What Mike Pettine Will Bring To The Bills Defense

The Bills officially named former Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine to the same title on their own staff today.  New head coach Doug Marrone was aggressive in recruiting Pettine to leave the Jets for the Bills and Pettine will bring an aggressive defense along with him to Western New York.  Pettine spent 4 years under Rex Ryan in New York and before that worked on the staff in Baltimore.  He told the Bills media today that his defense won’t necessarily be married to one base scheme and they will move it around and disguise it as he sees fit.  As usually happens when there is a coaching staff change there will be roster changes.  Here’s a look at what you may be able to expect from Pettine’s defense in Buffalo next year:

  • Expect to see Williams with his hand down most of the time

    Expect to see Williams with his hand down most of the time

    There’s been a lot of talk about where Mario Williams will fit in to this new defense.  My guess is exactly where he did in the old one.  Expect to see Mario playing with his hand on the ground for most of his snaps.  Sure he will get up and move around once in a while but he did that last year as well (at least after his wrist was healthy).  Mario Williams will not be a stand-up 3-4 outside linebacker.  He’s just not that type of player.  He’ll do fine where he is.

  • That being said I’ve heard the rumors about Mike DeVito jumping from the Jets to the Bills but I just don’t see where he fits.  Between Mario, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, and Alex Carrington I’m not sure where DeVito gets his snaps along that defensive front.  He’s a solid player and would probably be better served somewhere where he’d get more playing time.
  • Calvin Pace, on the other hand, would be a great addition to the defense.  He is getting a bit long in the tooth but the Bills defense is filled with young, inexperienced linebackers and a guy like Pace could be valuable with his experience in Pettine’s defense.
  • Please, Mike, no Bart Scott.  Thank you.
  • Gilmore will be expected to be lockdown in Pettine's defense

    Gilmore will be expected to be lockdown in Pettine’s defense

    Stephon Gilmore better start watching some tape of Darelle Revis and the Jets defense because I think he will be thrust in that role right away in Pettine’s Buffalo D.  Despite being a rookie the #10 pick in last year’s draft was far and away the Bills’ most consistent CB last year and gained some valuable experience shadowing guys like Larry Fitzgerald and Reggie Wayne during the season.  He’ll be leaned on heavily by Pettine to lock down one side of the field for the Bills defense.

  • It may be wise for the Bills to try and re-sign Leodis McKelvin and see if Pettine can resurrect his career much the way he and Rex Ryan did for Antonio Cromartie in New York.
  • The Bills should make re-signing Jairus Byrd their #1 priority in the off-season.  Byrd has turned himself into an aggressive safety over the past 2 seasons and one would think he’d thrive in an attacking type of defense.  I’d always liked to see what kind of player Byrd would be if he blitzed more and he could get that opportunity in the new Bills D.

It should be an interesting change next season from the passive Wannstedt defense to an attacking style that Pettine prefers.  The Bills certainly have had their defensive challenges over the past 3 seasons and Pettine will have a tall task on his hands to right the ship.  He’s got the credentials to do so and Marrone is banking on him doing exactly just that.  This was Marrone’s most important hire in his first year and the spotlight will be on Pettine.  I’m guessing by the speed in which he ran out of Rex Ryan’s shadow that may be exactly what he’s looking for.

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Buddy Nix is changing the blueprint in Buffalo

The Buffalo Bills announced a 5 year contract extension for WR Stevie Johnson today.  Johnson will get paid $36.25 million over the contract that will keep him in Buffalo through his 31st birthday.  Johnson’s 5 year agreement comes a few months after the Bills signed both QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and DT Kyle Williams to 6 year contract extensions.  They also signed starting RT Erik Pears, K Rian Lindell and LS Garrison Sanborn to 4-year extensions last month.  Last season they extended DE Chris Kelsay and SS George Wilson to multi-year deals as well.  Why is this news?  Because the Buffalo Bills have long been notorious for not keeping their players beyond their rookie contracts.

