The unit is a work in progress, which is to be expected with so much turnover from last year, both in the front seven and on the back end, as well as the installation of a new scheme.
The problem is, with so much talent from front to back, it wasn't to be expected.
2011 second-round pick Aaron Williams and 2012 first-round pick Stephon Gilmore are the two starters at cornerback for the Buffalo Bills. They're both high picks, but that's two starters at the same position with a combined one year of NFL experience.
Young players are bound to make mistakes, and with two young players on the perimeter of the defense, those mistakes will result in big plays.
One play in particular, a 35-yard bomb to veteran wide receiver Michael Jenkins, highlighted Williams. He stayed with Jenkins step-for-step all the way through the route, but Jenkins got a jump-start on the release of the ball.
Williams had an opportunity to make the play. If he had noticed when Jenkins turned his head around looking for the ball (the above frame), he would have known to turn his head around as well.
Instead, he didn't turn his head until 10 yards after Jenkins initially turned his head to look for the ball (the first frame of the above sequence), and therefore, wasn't ready when the ball had nearly arrived. As a result, Jenkins got a jump start on the timing of the throw as well as the timing of his jump.
Granted, that was a beautiful throw by Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder, who put it up for Jenkins in a jump-ball situation, but if Williams had looked for the ball, he would have had a better shot of at least disrupting the play by either getting in position or timing his jump better.
But it wasn't all on them. In fact, a lot of it had to do with taking bad angles to the ball-carrier and poor tackling overall.
Tim Graham did an excellent job outlining the big plays given up by the Bills and points out that most of them were of the catch-and-run variety. Those aren't always on the cornerbacks; that could be a result of poor tackling from either defensive backs or linebackers, or from a lack of pressure up front as well.
As we find out by watching the tape, all three involved a missed tackle.
For those keeping score at home, the culprits on those missed tackles were (from left to right) linebacker Bryan Scott, cornerback Stephon Gilmore and linebacker Kelvin Sheppard.
And that's not accounting for the preseason highlight of the century...
...where Jairus Byrd was made to look like a fool with his face on the ground after being leaped by Vikings wide receiver Jerome Simpson.
If comments from Bills defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt are any indication, those big plays need to be addressed.
Wannstedt said, according to The Buffalo News:
The big plays were a little disturbing, and when you've got a couple of young players—Aaron Williams is almost like a rookie and Stephon [Gilmore] is a rookie—at two critical positions, they're going to be tested every week, and they're going to see things that are new for them. We're going to have to work through that and get them caught up to minimize the big plays.
Wannstedt added that he wasn't overly concerned with the big plays, except the two given up on the outside (the Jenkins catch highlighted above and the Simpson highlight), but if the missed tackles are any indication, that should be a concern for him, as well.
The only problem is, you can't practice tackling in training camp. These problems could go away as the team gets more used to taking angles and wrapping up at full speed, but the fact that so many of the big plays came over the middle could be indicative of a weakness at linebacker, specifically in the nickel package.
Besides, the big plays through the passing game weren't the only big plays the Bills gave up. They gave up a pair of long scrambles—41 and 23 yards apiece—to Vikings quarterback Joe Webb.
"I was pleased when you look at the running game," Wannstedt told reporters Tuesday after practice, according to The Buffalo News. "I was telling Chan, 'Quarterbacks are not going to scramble like that kid did.' So I put that to rest. I take fault for that. I underestimated what a great athlete that kid Webb was. The minute that we adjusted our rush and said 'We're going to go back to a specific deal to contain him,' we sacked him once. So we're going to rush the passer good."
Now, they have played well against the run, allowing 247 yards on 59 carries (4.2 yards per carry) this preseason, with 64 yards of that coming on two rush attempts by Webb. Without those two scrambles, the Bills would be giving up 3.2 yards per carry—a full yard less than their average thus far in the preseason.
But let's turn our attention to the curious statement that "quarterbacks are not going to scramble like that kid did," because now that quarterbacks have seen how poorly the Bills defense (albeit the second team) handled Webb scrambling, they might want to consider it.
The Bills, as Wannstedt points out, were able to adjust their game plan and settled things down a bit. But it's clear that there are a few adjustments that still need to be made before this defense is ready to take the field in the regular season.