Bills prioritize defensive improvement
The Bills' season-ending loss to the Patriots was
a microcosm of Buffalo's season, according to coach Chan Gailey.
Buffalo raced to a 21-0 lead, only to lose 49-21.
Indeed, the Bills got off to a 5-2 start only to
watch an avalanche of injuries and a monumental loss of momentum eat
away at their confidence. Buffalo lost eight of its final nine games,
punctuated by a seven-game losing streak, to finish out of the playoffs
for a 12th consecutive season.
"We started fast and then didn't finish," said
Gailey, who has produced records if 4-12 and 6-10 with Buffalo. "We've
got to learn to finish. The year before, we didn't even get started
(0-8 record). At least this year we were in it but didn't finish. So if
we can learn to finish, I think that'll be one of the things that helps
gets us over the hump."
The Bills believe they are over the hump
offensively. Behind quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, a full-time starter
for the first time in his seven-year career, Buffalo jumped from 25th
in yardage and 28th in points in 2010 to 14th in both categories in
Fitzpatrick threw for a career-best 3,832 yards
and 24 touchdowns, running back Fred Jackson was an MVP candidate until
breaking his leg in late November, wide receiver Steve Johnson topped
1,000 yards receiving for a second year in a row, and the offensive
line, despite widespread injuries, finished with the second-fewest
sacks allowed in the league with 23.
Defense was an entirely different story.
While the addition of defensive tackle/end Marcell Dareus, the No. 3 overall pick in the draft, helped Buffalo improve
slightly from 32nd in run defense to 28th, the team fell in all other
major statistical categories.
The Bills wound up 26th in yards allowed, giving
up a team-record 5,938 yards and 434 points, second most in team
history. Watching the team give up 49 unanswered points to the Patriots
was the final straw for Gailey, who a day later fired defensive
coordinator George Edwards.
Promoted to take over those duties was assistant
head coach Dave Wannstedt, the former Bears and Dolphins head coach who
served as Gailey's sounding board in 2011 while helping Edwards with
The promotion of Wannstedt was long expected, but
Gailey denied he brought him to Buffalo a year ago with the intention
of making him his coordinator. It just became painfully clear the move
had to be made.
"People out there will speculate that this was set
up way back. That is the furthest thing from the truth," Gailey said.
"Dave was hired to help me, to help the defense, and that's what he did
all year. And it just got to the point where I felt like we needed a
change, and so we made the change."
Edwards, who had little experience as a
coordinator, was hamstrung by season-ending injuries to linebacker
Shawne Merriman, defensive tackle Kyle Williams and cornerback Terrence McGee. Three rookies wound up earning starting jobs: inside linebacker
Kelvin Sheppard, cornerback Aaron Williams and Dareus.
"We're in a production business, that's the bottom
line. We need to get better production," said Gailey, who watched
Buffalo's defense allow 400 or more yards five games in a row at one
point. "George is an extremely smart guy, and it's not all him, as it
never is. You know, we lost some good players, and that's tough on
anybody. But when you just think you need to head in a different
direction, you have to do what you have to do."
Wannstedt, the architect of the Dallas Cowboys'
No. 1 ranked defense that beat up the Bills in a 52-17 victory in Super
Bowl XXVII, gives Buffalo a strong leader and defensive game-planner to
complement Gailey on offense.
It was Gailey who served as the offensive
coordinator on Wannstedt's Miami staff in 2000 and 2001.
"Dave has a wealth of experience," Gailey said.
"He's been around good to great defenses before, and I think his level
of experience will help our players right now to hopefully have better
production as we go into next season."
Decisions on personnel and scheme (Wannstedt is
known as a 4-3 coach) will be arrived at after a long postseason
"I'm very confident," Wannstedt said. "I feel we
have some good players. We had some injuries to a few key guys, and at
one point this year we had five rookies on the field when we were in
"So I'm looking forward to developing those
younger players, and we have the draft coming up, free agency coming
up. There are a lot of exciting things to look forward to from a
coaching standpoint. All these things contribute to giving us the
opportunity to take a nice step forward."
Gailey believes giving Fitzpatrick a stronger
defense will help the quarterback cut down on his interceptions
(career-high 23) because he won't be playing catch up in so many games.
"I think we're stronger in the offensive line and
the defensive line than last year when we're healthy," Gailey said. "I
think we have a year under our belt offensively where we're continuing
to gather some pretty good players at all positions. We took a fairly
significant jump from year one to year two offensively. I think we can
continue to get better there and be more consistent there. I think
we'll continue to improve defensively. I think we're stronger in the
defensive line, and I think we've got some very good young players on
the defensive side of the ball."
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