Fewell impressed, defenders didn’t for Buffalo

By Connor Byrne  |   Thursday, February 15, 2007  |  Comments( 28 )

Buffalo Bills
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The Buffalo Bills made headlines last offseason by revamping their once-great defense. The team released select veterans and turned the 'D' into a younger, less expensive group. The unit maxed out its own potential earlier this decade, so the Bills made big names like safety Lawyer Milloy and defensive tackle Sam Adams cap casualties a year ago. Not only that, but Buffalo's new head coach, Dick Jauron, hired novice D-coordinator Perry Fewell.

The 44-year-old Fewell, a former protégé of Lovie Smith's in Chicago, came to the Bills after serving as a defensive backs coach between 1998-2005 for the Jacksonville Jaguars, St. Louis Rams and the Bears. He entered Buffalo with a new scheme (the Tampa 2) and a somewhat difficult task ahead, which included filling the shoes of former successful defensive coordinator Jerry Gray, whose units finished second in total 'D' in 2003 and '04.

Gray, however, wore out his welcome two seasons ago, when his group dropped to a 29th overall ranking. Though the talent on Gray's defense certainly plummeted, his inability to make in-game adjustments was startling.

In his first season with the Bills, Fewell's defense improved over Gray's. The young group -- led by pass-rushing force Aaron Schobel, middle linebacker London Fletcher-Baker and safety Donte Whitner -- advanced to 18th in total yardage and an impressive 10th in points allowed.

The 'D' finished a terrific seventh overall against the pass, but that was shaded by a ghastly 28th rating versus the run. Because Buffalo's defensive tackles were consistently pushed around by enemy offensive lines, running backs had their way against the Bills. That wasn't necessarily the fault of Fewell, however. Not many defensive coordinators would have succeeded with Buffalo's lack of quality at the DT position.

Aside from struggling to stop the run, the Bills had difficulty forcing turnovers. The team's offense gave the ball away 29 times, but its defense intercepted passes or recovered fumbles just 24 times, which was tied for seventh fewest in the NFL. That minus-5 giveaway/takeaway statistic ended up 25th in the league -- a number that must be improved upon.

To the credit of the Bills' defense -- which obviously has many strides to make -- it did finish 10th overall in points per game allowed (19.4). That number ranked Buffalo ahead of more previously touted defenses like Pittsburgh's and Washington's.

There's little question the negatives outweighed the positives in Fewell's first year as the Bills' D-coordinator, but rarely did he show any weaknesses. More often than not, Buffalo's defensive failings had to do with a lack of talent. It could only get worse, too, as the team stands to lose top cornerback Nate Clements and the aforementioned Fletcher-Baker to free agency next month.

Should the Bills' front office find a way to get the right talent for Fewell's Tampa-2 defense, the unit should make strides next season. It's always a positive when the coach shows the ability to make sideline adjustments and stick to his convictions, and Fewell did just that as a rookie coordinator.

The sky's the limit for the Lovie Smith disciple. But will it be for Buffalo's defense? The answer to that question will start becoming clearer this offseason.

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