Bills head coach Chan Gailey didn't call Buffalo' run defense a priority, *he called it *the priority this summer. After a concerted effort by the club's front office to get bigger and stronger defensively there have been encouraging signs that the Bills run front will be improved this fall. Just how improved the unit is will be gauged by their performance in their season opener when they face the number one rushing team in the league from a season ago.
"That'll be our challenge going in," said Gailey. "We have to stop the run. We have to be effective. It depends on how many times they run it. To me the yards per carry is more important than the total yards at the end of the game. We've got to try to limit their running game."
Nobody in the league ran the football more often (556 carries) and no other team ran for as much yardage (2,627) as the Kansas City Chiefs did last season. They averaged almost 35 carries and better than 164 yards on the ground per game.
After finishing last in the league in run defense in 2010, the Bills collectively believe they are an improved side, but realize they have to prove it beginning with a team that few opponents were able to stop.
"Obviously where they were last year and where we ended up defensively last year we were at opposite ends of the spectrum," said Chris Kelsay. "But this is a new season and a completely different team. We're one more year into these schemes and our defensive package as a whole so we're looking forward to the test. And it will be a test."
Buffalo's defensive front is considerably larger, due chiefly to the addition of top draft choice Marcell Dareus, who at 6'3" and 340 pounds is a load on the edge at left defensive end. Veteran Dwan Edwards (301 pounds) and Pro Bowl DT Kyle Williams (301) hold down the rest of the defensive line.
With fast improving second-year players like Torell Troup (326) and Alex Carrington 305), who added 12 pounds and 23 pounds of lean muscle this past offseason respectively, and Spencer Johnson (305) and Kellen Heard (346) the front looks better far better equipped to execute a 3-4 system.
And despite that size, Buffalo's defensive linemen feel they are playing faster.
"We're definitely bigger and I think we're definitely quicker than we were last year and playing against this team their offensive line is pretty quick guys," said Troup. "They know what they're doing, so us being able to get off the ball faster is really going to help our defense."
"I think more than anything, I think the fits have been a lot cleaner," said Williams. "We've adjusted the way we fit some things and it allows guys to play a little bit faster, guys to get where they're supposed to a little bit faster and it's paid off."
And that's a good thing knowing Kansas City's run game is spearheaded by Jamaal Charles, who rushed for almost 1,500 yards last season (1,467) while averaging better than six yards per carry (6.4). Charles' speed to the edges forces defenses to respect him wide, which he then exploits by cutting runs up inside often for big gains.
"You have to get to where you're supposed to be and you've got to get there fast with this guy because if you don't he can cut it anywhere and he can run it anywhere and if he gets a step nobody is going to catch him," said Williams. "It's really important to be where you're supposed to be and you have to be there fast."
While Buffalo's run front begins with a formidable test in the Chiefs Sunday, the Bills' defenders understand that their improvement against the run will be measured by more than just the season opener. That's why, though focused on Kansas City, they're maintaining a big picture approach to molding themselves into a more consistent and productive run front with each passing week.
"I think it's got to be an effort by everybody to get the job done," said Edwards. "We're definitely a lot bigger than we were last year. We've got to be a lot more physical and just have a presence stopping the run. It's got to be our attitude every day."
"Whenever we step on the practice field or we're in the meeting rooms we've got to hone in and stay focused on the task at hand," said Kelsay. "We're striving to get better every day and we've taken some good steps. We've shown spurts of playing great defense and we want to build on that and be where we want to be at the end of the year, which is the postseason."