rest of the NFL? The top 10 defenses against the pass last year were the Steelers, Browns, Texans, Ravens, Jets, Chiefs, Rams, Jags, Eagles, and Bengals. Four of those teams were in the top 10 in sacks (Ravens, Eagles, Texans and Bengals). However, the Jags, Chiefs, and Browns were in the bottom 8. But then again, I could probably name you like, 2 DBs on those bottom 8 teams. The Minnesota Vikings had 50 sacks last year and yet, they were 23rd against the pass and only had 8 interceptions. How can you only have 8 picks when your team had 50 sacks?! The Packers had 31 picks but only had 29 sacks. The Giants, who many – myself included – have used as a prime example of being able to get a pass rush with your front four, had 48 sacks last year and yet, they had the 4th worst pass defense. Hmm..I hate to say it, but I may be a little off in automatically assuming the Bills secondary will be fixed with a better rush.


Wilson/Byrd: Overrated or that good?
I'm not a defensive coordinator, but I think that in order to stop the opposing tight end, you want to have a LB chip him at the line of scrimmage upon his release and then have the safety waiting for the TE about 5-7 yards down the field to cover. If I am wrong, please write so in the comments section. With that being said, we all know the Bills have had major issues in covering the TEs over the years. Last year, the Bills gave up 82 catches for 1075 yards and 13 touchdowns. In 2010, the TE position burned the Bills for 66 catches good for 803 yards and 11 touchdowns. So, isn't this the safeties' responsibility?

Look, Byrd is a good player. He plays well in run support and he's growing into a much more polished all-around DB, especially in the physicality department. However, I'm smelling Christian Ehrhoff here. Yes, I'm going down the hockey rabbit hole. When Christian came here last year, I was expecting a powerplay specialist and a guy who was going to score a lot. Compared to his previous career numbers he was a disappointment offensively. Everyone claimed, however, that he had a great year because he was a steady d-man. Some nights Robie would drool all over the telestrator while showing us how well he cleared the zone. That sounds a lot like Byrd. People salivate at what he delivers to the team, and says what he does does not show up in the box score.  Yet, he's only had four picks in his last two years. Yet, the TE position has burned us. Yet, defenses still ran all over us.  Yet, yet, yet.

Byrd has also played on some really bad defenses, which hasn't helped, but on the other hand, if he's that good, shouldn't the defense be that much better? A bunch of Internet number-crunchers explain why he's so good, and frankly, I hate those people. Kidding. But really, I go by what I see on the field. Is he good? Yes. But I still have to see more of it on the field to put him in the top 8 category. I guess I'm spoiled by seeing the likes of Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu.

This will be a huge year for Byrd, as he's heading into free agency and he'll be getting around 6-7 million a year. As of now, I'm not really sure he's worth the money because I don't think he's as good as everyone has been saying. Also, I don't know how much stock we should put into safeties in this day and age. The TEs are eating the safeties alive in this league and the days of having a real physical safety (think Ronnie Lott) are over. Teams spread the field a lot and you don't have much of an opportunity to support the run or lay on major hits. I mean, how important are safeties? After Ed Reed and Troy Polamula, it is kind of a position that dies, really. 

Getting back to Byrd, he is going to have a much better defense around him now so, he should be better this year. However, don't tell me he's a top 5 safety. I need to see more plays. As for Wilson, he's a great story. I don't think he gets enough credit for the way he plays because everyone is on Byrd's jock. He had more picks and tackles last year than Byrd, but all anyone talks about is him being the nicest guy on the team. This duo had the most tackles combined of any safety combo in the league. But again, how good are tackles really if you make them 10 yards down the field? Also, keep in mind that George Wilson was ranked 85th in pass deflections (10) and Byrd was 116th. As you can see, I'm all over the place with the duo. I like them, but I think they may be getting too much credit. I think we will finally see just how good these safeties are this year with a better cast around them. One thing is for sure, they are the strongest part of the secondary. I'm not sure that is saying much though with the rest of the unproven DBs.


