The Buffalo Bills defense went through a lot of changes this offseason, but they'll have to wait to see if those changes paid off. Their woeful defensive performance on Sunday against the New York Jets proved that a pair of defensive ends, a first-round cornerback and a scheme change weren't enough to spell instant success.
The Bills were wise to focus so stringently on their pass defense. Teams have been running the ball at them much more frequently than they've been throwing, but when you play in the same division as quarterback Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, a stout pass defense is important.
The Bills played tougher against the run than they have in years past, holding the Jets to 118 yards on 36 carries (3.28 yards per carry), but their struggles against the run more than made up for any success they enjoyed against the pass.
There's enough blame to go around: the defensive line failed to get pressure, logging zero sacks of Sanchez on the day; the cornerbacks struggled to cover the Jets pass-catchers, namely rookie Stephon Gilmore, who bit on a pump fake and gave up a touchdown to wide receiver Stephen Hill.
In fact, perhaps the best defensive performances from the Bills came against quarterback Tim Tebow and the Wildcat offense (five rushes, 11 yards for Tebow).
Bills defensive end Mario Williams generated nearly no pressure on the day; he blames his performance on the referees, who he says missed several holding calls.
"Pass blocking doesn't include hands to the face," Williams said, according to The Buffalo News. "When someone tells the officials that, and they just walk away, or they don't call it, that is disheartening."
Regardless of the impact of those calls—and we'll never know exactly—the defense was not put into good position by an offense that turned the ball over four times by the third play of the second half. After a drive following the opening kickoff, the Jets started their next four drives on the 39-, 48-, 20-, 47- and Buffalo's 48-yard lines.
That won't happen every week, and the Bills will have some easier competition than the Jets elite defense every week.
Make no mistake, the Bills defense deserves its share of scrutiny. Ideally, they don't continually have to start at midfield, but ideally, the defense makes a stop or two on those drives to bail the offense out. Without such consistently bad field position for the defense, though, perhaps the performance would have been better overall.
Although defensive end Mark Anderson deserves credit for the pressure that forced an errant throw by Sanchez that led to his only interception, the pass rush was not as strong as it was expected to be. Defensive tackles Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams weren't getting much push up the middle, either, which only made it easier for Sanchez to step into his throws.
The lack of pressure also exposed the secondary, with cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore, Leodis McKelvin and Aaron Williams all giving up their share of catches and yards. The secondary was always more of a question mark than was discussed, simply as a result of so much youth and turnover at cornerback, but it was hoped the pressure from the front four would help alleviate those concerns.
When they start playing complementary football, we will get a better idea of exactly where this defense stands.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained first-hand.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!