The linebacker unit of the Buffalo Bills was arguably the most impressive group on the team last season. The defense, ranked 14th in the league, benefitted from quick, gang-tackling linebackers led by Paul Posluszny. The addition of Kawika Mitchell aided the improvement of the once-lousy defense, especially in the red zone.
The Bills elicited the kind of red scare that'd make Joe McCarthy gleam. Buffalo only allowed teams to score a touchdown within the 20-yard line 42 percent of the time --- good for fourth in the league.
Before the season had even started, Buffalo's defense was dealt a difficult blow. Linebacker Angelo Crowell, the Bills' leading tackler in 2007, was placed on injured reserve after the team opted for season-ending surgery on his left knee. The trio of Crowell, Kawika Mitchell and sophomore Paul Posluszny were the most celebrated linebacker core in Buffalo since Takeo Spikes, London Fletcher, and Jeff Posey in 2005. Unfortunately for the Bills, that was put on hold with the injury to Crowell. In his place, Keith Ellison stepped in and Buffalo's defense soldiered on.
Posluszny, coming off of a season-ending army injury in 2007, led the team in tackles with 110. He got to the ball-carrier often, averaging more than 5 solo tackles per game. "Poz" is perhaps the defense's brightest young star. If he starts making big plays with more regularity, he'll don some leis in Hawaii soon.
Kawika Mitchell, fresh off of his Super Bowl win with the New York Giants, provided a new boost of energy to the line and to the defense. With flowing curls exuding from his helmet, Mitchell recorded 82 tackles and four sacks on the year. His fourth-quarter interception against the Broncos sealed arguably the Bills most impressive win of the season. The sixth-year man will provide veteran leadership for the younger nucleus of talent on the defensive side of the ball.
Keith Ellison stepped in and filled Angelo Crowell's shoes adequately. The third-year man out of Oregon State had 73 total tackles on the year, good for third on the team. Ellison's lack of a big-play ability is what makes him less effective than Crowell. He was the only linebacker to not force a turnover. Going into this year's offseason, Ellison's role may be diminished if Crowell re-signs with Buffalo or if the Bills decide to draft a linebacker in April's draft. Both scenarios are legitimate possibilities.
The reserves, although their presence was not seen in the box score, were important toward the effort of the entire team. Blake Costanzo, Jon Corto and John DiGiorgio were solid on defense and impeccable in Buffalo's special teams game. The Bills have been one of the top five special teams of the NFL in the past five years. This trio played a key role.
Continually throughout the season, I was impressed with the linebackers. Kawika Mitchell was arguably the best 2007 free agent pickup for the Buffalo Bills, and the return of Paul Posluszny boosted the entire defensive effort. Despite the fact that Angelo Crowell did not play a down, the linebackers played above expectations.
For next season, the Bills may want to consider shuffling a new body into Ellison's outside spot. Ellison played well but didn't have the killer instinct of Posluszny and Mitchell. Angelo Crowell's injury mangled the Bills this season, but his return can elevate the defensive intensity furthermore. Regardless of what Buffalo does with its linebacker personnel, there is much more to look forward to next season with this group.