Mario "Game" Granata
With all the talk centered around who will be making a 'bid' to own the Bills, and put up a new stadium, there has been little focus on players who are going to be leading the charge in 2014. More importantly, the commander and chief, Doug Whaley, and his pick to direct the defense, Jim Schwartz. The Bills have made some bold off-season moves, and especially on the defensive side of the ball, how is Schwartz's philosophy going to change the Bills?
There are many differences that creep up on people in a bevvy of ways. Paper or plastic. McDonald's or Burger King. And even more so in Buffalo, Taco Bell, Moe's or Mighty Taco. But, you don't get more different than Jim Schwartz and Mike Pettine. The incumbent to run the defense for the Buffalo Bills is a stark contrast to his predecessor, and how will this change the Bills? I think we as fans should be prepared for this defense to have a completely different 'vibe' when the 2014 season starts. The attacking, blitz-happy Pettine scheme of a 3-4 defense will be changed out for the passive, yet aggressive, 4-3 of Schwartz, so Bills fans have to be aware of what is to come. There are three players from each level of the defense, that in a Jim Schwartz scheme, who will look to be impact players going into 2014:
Defensive Line: Back in 2008, Jim Schwartz was the Defensive Coordinator for the Tennessee Titans, and had a defense that was 2nd in the NFL in points allowed, and Top 10 in passing and rushing yards allowed. This was made possible by the front 4 of the defense, who was comprised of Jevon Kearse, Albert Haynesworth, Tony Brown and Kyle Vanden Bosch. Well, some have compared Mario Williams to Kearse, but at the time, Kearse was 32, and in the twilight of his career, and with Williams being 29, he still has a lot more left in the tank. However, while much of the attention was paid to Haynesworth (a Pro Bowl selection that year) and much of the attention is on Marcel Dareus, the X-Factor will be Manny Lawson. In Lawson, Schwartz, has a player to play opposite of the dynamic Williams, who can set the edge, and has the speed to hawk running backs that try to go outside. Kyle Williams will be a solid force inside, and if the linebackers and secondary are going to need time to gel, Lawson and the boys have to put pressure without blitzing.
Linebackers: The free agent acquisition of Brandon Spikes, and drafting of Preston Brown, as well as the move of Kiko Alonso to the outside, have all been highlighted, but that 2008 squad of the Titans' leading tackler was the strong side linebacker Keith Bulluck...the position that is currently occupied by another Keith. Keith Rivers, who is a former first-round selection has size and speed, and some familiarity with playing in a 4-3 alignment, and if the Schwartz scheme is to work, Rivers will have to be a major contributor. He has the athleticism to play the pass, and the physicality to stop the run, both inside and outside. While Spikes or Brown will have to be the Man in the Middle, Rivers will ultimately benefit and have some opportunities to make plays.
Secondary: Okay, here is where I step outside of the box with my selections. While he is not currently listed as the starter, the player who has to emerge is Duke Williams. Williams might have been out of sorts last year in the 3-4 defense of Pettine, but he played in a 4-3 at Nevada, and not only will he have to fill the shoes left by the departure of Jairus Byrd, he will have to quarterback that secondary. Schwartz's stock in Tennessee didn't take off until the Titans drafted Michael Griffin, who brought the Titans defense from the middle of the pack to 8th and 2nd in Schwartz's final two years there. The play from the free safety will be crucial to the success of the Bills in 2014, and Il Duce will have to be the man on the back end.
In 2008, the Titans top 7 defenders all had over 60+ tackles, and none of them had over 100. Four of the top seven were the secondary, so it's no secret that the back end of the Bills has to be tough and physical and make plays. They have to be willing to hit, and have sound fundamentals, because unlike the pressure packed, Mike Pettine scheme, Jim Schwartz is more of the philosophy of lining up and having play makers make plays. They will be well coached, and know what they will be asked to do. The only question that will remain, is can they all get on the same page before the season starts.