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Bills' 'improved' defense worst in franchise history

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Posted: Tuesday, October 9, 2012 7:20 am

SAN FRANCISCO — Where do the Bills go from here ... besides Arizona?

This team is in severe trouble.

Bad enough they’ve lost back-to-back games — 52-28  and 45-3 — albeit to quality teams, New England (3-2) and San Francisco (4-1).Worse is the way they lost them.

Buffalo’s supposedly dramatically improved defense, instead has performed as poorly as any in franchise history ... including eight seasons when the Bills won three-or-fewer games.

And that assessment isn’t speculation ... it’s fact.

In back-to-back losses to the Patriots and 49ers, the Bills have surrendered 1,201 yards, the most ever in consecutive games over the team’s 53-year existence.

Those 97 points are the second-most relinquished in consecutive games —to the 103 given up in the last two of the dismal 1976 campaign — but the highest total when one of those two games was played at Buffalo.

WHAT’S MOST disturbing, though, is that an upgraded defense was the reason many “experts” saw the Bills as a team with playoff potential this season.

The reasoning went that the signing of ends Mario Williams — supposedly the jewel of this year’s free agents on that side of the ball — and sack specialist Mark Anderson would dramatically enhance Buffalo’s previously flaccid pass rush.

To date, for lack of a better word, both have been invisible.

Combined in five games, they have 25 tackles — 2 1/2 per game each — with they share 2 1/2 sacks.

On Sunday, with San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith allowed to throw with impunity, amassed  303 yards with three touchdown passes.

And the Niners showed perfect balance, rushing for 311 yards as, for the second straight game, the Bills’ ‘D’ stopped nothing.

Most disturbing is the fact that Williams and Anderson are only a part — albeit major — of the problem.

Second-year cornerback Aaron Williams, taken in Round 2, has been awful, and his fellow starter, rookie first-round pick Stephon Gilmore has looked lost at times.

It’s not fair to call Aaron Williams a bust this quickly, but he’s done nothing to distinguish himself — one interception, one forced fumble in 14 games — and Gilmore, after an encouraging training camp, has been totally unimpressive.

AND THERE’S more.

Buffalo’s linebackers, other than Nick Barnett,  easily the team’s leading tackler, has been decidedly substandard.

Outside starter Arthur Moats, who beat out veteran Kirk Morrison, inactive the first five games, performed so poorly — 16 tackles in his  four starts — that he was replaced by rookie fourth-round draft pick Nigel Bradham.

And, in the middle, Kelvin Sheppard, to whom the running game is supposed to be funneled, has a measly 19 tackles in five games.

When you’re getting little or nothing from your defensive ends, two of your three linebackers and both your starting cornerbacks, small wonder quality opponents are gashing that unit for record numbers.

AND WHILE it would be so easy to blame defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt, don’t be so sure.

His pedigree in that role with both the Cowboys and Dolphins is high-quality.

And there was this interesting comment from San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman after Sunday’s game.

“They gave us an unscouted (not previously played) look,” he said. “They had never shown that (approach) before. It was a great job by them ... they caught us.

“That’s a tough one when you don’t know what’s coming. I’ve got to tip my hat to their coaching staff ... they got us.”

So, it would appear that Wannstedt had an effective scheme ... Buffalo was down only 10-3 with a half minute left in the first half.

Maybe, just maybe, it’s not the Xs and Os ...  could it be the players instead?

Has general manager Buddy Nix had a pair of free-agent signings — Mario Williams and Anderson — that rival the horrendous and way overpriced acquisitions of Derrick Dockery and Langston Walker?

Has he conducted three drafts in which, other than first-rounders C.J. Spiller and Marcell Dareus, rival the dubious early-round selections of Donte Whitner, John McCargo, Trent Edwards, James Hardy, Aaron Maybin and Chris Ellis of the previous administrations?

We just might have been sold the cliched bill of goods on Buffalo’s defense ... as their recent performance seems to indicate.

After all, the Bills’ victories have been over two NFL lesser lights, Cleveland (0-5) and Kansas City (1-4) while they’ve been destroyed by San Francisco, New England and the Jets (2-3), who are now in full collapse.

What’s certain is that the Bills are much closer to the AFC’s dregs than its contenders, and there’s no reason to think it will change.

(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at cpollock@oleantimesherald.com)

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