Fitzpatrick and Johnson will anchor the Bills offense for at least the next 5 seasons

Astoundingly the Bills have signed only 1 first round pick to a second contract since 1997.  That was WR Lee Evans who was traded to the Ravens two years into his 4 year extension.  11 players – RB Antowain Smith, CB Antoine Winfield, DE Erik Flowers, CB Nate Clements, T Mike Williams, RB Willis McGahee, QB J.P. Losman, SS Donte Whitner, DT John McCargo, RB Marshawn Lynch, and LB Aaron Maybin – were all cut, traded, or signed away in free agency after being drafted in the first round by the Bills.  Their track record hasn’t been too much better with players that were late round picks that they developed on their own either.  Late round gems like CB Jabari Greer and DT Pat Williams were lost in free agency.  T Jason Peters, a perennial Pro Bowler in Philadelphia now, was traded away when the Bills would not meet his salary demands.  Long story short is that this has been a franchise that has been spinning their wheels for over a decade.

That’s why Stevie Johnson’s re-signing was significant.  As mentioned before, Stevie is the 6th starting player re-signed by the Bills since Buddy Nix took over as GM in early 2010.  There were 6 starters in the Bills starting lineup last opening day with contracts expiring at the end of the year.  Only two, T Demetrius Bell and TE Scott Chandler, remain unsigned.  Buddy Nix said at his introductory press conference on New Year’s Eve in 2009 that he wanted to “draft ’em, develop ’em, and keep ’em here.”  So far he has been true to his word.

Williams' 6 year deal will pair him with fellow DT Marcell Dareus for the next half decade

For the first time in what seems like ages the Bills won’t enter draft weekend simply trying to fill the holes that they opened up by losing players in the off season.  It’s all about building depth, which is what good teams do on draft day.  It’s something that the Bills haven’t done in over a decade.  Now they can also go into the summer and start negotiating with the next batch of pending free agents which includes RB Fred Jackson, G Andy Levitre, and FS Jairus Byrd.  They no longer have the stigma of a team that doesn’t keep their players.  They no longer have the stigma of a team that doesn’t go the extra mile to build a winning team.  Will it finally start equating to wins in Buffalo?  Maybe, maybe not.  One thing that is certain is that they seem to be up there swinging and it’s definitely better to go down swinging then to go down looking.

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Buffalo Bills 3 year draft review

They say that you should wait to grade a draft class after they’ve played three seasons so that’s exactly what I’m going to do.  We’ll take a look at the Bills’ 2009 draft and take a look at what Dick Jauron accomplished in his final draft with the team.  Remember that current GM Buddy Nix was brought on as an adviser for this draft after leaving San Diego.  Anyway, here is the good, the bad, and the ugly of the Bills 2009 draft, starting with the ugly:

1st Round Pick, DE Aaron Maybin

1st Round Pick (11th Overall) – Aaron Maybin, DE/OLB, Penn State – Ouch.  That about sums up the Bills taking Maybin with the #11 overall selection in the 2009 draft.  The Bills were desperate for pass rush after they struggled when Aaron Schobel went down with an injury in 2008.  Jauron was obsessed with smaller, faster players and Maybin’s measurables were off the charts.  The worst part about this pick is that Maybin only had one good year at Penn State, his red-shirt sophomore season.  Him and his agent apparently guessed that there would be a coach or GM who would jump on his potential and they guessed right.  Maybin was a colossal failure in Buffalo.  In two seasons he couldn’t manage a sack and recorded only 24 tackles.  He was cut during the 2011 preseason and signed with the Jets.  After being cut by the Jets before the season began he was re-signed when veteran LB Bryan Thomas was lost for the year.  He managed to get 6 sacks and 11 tackles for the Jets but disappeared in the last month when the Jets were fighting for a playoff spot.  The fact alone that Jauron and co. left Brian Cushing, Brian Orakpo, and Clay Matthews on the board at this pick means that this pick should get the lowest possible grade.  The fact that he produced with the Jets last year makes the pick even worse.  Grade: F-

