'09 Rewind: Injuries ravaged linebackers

For several games, a street pickup and a safety were starting at LB. That's never a good sign. In this installment of "09 Rewind," analyst Ian Smith takes a close look at what went right and went went wrong for this injury-depleted unit.

The Good: I find that grading this year's Buffalo Bills linebacking corps is similar to grading a college English essay: some people will find it to be terrible, others like myself will find it to be halfway decent.

The atrocious run defense statistics doesn't give justice to what Coach Matt Sheldon's unit had to go through during the year. Despite a whirlwind of injuries, the LBs managed five interceptions and six forced fumbles. Paul Posluszny, despite missing four weeks with a broken forearm, led the team in solo tackles with 87. The Penn State alum added three interceptions, three forced fumbles, four pass deflections, and a sack. Not bad for taking off a sick month. Buffalo's new head coach can take comfort in knowing that "Poz" will be a building block for a defense and the Shane Conlan-type of player he has been hyped up to be.

The good news ends there. The 30 year old Kawika Mitchell—the "crackle" to Posluszny's "snap"— may not be the same kind of linebacker after his week five season-ending knee injury (a la Takeo Spikes), and Keith Ellison's place in the starting lineup will more than likely "pop" in 2010.

The Bad: Even though I feel that the blame of the putrid run defense—30th in yards allowed, 29th in rushing TDs allowed, 31st is rush attempts against, lest you be reminded— should be placed on the anemia of the offense, the fact that such production was given up draws fire from the second level of the front seven.

With a complementary top three pass defense, the linebackers did not fulfill their duties in stopping the run. The Bills lost the time of possession battle in many games because teams were rushing 33 times a game for a 4.7-yard per carry clip.

Buffalo linebackers were stampeded so much that at points in the season I thought I was watching a Buffalo Bill Wild West show or the Running of the Bulls.

The Ugly: The injuries. Yikes.

At one point in the season, the opening day starter at free safety was an outside linebacker. What is this a high school football team? Chris Draft went from eating Doritos on his couch during week five to starting at outside linebacker in week eight. The aformentioned Paul Posluszny broke his arm in the Monday Night Football season opener and missed four games. Ouchies. The shaggy-haired Kawika Mitchell had a season-ending knee injury in week five. Keith Ellison's season was cut off after week nine.

If it any point in the season your starting LB corps includes a street free agent, an undersized safety, and a guy named Ashlee Palmer, you know the injury bug has taken a big bite. After letting go of Angelo Crowell last year, there was a clear hole in the defense. And after an array of injuries, you couldn't expect much more out Coach Sheldon's linebacking unit. Which is why he is out of a job.

Grade: B-

For a look at Buffalo's receivers click here.

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