by Mario "Game" Granata
Taking a look at the defensive players that have been added to the Buffalo Bills, they draw a very similar comparison to players that Doug Whaley brought into Pittsburgh during his time with the Black and Yellow.
The name says it all, ladies and gentlemen, and if you happened to check out the previous blog about the Buffalo Steelers: Offense Edition, you know how this works. However, if you didn’t read it, there are some striking similarities with the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 2000s and the Buffalo Bills that are being assembled over the past two years, and all the fingers point to a man who is connected with both teams, Doug Whaley. Doug Whaley (as mentioned in the previous blog) is a Pittsburgh native, and was with the Steelers from 2000-2009, and has a firsthand account on how to build a team to championship caliber, and as they say in the business, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. Whaley was responsible for bringing Lamar Woodley, Lawrence Timmons and Troy Polamalu to the Steelers during his tenure, and it seems with some of the off-season moves that have transpired, he is trying to bring their clones to Western New York. There are 8 players on the current Bills roster who in some way, shape or form have some ties or comparisons to the players that were brought to the Steelers when Whaley was there, and some might surprise you, some you might disagree with, but one thing is for certain, there are some odd comparisons that are taking place in the 716. Now, for arguments sake, we have to point out that during the Steelers run, they played primarily a 3-4 defense, and with Jim Schwartz customarily using a 4-3, there will be some overlap.
Lawrence Timmons and Keith Rivers. Both 1st round selections a year apart, one doesn’t have to look further than the scouting combine to see how these two match up. Timmons is 6’1 234 while Rivers is 6’3” 235, and while Timmons ran a 4.63 40-yard dash, Rivers was a 4.58, and both were equally matched in the 10 yard (1.56) and bench press (25). Although Rivers hasn’t had the career that Timmons has achieved, sometimes it’s a case of a player being in the right system at the right time, and if Rivers can approach what Timmons has done, albeit make plays when asked, he should be a success in Buffalo.
Brett Keisel and Mario Williams. I know, I know, Keisel was a 7th rounder and Mario Williams was the 1st pick overall, but with Keisel standing at 6’5” 285 and Williams 6’6” 290, and the way that these two players can ‘set the edge’ they are very alike in many aspects. Now, some might argue the differences here, such as Williams has 71.5 sacks to Keisel’s 29, but after watching film on how these two play the run, and the little things that they do, they might not be always making the plays, but they occupy their territory enough for others to shine. Edge goes to Williams here, but when you are the 1st pick in the draft, there is nowhere to go but down.
Casey Hampton/Kimo Von Oelhoffen and Marcel Dareus/Kyle Williams. Speaking of plugging up the middle, these 4 monsters are not just an example of how a defensive tackle should be; they should have tapes of their games made for other players to study. Now, as mentioned before, with the Steelers running a 3-4 defense, Von Oelhoffen was technically a defensive end, but when the outside linebacker rolls up on the end of the line, Oelhoffen was a defensive tackle, let’s be honest. All four of these players hover around 6’1-6’4 and 300-320, and they all do the things that all great defensive tackles do: occupy bodies so that the playmakers on their team can make plays. When you think of the Steelers teams (after Polamalu) you remember the names of Woodley, Farrior, Timmons, Porter and Harrison, and that is because the defensive tackles were doing what they were supposed to do. Kiko Alonso (featured later) was able to make plays this year due to Mike Pettine’s scheme, true, but it was also because Williams and Dareus were able to occupy the center and guards and allow him to have 159 tackles.
Ike Taylor and Stephon Gilmore. Taylor is 6’1 and 191 while Gilmore is 6’ 190, and the way that these two players approach the game is very similar in style and tailored toward the game plan that is set by the coordinators. Taylor was never considered a shutdown corner, but he fit very well in the Dick Lebeau scheme, and the ceiling for Gilmore is much higher, and that is what is going to be asked of him in the Jim Schwartz scheme. Because Taylor isn’t considered a shutdown corner, this is probably the reason that when he became a regular starter on the Steelers he has enjoyed 9 consecutive seasons of double digit passes defended. Gilmore has also had double digit passes defended in his first two years (and probably would have had more, if not for the Cowboy Bob Orton club he had to wear this past season.)
William Gay and Leodis McKelvin. At the start of each of these players’ careers, they were not utilized in the way that we are going to see them moving forward. Gay and McKelvin haven’t started a full 16 game season, and while McKelvin made his name as a returner at first, and Gay was primarily a slot cover corner, both of them have evolved into different players moving forward. Both of these players are not going to be cornerbacks who thrive on their own as big name free agents (Gay found that out when he spent a year in Arizona) but within a system they can be utilized very well if used correctly. Just as the Steelers didn’t ask much from Gay, with the addition of Corey Graham, and how he performs, McKelvin might be used as more of a slot cover corner, and returner, rather than a #2 Corner. Only time will tell on this one.
Joey Porter and Manny Lawson: With the 3-4 and the 4-3 defenses being very different, Porter was an outside linebacker who played more of a DE role, rushing the quarterback and forcing the run inside (although many times he would take the running back himself) and although there are question marks on the destination of Manny Lawson, one can only assume that he will be the defensive end opposite Mario Williams: a position he previously played at NC State. Yes, you read that correctly, Manny Lawson and Mario Williams played opposite defensive ends in college…on the same team. His physicality is unmatched, and since the Bills opted not to sign Carrington, it seems that Lawson would be a perfect fit for that role. Although he is not as vocal as Porter, maybe with time, he’ll be able to produce like Porter did.
Wild Card #2:
Now, in reading this blog I have neglected to mention two names, and those are the two players who stand out the most, both on those 2000 Steeler teams, and the current Bills one, and that is Troy Polamalu and Kiko Alonso. Now, I am not going crazy, and am not going to say that they are comparable in any way but one: they can be playmakers and the heart of their defensive squads. People can talk all they want about the Steelers linebackers, and other players, but when you thought about those Steeler defenses, Troy Polamalu is the image that you see. In just a short time here in Buffalo, Kiko Alonso has drawn a Chuck Norris type following, and with his transition to the outside, he will be able to use his speed, and playmaking ability and not get caught up in the wash inside, which happened sometimes in the 2013 season. These two are playmakers of a different caliber, and while Polamalu has a bust waiting for him in Canton, the Legend of Kiko is just getting started.
Check the stat books look over the combine numbers, and you will see what I saw: players that were crucial to the success on the defensive side of the ball for the Steelers run in the 2000s, and the architect Doug Whaley, hoping to recreate that here in Buffalo. With the Bills and Steelers set to share some practice time, maybe some of the Bills players can get a glimpse of how to be a championship caliber team, because for the Bills, there is only one place to go, and that is up.