2nd Round Pick, C Eric Wood

1st Round Pick (28th Overall) – Eric Wood, C, Louisville – The Bills acquired this pick when they traded Jason Peters to the Philadelphia Eagles.  Wood started the first 10 games of his career at right guard but suffered an unfortunate injury in the 10th game of the year against Jacksonville when he broke his leg.  Wood came back into camp near 100% for the 2010 season and started 14 of the 16 games that year.  During the season he transitioned to the center position, which he played back in Louisville.  Wood’s production picked up as he recovered from his leg injury and as he eased into his transition from guard to center.  He was playing at an above average level by the end of the season.  He was penciled in as the starting center for the start of the 2011 season and his play went from above average to elite early on.  He was playing like one of the best centers in the league but unfortunately his season was cut short due to injury for the 2nd time in his 3 year career.  He suffered a torn ACL in the Week 10 game against the Cowboys when he attempted to make a tackle on an interception return.  He missed the last 7 games of the season.  Injuries are part of the game and Wood’s two injuries were fluky yet serious damage has been down to his legs already.  When healthy he looks to be an elite center for the Bills.  If he can come back strong from his second season ending injury in three years, a big if of course, then he will set the Bills up at center for years to come.  Grade: B+

2nd Round Pick, FS Jairus Byrd

2nd Round Pick (42nd Overall) – Jairus Byrd, FS, Oregon – Byrd was a hybrid cornerback/safety at Oregon and didn’t seem to be a huge need for the Bills where they drafted him.  Nevertheless Byrd was penciled in as the starter for the Bills at free safety from day 1 and turned in a rookie season that garnered him 2nd place in the Defensive Rookie of the Year voting.  He had 45 tackles along with 9 interceptions and 11 passes defensed.  He got a Pro Bowl spot for his success in his rookie year.  Byrd was back in 2010 and started all 16 games at free safety.  He did not fair nearly as well in his 2nd season however.  He was a liability in the run game and was disappointing in the pass game.  He finished the year with only 1 interception and 2 passes defensed to go along with his 89 tackles.  Byrd make a big leap forward in the 2011 season, returning to form in the passing game and becoming an even bigger presence in the run game.  He finished the season with 98 tackles, a sack, 3 interceptions, 8 passes defensed, and 3 forced fumbles.  Byrd was as productive a defensive player as you could be and would have received All Pro honors if it wasn’t for established guys like Eric Weddle and Ed Reed getting the votes.  Byrd looks to be a fixture in the Bills defensive backfield if the Bills can extend his contract by the end of next season when he becomes a free agent.  Grade: A-

2nd Round Pick, G Andy Levitre

2nd Round Pick (51st Overall) – Andy Levitre, G, Oregon State – The Bills traded a 3rd and 4th round pick to move back to the 2nd round to get Levitre and I’m sure that they are glad they did.  Levitre started at left guard from day one with the Bills and has literally not stopped since.  He has started all 48 games thus far in his pro career.  He started 16 games as a rookie and was probably the Bills most consistent offensive lineman in his rookie year.  He came back in 2010 and started 16 more games, including a few at left tackle when they grew thin there.  He again appeared to have a very good year yet head coach Chan Gailey apparently didn’t see the fire he wanted to in Levitre so he demoted him a few times during the 2011 preseason.  Despite that Levitre came in and once again started all 16 games for the Bills.  He started a few games at left tackle again and had to fill in at center for one game.  Levitre’s best work came at left guard.  He is one of the premiere pulling and screen blocking guards in the NFL already in only his third season.  He would have likely been a surefire Pro Bowler if he played for a winning team.  Again he is the anchor of the offensive line and could make a premiere trio with Eric Wood and Kraig Urbik if the Bills can secure Levitre with a long term contract.  Grade: A+