Thrown to the fire
Speaking of the unproven DBs, I'm still not a big of fan of the Bills cutting ties with Drayton Florence. I think they are asking an awful lot from 4 corners ( Justin Rogers, Stephon Gilmore, Aaron Williams, and Ron Brooks) who have 7 starts between them. Keep in mind, if we go by last year (because I'm not sure who is starting at CB for all 31 NFL teams this year), the six starts between our #1 (Gilmore) and #2 (Williams) corners would be the lowest number of starts for any CB duo in the NFL.

I'm not saying Florence is All-World now, but I think they are throwing too many young kids into the fire. The Bills are going against what they normally do when they draft rookie DBs in the first round. In the 90's, Thomas Smith and Jeff Burris (both former 1st round picks) didn't start as rookies and were mostly used as the 3rd or 4th corner. They became starters in their second year. Go to Winfield and Clements. They started their rookie years, but it was only because of season-ending injuries to Ken Irvin around the midpoint of the season. Leodis McKelvin only started his rookie year after Jabari Greer went down with an injury. None of these 1st round corners were starters from day 1. Even in SD, their first round cornerbacks had the same job duties during their first year. Quentin Jammer didn't start from day 1 (Only 4 starts rookie year). Antonio Cromartie didn't start any games as a rookie. Antonie Cason only started 3 games.

Gilmore is the exception.

I'm sure we have all read about Gilmore by now and what he's supposed to bring to the table. He's an athletic corner with a mix of speed and toughness. The toughness part is good since Dave Wannstedt's CBs have always been known to play physical with WRs upon release. However, he's a rookie and you know how I feel about prospects. I think it is a lot to ask for him to go against the best WRs in the game. I'm sure there will be growing pains and he'll probably make some good and bad plays. Everyone has said he's looked great at camp. Just don't expect him to be All-Pro his first year.

As for Aaron Williams, I haven't seen enough to really say anything about him. I know he's been picked on a lot in camp and what not. He started last year towards the end of the season and he wasn't terrible, although he wasn't exactly good either. Again, it goes back to the old story of young guy getting love from fans. Still need more to see. Ron Brooks and Justin Rogers? Same thing. We don't know much about them. Only thing I can tell you about Brooks was in this Q&A. That's pretty much the theme for the Bills' CBs. We just don't know much about them.


The last stand (again)
How many years now have we been talking about Leodis McKelvin making a stand? 2010 and 2011. Those were supposed to be the years he made strides. Alas, he's got bust written all over him. Unlike years past, he's not your #1 or #2 cornerback. Last year, the poor guy started out as a starter, then, after getting torched weekly, was demoted to just being a special teams guy. It was an ugly year for the guy. The book on Leodis remains the same: He has the speed you want in a corner and most of the time, he's there to make a play on the ball, but his ball instincts are the instincts of a nerdy virgin trying to get laid. He's a free agent after this year and this is his final chance.

Another guy who is facing his last stand is Terrence McGee. I've pretty much written him off for this year, as he's missed 22 of his last 48 games. It is too bad. On some of those awful teams of the 2000's, McGee was a pretty decent cornerback. He went from being an electric kick returner to being a staple as the #1 or 2 corner from 2004-2010. But I think being used so much is the reason why he's on his last leg. Being a kick returner is a tough business. If he can hold up, he'll be a decent dime DB. However, I just don't think he'll crack the double digits in games played.

Final word:
Yeah, I'm being hard on the DBs, but really, after our safeties, the rest of the CBs are unproven or subpar. I think the secondary will be better this year as the pass rush should help. However, I'm still not feeling the youth movement they have going on. You don't go into a youth movement at the cornerback position when you are in such a pivotal year for the franchise. Just seems odd how much they are putting their stock in these young corners. I would have liked it if they had at least one veteran back there who could play and not get hurt. With the heat being turned up from the D-Line, I can already envision the fanbase putting pressure on the secondary. Everyone loves the front four right now. They are the new expensive kids on the block. We know they are good. The secondary? We will see. I do know if someone gives up big plays in the passing game like last year, there's no way the pass rush will get the blame again. It will come down on the young guys.

Welcome to the NFL.

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The Lord of Buffalo Wins