There wasn't anything fancy about Miami's rushing game last weekend. The Dolphins went north and south. All game. The carnage never seemed to stop as Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams burnt the Bills for 17 first downs on the ground.
To many, this problem could be seen months in advance. Buffalo failed to sign a legitimate free agent linebacker in the offseason, putting its emphasis elsewhere. So now, the team must do the next best thing — move guys around. The Bills have decided to shift weak side linebacker Kawika Mitchell to middle linebacker for this weekend's game against the Cleveland Browns. If it works, it'll stick. At least until Paul Posluszny's broken arm heals.
Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell didn't elaborate behind the fact that a change was needed.
"We need help in the middle," defensive coordinator Perry Fewell told the team site. "So I felt like that was plan ‘B' if plan ‘A' didn't work, and plan ‘A' wasn't working so I had to go to plan ‘B'."
Depth at linebacker was one of the team's biggest weaknesses heading into this season. Now, we see why. Since Posluszny's injury, the unit has caved at a Fannie Mae rate. With undersized Marcus Buggs in Posluszny's spot, the defense was physically mauled for 472 rushing yards on 83 numbing carries and six touchdowns by Miami and New Orleans. Nothing exotic. Just no-nonsense, here-we-come football.
Rather than let the bleeding continue, the Bills have at least done something. And that's a good sign. In years past, the team have tried to let such wounds heal themselves… until its too late. While the team should have pursued a solid linebacker in free agency or at least during day one of the draft, this move should upgrade the run defense. Rookie Ashlee Palmer will move into Mitchell's spot as Keith Ellison will remain on the strong side.
Mitchell is now the point man of Buffalo's defense.
"There have been a lot of mistakes that were made," Fewell said. "You need someone out there that can take control, run the defense and have confidence in what you're doing and how you want to get it done."
At a light 223 pounds, Buggs was woefully outmuscled by the Dolphins' power rushing scheme. He led the defense in tackles, but most of those nine takedowns came after the damage was done. Buggs didn't plug the gaps created by mammoth tackles Marcus Stroud and Kyle Williams and Buffalo's defense was gashed like a JV team.
Will Mitchell be any different? We'll see. Cleveland running back Jerome Harrison broke out last weekend against a stout Cincinnati defense. He's no pushover. Harrison rushed for 121 yards on 29 attempts, possibly earning the long-term No. 1 job in the process. Of course, the Bills know all too well about Harrison. In their heartbreaking loss to Cleveland last year, Harrison busted loose for a 72-yard touchdown.
Further, veteran Jamal Lewis may return from his hamstring injury against Buffalo. The Browns may have a dangerous 1-2 punch brewing.
It's Mitchell's job to resurrect the run defense. He won't be mistaken for Posluszny. The former Super Bowl champion has provided the occasional big play in his one-plus years here, sure. Last year he had four sacks and two interceptions at clutch moments. But there's a reason so many other teams passed on him when he was a free agent with Kansas City and New York. He is often overwhelmed on the edge and a liability in coverage.
Still, it's something different. Give Fewell credit for rocking the boat. Buggs wasn't working out and management didn't give Fewell any other options to turn to. Mitchell, at 253 pounds, is at least beefier than Buggs. He shouldn't wither away as easily. With Stroud doing his job at the point of attack, he'll have plenty of opportunities to fill gaps and make plays. Having the weak link (Palmer) on the outside instead of the middle should be an upgrade.
Buffalo needs Posluszny back ASAP. There's no debating that. This defense has reached the SOS-state in a hurry. While there is some young talent, a lack of glue players has hurt Buffalo badly. Mitchell could have a reawakening of sorts playing his old position in the middle. A seven-year veteran, he should keep the defense in the right alignments and in position to make plays.
"I feel it's a natural position for me," Mitchell said. "I enjoy making the calls, making the checks and all that. I'm excited about it. It's not going to be that difficult of a move."
It better not be. Harrison is no slouch. After finally dumping Braylon Edwards Wednesday, there's no doubt that the Browns' offense begins with the running game. They'll run right at Buffalo like Miami did. Anybody who doesn't from here on out would be crazy.
Mitchell is the key to Buffalo's defense getting back on track.