Matchups are everything. Last year the Bills ran into a personnel buzzsaw against the 3-4 fronts in the AFC East. Buffalo’s weak interior was eaten alive by Kris Jenkins, Jason Ferguson and Vince Wilfork. After blazing to a 4-0 start, the Bills quickly became the division doormat. Simply because Duke Preston was a horrible matchup against stronger nose tackles.
That problem was supposedly solved by the acquisitions of Geoff Hangartner, Eric Wood and Andy Levitre – three gritty guys that should be long-term answers.
But what other problems within the division should the Bills gear up for in training camp? Another 0-fer in the AFC East would whip management into a tailspin and spark full-scale rebuilding. What land mines must Buffalo plot for to compete within a cutthroat AFC East? Let’s examine.
1. Welcome back, Tom
Obviously this spells trouble. Buffalo hemorrhaged 684 yards and seven touchdowns against Brady in a pair of laughers two years ago. Sure, Terrell Owens will definitely help the Bills match New England drive-for-drive to a point. But can the Bills' secondary contain a Patriots offense primed to explode again? Brady has had plenty of time to rehab from his torn ACL and, heck, he isn’t a quarterback that relies on mobility anyways.
Terrence McGee has improved a ton since those two floggings. He’s fully capable of locking down opponents’ No. 1 wideouts. Last season, McGee bounced back admirably from a sore knee to finish strong. While Randy Moss will tower over him, don’t expect these two games to dissolve into intramural-like blowouts. McGee is a fighter on an island. The Bills will get heat on Brady up front with Aaron Maybin, which should give the secondary a fighting chance this time.
Also, don’t forget about Jairus Byrd. The second-round pick will be a robber baron in deep center. As a cornerback at Oregon, he still found a way to always be around the ball. No easy feat. Now let him stare at quarterback’s eyes instead of a receiver’s waist. Now let him read and react instead of being a cover corner. Yes, at safety, Byrd could be the steal of the draft.
A Brady-led offense is bound to drop at least three touchdowns on any defense. But at least it appears Buffalo could slow them down this time around, somewhat like the Bills' upset win at Denver last year. Jay Cutler tore the 'D' to shreds statistically, but Buffalo rose to the occasion in the red zone. Perry Fewell must devise some exotic scheme coverages to confuse Brady. Having Byrd and an emerging Leodis McKelvin back there gives him the tools to do so this fall and beyond.
2. You too, Jason
After one ugly year in Washington, Jason Taylor is back at home in Miami’s sack-happy defense. Only this time, he won’t be squared up against the best offensive tackles in the league. The mouth of the south, Joey Porter, handles that now. And in tandem, they’ll be tough to stop.
The Bills optimal focus must be on this lurking dilemma. Despite shoring up the interior, Buffalo did next to nothing to replace left tackle Jason Peters. The front office hopes Langston Walker can suffice for now. While Brad Butler should transition well to right tackle, relying on Walker on the blind side is risky.
What to do? Speed it up on offense. The Bills have been toying with a no-huddle offense through minicamp. While they don’t need to completely employ the K-Gun, an up-tempo approach wouldn’t hurt. Precise, three-step dropbacks would suit this offense perfectly. In year three, Trent Edwards is smart enough to anticipate routes instead of processing them. And Terrell Owens and Lee Evans should be able to feed off each other in creating mismatches before the snap.
That way, Porter and Taylor won’t have nearly enough time to race around the tackles. Of course, they’ll get to Edwards occasionally, but the key is sustaining a fast-paced offensive approach all game.
There will be a learning curve at camp. Timing takes time. Edwards must establish a trust in the wealth of weapons at his disposal. Unlike years past, the offense has the horses to employ such a quick-hitting, West Coast-like attack.
3. Win the mind games
Out in the Meadowlands, Rex Ryan sure is changing the attitude. The Jets are rallying behind their borderline cocky coach and embracing a team-wide swagger. Ryan, possibly the best defensive mind in the game, inherits a unit that is already loaded. If Vernon Gholston matures, look out.
Dick Jauron was routinely outcoached last season. Even beyond the are-you-kidding decision to call a J.P. Losman play-action pass with the game locked up, Jauron was shaky at best last year. He should have rode Fred Jackson more, benched Duke Preston, used Roscoe Parrish more liberally, given McGee help on Ted Ginn Jr., etc., etc. With a rich market of coaches available - Mike Shanahan and Jon Gruden among others - Ralph Wilson is sticking in Jauron.
Ryan was a steal for the Jets. In Baltimore, he ruthlessly pinpointed an offense’s weaknesses and attacked. Jauron can’t be a sitting duck. He must make adjustments on the fly to counter Ryan's aggressive defense.
Each team in Buffalo's division presents distinct, scary challenges. If the Bills aren't ready, it could be another long season. Thankfully, the pieces are in place to fight back this time around.
Tyler Dunne is the Publisher of BuffaloFootballReport.com and also writes for the Buffalo News, Olean Times Herald and Packer Report.