It's a defensive turnaround for the Buffalo Bills, and it's only four weeks old. If they can continue to play defense like this for the next four games, the Bills may have a chance to squeak into the postseason.
The maddening part for Bills fans, is where was this defense for the first eight games of the year? You'd have to say the wrist injury suffered by Mario Williams was a major factor in Buffalo's slow start on defense. And the team probably had a longer-than-anticipated break-in period for Dave Wannstedt's new scheme.
But the defense is performing. And it's the key to whatever hopes remain for a shot at the playoffs. Here are some of the observations from the radio booth, after the Bills-Jaguars matchup.
- Williams has become a near-dominant force on the defensive line since he had his surgical procedure on his left wrist back in October. When we talked to former Texans GM Charlie Casserly last week, he mentioned how he asked Mario Williams what's wrong with his hands, during an NFL Network interview early in the season. Casserly spotted Williams favoring his left wrist when he watched early season game video.
Now, Williams hand is healthy and his confidence has been restored. He's got five sacks in the last three games, and he's on pace for 13 sacks at the end of the year. That would be the second-highest single season total in his NFL career. He recorded 14-sacks in his second year in the league, back in 2007. And Williams revival has helped the rest of the defensive line as well, as more and more opponents are forced to double team him.
- What an eventful day it was for rookie CB Ron Brooks, Buffalo's 4th round pick from LSU. He only started three games in his entire college career. And moments before kickoff Sunday, Brooks was told by DBs Coach George Catavolos that he would be starting against the Jaguars.
Jacksonville went after Brooks on the second play from scrimmage, and the rookie responded by knocking down a sideline pass intended for Cecil Shorts III. The Jags went right back after him the very next play and they continued to test Brooks throughout the afternoon. He also had to move inside and play the slot corner position on several plays because of Leodis McKelvin's back injury. Brooks tells us he's comfortable playing the slot, the position he played most of the time at LSU.
- Brooks may wind up getting fined for his fourth quarter hit on Shorts that gave the Jaguars WR a concussion. And he told us Tuesday if he is fined, he'll appeal immediately, saying he had no intention of hurting Shorts.
You wonder where defensive players are supposed to aim when they go in for a tackle. On this play, Shorts was crouching down—his helmet could have been no more than 2 ½-3 feet off the ground. Brooks did appear to lower his head slightly, but there's no way he could avoid making contact with Shorts helmet, since the receiver's helmet was so low. It's understandable why the league would be super-sensitive about hits to the head, but it leaves defenders like Brooks without any solution to making a sure tackle and avoiding a hit to the head. * Sunday's game was another in a string of solid performances from Bills LG Andy Levitre, who looks like he's playing at a Pro Bowl level. On Brad Smith's 2nd quarter 11-yard run out of the wildcat, Levitre pulled from his left guard spot to the right side and totally engulfed Jacksonville DE Jason Babin. On the next play, Levitre drove Jaguars MLB Paul Posluszny five yards off the ball to open up a hole for C.J. Spiller. And two plays later, he did a great job in one on one pass protection, handing the Jaguars best pass rusher, C.J. Mosley, all by himself, giving Ryan Fitzpatrick time to find Scott Chandler in the end zone.
- Levitre is Buffalo's most athletic and versatile offensive lineman. He's able to move around quickly and deliver a powerful blow when he needs to. He may be one of the most underrated offensive linemen in the league.
- It was good to see Buffalo's special teams bounce back with a big, game-changing play on Marcus Easley's 55-yard kickoff return. Two special teams mainstays, Corey McIntyre and Lee Smith, got break blocks Adrian Branch on the play. But the biggest block on the kick return may have been thrown by Easley's fellow kick-returner, Brad Smith. He drilled Jacksonville's Richard Murphy right at Easley's point of attack. Once Easley got to the Bills 35-yard line, he was able to turn on the jets and race by three or four Jacksonville cover men.