Aaron Schobel, Buffalo's stud defensive end who is coming off of foot surgery, looks to storm back and prove to the naysayers that he can return to his 12-sack season form.
Schobel's 68 sacks rank second all time on Buffalo behind only the legendary Bruce Smith. Chris Kelsay, Schobel's sidekick, could lose his starting job to rookie Aaron Maybin if he doesn't pick up his game. Kelsay only has 4.5 sacks the previous two seasons, symbolizing the team's pass-rushing woes. Buffalo only recorded 26 sacks in 2007 and 24 in 2008.
Maybin, the 11th overall pick out of Penn State, could be a rookie that makes an immediate impact. His lightning-quick step off the line wreaked havoc in his lone year as a starter. Maybin led the Big Ten with 12 sacks. If Schobel stays healthy and Kelsay picks up an Oh-my-God-I-might-lose-my-job-to-a-rookie mentality, Buffalo's sack total might finally go back above 40. Might.
Another healthy year from Marcus Stroud should help. Stroud played valiantly last season. Although he only recorded 2.5 sacks, he was constantly double teamed, which allowed others to make plays. His 6-foot-6, 310-pound frame is made for moving men, so don't count Stroud out of the picture yet. In Buffalo's 4-3 defensive scheme, Kyle Williams is inside with Stroud. Williams may not be flashy, but his 43-consecutive game streak shows his grit.
Last season in Week 9, nose tackle Kris Jenkins unleashed hellfire on Buffalo's line, knocking down blockers like Tiger knocks down clutch putts. Jenkins had five tackles, two sacks, and a hit on Trent Edwards that led to Abram Elam's 92-yard pick six. It wasn't pretty to watch the Jets' 349-pound nose tackle steamroll Duke Preston with regularity. Shaun Ellis, a bona fide veteran, had a great 2008 campaign with eight sacks. His performance has spiked since Jenkins was added last year.
Sorry, Bills fans. Until Schobel proves he can still shake and bake around tackles, this one goes to the Jets.
The Edge: New York
Buffalo's front office did a sound job of beefing up the defense two years ago. Bringing in former-Jaguar Marcus Stroud to anchor the line was the first step. They shopped around and landed Kawika Mitchell, who had just come off the stunning Super Bowl victory over the Patriots. Alongside second-round steal Paul Posluszny, the Bills' linebacker corps went from mediocre to promising. After a broken arm ended Posluszny's rookie year, he proved he's the real deal last season with a team-leading 110 tackles. Although these two linebackers are solid, the third spot is still up for grabs. With Angelo Crowell leaving and John "it's not delivery, it's" DiGorgio getting waived after multiple surgeries, the three-spot could be hotly contested in camp.
Keith Ellison is currently the starter on the depth chart, but don't be surprised if Pat Thomas or rookie Nic Harris wins the job. After virtually ignoring the position through free agency, the Bills are one injury away from being in serious trouble.
In the Big Apple, where the Jets run the 3-4, four linebackers coming at Trent Edwards might seem scary. Not to fear, Bills fans. The Jets' linebackers are mediocre at best. Calvin Pace is ok, but not worth the six-year, $42 million contract the team gave him last offseason.
Vernon Gholston, taken sixth overall in the 2008 draft, had a dismal and disappointing rookie season. With 13 tackles and zero sacks Gholston failed to live up to his 5-year, $32.5 million contract. The former Buckeye prodigy played defensive end but has struggled to find a rhythm at linebacker in the 3-4 defense that the Jets run. If he finds his way through the Big City, expect big things from Gholston.
The Jets tied up more money in their linebacker corps this season, signing Bart Scott to a six-year, $48 million contract. He excelled in Baltimore with Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis at each hip, but it might be tough to put up similar numbers with lesser talent around him. We'll see.
The Edge: Buffalo
The Bills' secondary has vastly improved in previous seasons, making significant strides in turnover ratio. The Bills drafted cornerback Leodis McKelvin 11th overall in the 2008 draft. McKelvin played a significant role in kickoff returns throughout the season, running for 1,468 return yards on 52 attempts (28.2 avg.) with one touchdown. When Jabari Greer went down with an injury late in the season, McKelvin stepped in and performed beyond everyone's expectations. He defended five passes and picked off two more, returning one for a score. He'll start this year opposite veteran Terrence McGee, who was the previous starting kick returner. He led Buffalo in 2008 with 21 passes defended and three picks. His only blemish being a torching by Ted Ginn, Jr. in the middle of the year.
Although Donte Whitner's playoff guarantee never panned out, the zaz he showed is good for the team. The former Buckeye, taken eighth overall in the 2006 draft, hasn't made many big plays in three seasons with Buffalo. Due to the fact that the Bills are usually in desperate need of eight in the box, Whitner couldn't roam the field. That's all going to change this year with rookie Jairus Byrd. The second round pick out of Oregon is going to roam the field and be exactly what the Bills drafted him to be – a ballhawk.
Finally…the Bills have their own Byrdman.
And then there's the one that got away.
Jim Leonhard, an undrafted strong safety who played three seasons with Buffalo now has his eyes transfixed by the lights of the big city. In three seasons with the Bills he had 54 tackles and two picks. Not stellar numbers, but he played with consistency. Leonhard's career took off when he left Buffalo for Baltimore, picking off Chad Pennington in last year's AFC Wild Card game. At free safety is Kerry Rhodes, who has a knack for swinging momentum.
New York has a solid corner in Darrelle Revis, a former first round pick out of Pitt. Revis' first two years have been strong for the Jets, posting eight picks and one sack. However, New York's depth in secondary doesn't par to Buffalo's.
The Edge: Buffalo
It should be noted that Buffalo and New York may have the two best kickoff returners in the league in Leodis McKelvin (Buffalo) and Leon Washington (New York). Buffalo's special teams have been among the NFL elite under coach Bobby April. Both returners can flip the momentum of a game in a heartbeat.After beating New York twice in 2007, the next season proved not to be so fortunate for Buffalo. An ugly loss in the Meadowlands last year eliminated the Bills from playoff contention. A healthy Trent Edwards has the weapons to beat the Jets' secondary, but it all rests on how the offensive line comes together. Keeping Kris Jenkins out of the pocket will make or break Buffalo's chances at beating New York twice in 2009. Another huge factor is the maturation of Mark Sanchez. If the rookie doesn't have the season he's expected to, Buffalo should take both games.
With the Jets' boasting a mediocre ground game and a rookie quarterback, Buffalo's defense should fare well. The Week 13 battle at the Rogers Centre should be more entertaining than last year's Toronto flop.
Spencer Timkey is an analyst for BuffaloFootballReport.com and has worked for WGR550 Radio this summer. Contact him at TIMKEYSM@sbu.edu.
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