4th Round Pick, TE Shawn Nelson

4th Round Pick (121st Overall) – Shawn Nelson, TE, Southern Mississippi – Nelson looked like a huge value pick at the time but he just couldn’t pan out for the Bills.  He was active for 12 games in his rookie season, catching 17 balls for 156 yards and a touchdown.  He didn’t come close to matching that in his sophomore effort (after being suspended for the first 4 games due to a failed drug test), catching only 3 balls for 25 yards in the 5 games that he was active in 2010.  He didn’t make it out of camp for the Bills in 2011 and like Maybin he caught on with the Jets for a few weeks but couldn’t last the season there either.  Grade: D+

5th Round Pick (147th Overall) – Nic Harris, LB, Oklahoma – Harris lasted just his rookie year before being cut by the Bills.  He was picked up by the Carolina Panthers for the 2010 season but was out of the league by the start of this season.  Not a good 5th round pick by any stretch.  Grade: F

6th Round Pick, CB Cary Harris

6th Round Pick (183rd Overall) – Cary Harris, CB, USC – Harris’ biggest claim to fame will probably be intercepting Peyton Manning twice on the last day of the Bills 2009 season.  He was converted to safety and saw sporadic action in his two seasons with the Bills, tallying 6 tackles and 2 passes defensed to go along with the 2 INTs.  He was cut by the Bills after 2010 and was signed by the Giants but was not active for any games this season.  Grade: C-

7th Round Pick (220nd Overall) – Ellis Lankster, CB, West Virginia – Lankster saw action in 10 games for the Bills in his rookie season.  He had 5 tackles and a pass defensed.  Lankster sat out the 2010 season and was brought back in 2011 by, you guessed it, the New York Jets and was active for 7 games and recorded 6 tackles.  Grade: D

All in all when you get past the Maybin disaster the Bills did well to secure three high end starters with the ensuing three picks.  Nelson looked like he had potential but could never put it together and it was disappointing that at least one of the last three defenders taken couldn’t stick around for at least three seasons.  Next year we will see how the 2010 draft class, Buddy Nix’ first as GM, matures as the Bills look to get into the playoffs for the first time since 1999.

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Thoughts on Bills/Titans

Well, it was fun while it lasted.  What started out as a fun and exciting season had it’s legs officially cut out from under it this Sunday with a 23-17 loss to the Titans and a 5th straight loss.  The Bills dim playoff hopes were put out and if the Lions and Texans can both qualify for the playoffs than the Bills will have the longest playoff drought of any team in three sports (the MLB has a handful of teams that have gone longer).  Either way it’s a disappointment and you need to wonder, once again, what exactly is next for this organization.  Here are my thoughts on the disappointing game 12:

  • I know Ryan Fitzpatrick has taken a lot of flak for his performance since he signed his contract extension but I think he is making the best of a bad situation.  He’s trying to get everyone involved and he plays his ass off, whether he is playing poorly or playing well.  The Bills just need to keep building around this guy.
  • I remember a playmaker on the Jets named Brad Smith who used to make all of these plays when he played the Bills.  I was wondering what happened to him.  Good to see that guy show up in the last couple of weeks.
  • C.J. Spiller had his best game as a pro yesterday.  By far.  Of course there was not much to go against but he really play and ran hard.  You have to wonder what could have been had Corey McIntyre not been called for a hold on his TD run that was called back.  Having 3 carries in the 2nd half didn’t help either.
  • The offensive line hasn’t been terrible but they haven’t been as good with Eric Wood out of the lineup.  Kraig Urbik tries hard but he’s just not as good.
  • Another poor defensive effort in the first half by the Bills but a light seemed to go off in the second half.  I’m hoping that it’s something that they can build on because it would be nice for these young guys to get some experience at being a good, solid unit before the re-group with the injured guys for next season.
  • In the spirit of the above, Kelvin Sheppard looked to continue his brutal play from last week in the first half but seemed to play real strong in the 2nd half.  He’s been inconsistent but his development is key to the future success of this defense.  If he and Nick Barnett can make a formidable duo in the middle they can build out from there.
  • Aaron Williams played well again before his injury.  He’s going to be a player.  I hope he can make it back before the end of the season.  I think Justin Rogers has a lot of potential too.  That news is welcome to Bills fans who are sick of the Bills drafting cornerbacks.
  • Jairus Byrd is a beast.  If the Bills can ever re-build this defense he might just be the centerpiece.  He sets the pace for the whole defense.
  • Chan Gailey had another day as inconsistent as the rest of the team.  His play-calling has been sporadic.  I think that they shy away from the run too much (seems like it’s been a trend for years for the Bills) and I can’ help but feel that the guys are not always in the best position to succeed.  He gets a half of a pass to because the personnel is not exactly what he expected it to be but still we need to see a better game plan from Chan.

