Five weeks into the 2011 season, the Buffalo Bills are 4-1 and atop the AFC East. If it weren't for incredibly suspect officiating in the loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, the Bills would easily be undefeated at the moment.
The offense has been very productive through five games. The team is averaging 32.8 points per game (3rd in the league), with a ground game that has gashed opponents for 138.2 yards per game (4th overall).
The defense may be ranked 30th in total yards, but they are tops in arguably the most important statistical category: takeaways. The Bills have 16 takeaways, 12 via interceptions, with three defensive touchdowns. Defensive coordinator George Edwards has his guys playing opportunistic football, and it has been paying dividends for the club during its fast start.
One could make the argument that their formula is working, even if it isn't always pretty. The most glaring weakness heading into the season was the offensive line, which has actually been playing quite well. While the spread hides them a bit in not allowing many potential blitzers to play in the box, I've come away very impressed with individual performances.
Right tackle Erik Pears played a fantastic game against the Philadelphia Eagles speedy LE Jason Babin, consistently frustrating him and keeping him quiet all day.
At this point, the Bills' biggest shortfall is the team's inability to consistently generate pressure without blitzing. If the Bills want to take that next step toward improving the team, they don't necessarily have to wait until after the season. There is a player, probably available right now, that would be a great addition.
Cleveland Browns DE/OLB Marcus Benard is exactly what the doctor ordered.
The team does have one situational pass rusher in OLB Arthur Moats, who I do like as a 3rd-down specialist. However, Benard has been an unheralded, but productive player in the league since going undrafted out of Jackson State in 2009. As a rookie OLB in Eric Mangini's 3-4 scheme, he nabbed 3.5 sacks. Last season, despite only starting two games for Cleveland, he tallied 7.5.
Unfortunately for Benard, a change in coaching staff usually entails a change of scheme. New Browns head coach Pat Shurmur hired former Bills head coach Dick Jauron to install a 4-3 defense, which has misplaced the now defensive end.
Jauron was displeased with him for showing up to camp at 276 pounds, which was 20 pounds heavier than his previous playing weight. Jauron insisted he preferred speed at the position but also viewed him as a possible every-down player. Browns general manager Tom Heckert is clearly not as high on him, stating that he viewed him only as a situational player.
This has left the 6-2, 256-pound Benard as a rotation guy, and he has only nabbed half a sack in four games this season.
This is where the Bills could swoop in.
Linebackers Shawne Merriman and Chris Kelsay have proven to be solid run defenders and OK as pass rushers. I'm only looking for 15-20 snaps a game from a player that can generate some pressure and not let QBs get so comfortable.
While it would obviously be ideal to have a lockdown, DeMarcus Ware-type player at OLB, the Bills should be able to get by with a pass/rush rotation in Benard, Moats, and OLB Danny Batten.
With Benard struggling to make an impact as a defensive end in Cleveland, the Browns would most likely be willing to deal. Benard also just got into a motorcycle accident, causing him to break his hand with an unknown timetable for recovery.
I'd be willing to guess he'll be back in a month, which would allow for him to contribute during the stretch run. If worst came to worst, he could be stashed on injured reserve for the season and be ready for next year.
For what would most likely only cost the Bills a 5th-round pick, Buffalo would receive a 26 year old who accounted for 11 sacks during his first (and only) two seasons at OLB. For what it's worth, Profootballfocus noted that he got a QB pressure every 7.5 rushes last season. In comparison as noted by Rotoworld, Clay Matthews' ratio was 7.53.
He's currently on a one-year, exclusive rights free agent contract. This would mean that next season he would be a restricted free agent, making him a player that could easily be retained.
With the trade deadline next Tuesday, October 18, the Bills should be the team to act first and bring in another big piece of the puzzle.