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Not surprisingly, this area will require a little more convincing. The defense is coming off two of the worst statistical seasons in team history. In 2011, the team finished 30th in points conceded and 26th in terms of yardage allowed. The concern is this represented a step back from the 2010 campaign when they were ranked 28th and 24th, respectively, in the same categories.
Given these dire statistics things can only get better, with encouragement coming from the fact that in today’s NFL you don’t need to have a dominant defense to succeed as long as your offense is clicking. For proof of this, look no further than the two teams who secured home-field advantage for this season’s playoffs. While the Green Bay Packers finished dead last in passing yards allowed and overall, the New England Patriots finished 31st in these very same categories.
However, both teams managed to finish middle of the pack for actual points conceded, and this is where new defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt will need to improve fortunes. Whatever his shortcomings might have been as an NFL head coach, there is little doubt of his pedigree on the defensive side. In his last NFL stop at the Miami Dolphins, the defense averaged out as the sixth-best in the league over five-and-a-half seasons.
One move that should assist any improvement is the likely change from a 3-4 to a 4-3, which should help showcase further the monster talents of 2011 third-overall pick Marcell Dareus and help the defense put more pressure on the opposing quarterback.
This would in turn help the secondary, led by Jairus Byrd, return to their opportunistic ways of 2009, when they finished second in the NFL with 28 interceptions. There were signs of this during the first half of last season, but the loss of turnovers coincided with the nightmare 1-7 finish to the campaign.
Finally, as any team needs to enjoy some good fortune during a winning campaign, let’s throw out another outrageous prediction: Shawne Merriman will fight back from his injury troubles of the previous four seasons, in part aided by the fact he will be playing for a new contract. After showing promise during the 2011 preseason, he again succumbed to a setback with an Achilles tendon. If the former San Diego Charger can return to anywhere near his form of 2005-07, the Bills will reap the benefits.