I haven’t got much more to add…I’m just hoping for a 7-9 season…8 would be nice but they way they are going it’s a long shot.

Twitter @ErikVenskus

My AFC East First Half All-Pro Defense

Yesterday was the offense, today is the defense.  Same format, 1 starter for each position (in a 3-4 defense) and 1 back-up on the 2nd team.

Defensive Ends

  • 1st team – Andre Carter, New England Patriots (32 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 2 TFL, 1 FF) – Carter was a great acquisition for the Pats and thus far has outshined big names such as Haynseworth and Ellis.  Carter’s 4.5 sacks is tied for tops among defensive ends in the division.
  • 1st team – Dwan Edwards, Buffalo Bills (34 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 TFL, 1 PD) – Edwards, the former Raven, has been a solid force among the Bills new 3-4 D-Line since they signed him back in 2010.  He leads all AFC East DEs in tackles and is a good mentor for young players like Marcell Dareus and Alex Carrington
  • 2nd team – Muhammad Wilkerson, New York Jets (20 tackles, 1 sack, 3 TFL, 1 PD) – Wilkerson has fought off injury to become an effective 3-4 end for the Jets.  His 3 TFL are among the best for AFC East DEs.
  • 2nd team – Mark Anderson, New England Patriots (10 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 1 PD) – Anderson might not have had as many tackles as the rest of the guys on the list but he is tied with teammate Andre Carter with 4.5 sacks.

Defensive Tackles

  • 1st team – Vince Wilfork, New England Patriots (23 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 TFL, 3 PD, 2 INTs, 1 FF) – Wilfork has been one of the most versatile defenders in football thanks to his two surprise INTs this year.  It doesn’t matter whatever else is going on around him, big Vince is always a force in the middle for the New England defense.
  • 2nd team – Marcell Dareus, Buffalo Bills (24 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 TFL, 1 PD, 1 FF) – Dareus is the first and only rookie named to my All-AFC East team.  He leads all AFCE DTs in sacks with 3.5 and is the Bills best defender against the run on the front line.

Outside Linebackers

  • 1st team – Cameron Wake, Miami Dolphins (20 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 2 TFL, 2 PD) – People might forget that Wake is still a beast due to him playing on the Dolphins below par defense but Wake is the sack leader for the entire AFC East.  Makes you wonder what he was doing in Canada all those years.
  • 1st team – Calvin Pace, New York Jets (35 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 TFL, 1 PD, 1 INT, 2 FF) – Pace does it all for the Jets defense on the outside.  He gets sacks, defends the pass well and is as good as anyone against the run.  He’s the most versatile outside linebacker in the AFC East.
  • 2nd team – Rob Ninkovich, New England Patriots (37 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 PD, 1 FF) – Ninkovich has been a solid starter for the Pats this season with a team LB high for tackles and sacks.  Was rewarded with a contract extension.
  • 2nd team – Jerod Mayo, New England Patriots (33 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 FR) – Despite being injured for parts of the first half of the season Mayo is still a tackle machine for the Pats, even after kicking to the outside this season.

