These changes, though, are more philosophical than personnel-related. Buffalo does not have the manpower to be a playoff team within its base defense anymore. Blame an easy start to its schedule fictionalizing the D's true talent. Blame the injuries (there's been plenty). Blame Leodis McKelvin for dropping that pick last week. Whatever the reason, it's clear now that the Bills' base packages are not sufficient. Against Cleveland, defensive coordinator Perry Fewell hinted that much. On one occasion, the entire front four started a play upright like linebackers instead of getting down in a stance.
One solution was semi-successful. Fewell blitzed Browns' quarterback Brady Quinn throughout the 29-27 loss. Buffalo only sacked Quinn once, but did fluster him with consistency. Quinn only completed 14 of 36 passes. For the first time in awhile, the Bills forced an opposing quarterback to throw on the run. While there's a chance Fewell brought heat only because he was facing Quinn – a second-year quarterback making only his second-ever start – last Monday was probably more of a sign of things to come.
The central force of the blitz-heavy gameplan is free agent acquisition Kawika Mitchell.
Mitchell has the potential to be one-man wrecking crew. Against the Browns, he logged one sack and multiple pressures, including one that should have led to a turnover. Trailing 26-20 with seven minutes left, Mitchell bolted through the line untouched to Quinn, forcing a high floater that Ko Simpson barely missed for an interception.
It was one positive the Bills were able to take from their crushing defeat to the mediocre Browns. The opposing quarterback did not have all day to throw the football. The Bills stunted and blitzed Mitchell and even Paul Posluszny at points throughout the game to disrupt rhythm. Of course, such a strategy is only effective if your cornerbacks can lock down receivers one-on-one. While Braylon Edwards did surpass 100 yards, Terrence McGee made a handful of key breakups to halt Browns drives – totaling 6 PD for the game. The Bills can pair McGee with Dwayne Bowe one-on-one this week in confidence.
The other cornerback spot is another story. McKelvin played better against the Browns, but remains unreliable and Reggie Corner is a fringe ‘nickel' player at best right now. Without Jabari Greer manning the other cornerback spot, Fewell may be hesitant to send Mitchell and others on blitzes – especially with Tony Gonzalez lurking across the middle.
Release the hounds. Buffalo needs to play without anything to lose. The last four weeks have been one, massive tentative blur. Offensively and defensively, the Bills are playing not-to-lose --- head coach Dick Jauron's career criticism. From Trent Edwards settling for checkdowns all game against Cleveland to Chad Pennington cozily operating against a four-man rush all game a few weeks ago, the Bills have been playing scared. Blitzing more often is the perfect way to change this culture.
Mitchell is the ideal starting point. He's fast, aggressive and doesn't dance around pass protections. Mitchell flies to the ball. Through 10 games, he's amassed 56 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and one interception for a touchdown. Out of all of Buffalo's defensive additions, Mitchell has made the biggest impact – on playmaking alone.
Now, it's time to center the defensive gameplan around him.
You can bet Mitchell is smelling revenge tonight. Two offseasons ago, Mitchell desired a lucrative contract from the Chiefs. KC didn't budge, so he inked a one-year tender with the New York Giants. One Super Bowl later, he's with a third team and landed a Super Bowl and that big deal he wanted.
"The discussions were on," said Mitchell, who played for the Chiefs from 2003-06. "The commitment wasn't there. They made a decision. I made a decision. Obviously, mine worked out better."
Mitchell added that while he doesn't plan on "rubbing it in" Sunday against his former mates, he admitted he'll have his Super Bowl ring on full display.
And if the Bills still harbor any hopes of this year's Super Bowl, they should release the leash on Mitchell for good.