Upgraded D will help Bills, Jets

New players, scheme changes key NFL's four most-improved defenses

Originally Published: July 3, 2012
By Gary Horton | Scouts Inc.
Morris Claiborne and Brandon CarrMatthew Emmons/US PresswireMorris Claiborne and Brandon Carr should make life much easier for Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.

The goal of every offseason for NFL teams is a simple one: get better. There are a variety of ways to do so, including acquiring new personnel from the draft and free agency, tinkering with schemes and strategies, and simply coaching up players during camps.

As we start to look toward the 2012 season, it's clear that some teams have made big strides on the defensive side of the ball. By making shrewd acquisitions that fit their defensive philosophies, I think four teams in particular have made a lot of headway: the Buffalo Bills, Seattle Seahawks, New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys.

By breaking down film and exploring how some of these new pieces fit in with those teams, let's take a look at why these defenses should be much improved in 2012:

Buffalo Bills

Of the four defenses I looked at, Buffalo has the most ground to make up. In 2011, the Bills were near the bottom of the league in overall defense. They couldn't stop the run, pressure the QB or get off the field on third down and were last in the NFL in red zone defense. That led to dramatic personnel changes and also a scheme switch, as they will make the transition from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 package under new coordinator Dave Wannstedt.

Success in 2012 will likely start with a defensive line that should dominate, which will make things a lot easier for the guys on the back end. In the past couple of seasons, most of the meager pass rush production for the Bills came from the inside, and their edge pass rush was almost nonexistent (29 sacks in 2011). They now have two elite edge rushers in free-agent defensive ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson. They are perfect fits in this 4-3 front with excellent quickness and edge explosiveness. That allows the Bills to move NT Marcell Dareus to a more natural 4-3 DT position. He will team with the underrated Kyle Williams to give them a terrific one-gap, penetrating inside pass rush.

Chris Kelsay provides natural 4-3 pass rush skills as a swing DE, but the wild card of this front may be Shawne Merriman, who could really help in sub packages as an edge rusher.


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Gary Horton spent 10 years in the NFL as a scout and another 10 years at the college level as an assistant coach and recruiter. He is the founder and most seasoned member of the Scouts Inc. staff, and his extensive experience at all levels of football make him an excellent talent evaluator.