Is bend but don't break broken?
The Bills have stubbornly maintained that their zone scheme surrenders yards but not points, a claim actually somewhat reinforced by the statistics.
But there were still far too many lapses in coverage and weak games overall last season to assume that this allegedly smothering approach can steer this team into the playoffs, much less ensure triumph once it gets there.
All those long drives Buffalo seemed to yield aren't just an exaggerated painful memory: The defense truly let teams gain territory almost at will last season. The Bills finished second-to-last in yards relinquished with 362.9 yards per game, ahead of only the traditionally woeful Lions. It's not that they excelled in one of the two areas of defense, either, ending up 25th in rushing yardage and 29th in passing. Offenses skewed their averages high both running and throwing while facing the Bills.
However, opponents didn't always march all the way to the end zone or even to a spot where they could successfully attempt a field goal: Buffalo was right near the middle in scoring defense. They allowed 22.1 points per game, meaning they were 15th in the category.
That would seem to mean that, even though they gave up yards in chunks, the Bills held strong and effectively kept the other team's production low in the category that counts. Unfortunately, the truth is that they were weak when it counted.
For one, they gave up 4.8 yards per carry and 416 yards overall in Jacksonville, contributing to a defeat that seriously dented their playoff aspirations. Those slim hopes were officially dashed three weeks later after their loss to the Browns, during which they let the home team gain 174 yards on the ground at a rate of 4.7 per try while allowing Derek Anderson to pass for 137 yards in Yukon-style weather conditions. The Bills were bad in regards to allowing other teams to move the ball in general, and even worse during the season's most crucial games.
And everyone remembers the five interceptions and one fumble recovery the Bills managed in the Monday night loss to the Dallas, but the amazing turnover generation was superseded by the fact that the defense allowed three fourth-quarter scores. It's tough to keep a foot on an adversary's throat when the majority of the players are stationed well downfield in a prevent-style defense; instead of continuing to hound the Cowboys, defensive coordinator Perry Fewell decided to revert to his passive tendencies, which led not to a win for the visitors as much as a huge loss for the home squad.
The reality is that the Bills were horrible in yards conceded and only mediocre at stopping scores, minimizing the impressiveness of the disparity. Being less bad in terms of points than yards is better than the other way around, but it's still not very good.
Simply, what they're doing now isn't ultimately effective, and the only option is to tweak the approach. Fewell needs to forget the prideful way he refuses to step out of the philosophy and instead mix in some aggression, specifically by letting the linebackers blitz occasionally. Players at the position only totaled six sacks in 2007, a symptom of an inert defense whose members need to be unleashed every so often. If nothing else, it would be nice for fans to be able to cheer for a group of vicious pursuers who attack their foes instead of waiting for the offense to make a move first.