Inside Linebackers

  • 1st team – David Harris, New York Jets (42 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 PD, 2 INTs) – Harris might be the best middle linebacker in the game right now.  Equally strong against the pass and the run, Harris can plug up a hole or cover a tight end if need be.
  • 1st team – Nick Barnett, Buffalo Bills (67 tackles, 1 sack, 3 TFL, 3 PD, 2 INTs, 1 FF) – Barnett has been the exact type of versatile linebacker that the Bills envisioned when they signed him to replace the underachieving Paul Posluzny.  One of the few playmakers in the Bills front seven.
  • 2nd team – Bart Scott, New York Jets (39 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 TFL, 1 FF) – The loud talking, hard-hitting Scott has been himself this year, yapping up a storm and racking up tackles.
  • 2nd team – Kevin Burnett, Miami Dolphins (46 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 5 TFL, 1 PD) – The former Charger Burnett beats out Brandon Spikes for the last ILB spot due to his play behind the line of scrimmage.

Cornerbacks

  • 1st team – Darrelle Revis, New York Jets (24 tackles, 12 PD, 4 INTs) – This easiest no-brainer on the board.  The numbers are unreal…12 passes defended through 8 games?  4 INTs already and he is hardly thrown to.  Hands down the best Cornerback in the NFL right now and one of the best ever.
  • 1st team – Kyle Arrington, New England Patriots (43 tackles, 1 TFL, 7 PD, 5 INTs) – Arrington has been inconsistent, as has been pretty much every CB in the division besides Revis, but his ball-hawking skills have served him well as he leads all AFCE players in INTs.
  • 2nd team – Antonio Cromartie, New York Jets (23 tackles, 7 PD, 3 INTs, 1 FF) – Cromartie is one of those infuriating players who struggles at times despite having all the talent in the world.  When he’s on, he’s on.
  • 2nd team – Leodis McKelvin, Buffalo Bills (28 tackles, 6 PD, 1 INT, 1 FR) – McKelvin has been the strongest of a talented but inconsistent group of Bills cornerbacks in the early going.

Strong Safeties

  • 1st team – George Wilson, Buffalo Bills (71 tackles, 2 TFL, 6 PDs, 4 INTs, 1 FF) – The former undrafted wide receiver has been playing at an unbelievably high level this season.  Like teammate Fred Jackson, an example of what happens when hard work and lots of heart pays off.
  • 2nd team – Yeremiah Bell, Miami Dolphins (64 tackles, 1 sack, 1 PD, 1 FR) – Bell has been one of the few bright spots on the Miami defense.  He’s their most consistent guy in the defensive backfield.

Free Safeties

  • 1st team – Jairus Byrd, Buffalo Bills (56 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 5 PD, 2 INTs, 1 FF, 1 FR) – Byrd has shaken off a sophomore slump to become one of the most complete safeties in the entire league.  Byrd, who struggled against the run in his rookie season, has become a force in the Bills run defense and is getting a reputation for being a big hitter.
  • 2nd team – Patrick Chung, New England Patriots (55 tackles, 1 sack, 4 PD, 1 INT) – There is no sophomore slump for Chung who has been the most consistent defender in the Pats defensive backfield.

Punters

  • 1st team – Brandon Fields, Miami Dolphins (48.6 avg., 40.7 net, 17 IN20, 70 long) – Fields may have been getting a lot of work in the first half of the season but at least he is making it count.  He has the highest net, the longest punt, and the most pins inside the 20 in the division.
  • 2nd team – Brian Moorman, Buffalo Bills (49.5 avg., 38.5 net, 9 IN20, 66 long) – This was a dog fight with Zoltan Mesko but Moorman has Mesko in everything but the net avg. so the Bills vet gets the nod.

Twitter @ErikVenskus