The Buffalo Bills have been able to build an interesting defense but injuries have forced them to use a lot of their depth, which might be beneficial in the long run. They were down two corners and their best safety this past week but managed to go out and beat the Ravens. The Bills defense gives up yardage both in the air and on the ground, but they do not give up a ton of points and have been able to cause turnovers which could be a problem for the Browns on Thursday.
The defensive line of the Bills has some talent that has caused the Browns problems in past; most notably, Mario Williams, who has 5.5 sacks so far this season. The last time the Bills and Browns played, Williams lined up against rookie Mitchell Schwartz and really gave him problems including two sacks. The next week and really the best of the season, Schwartz was great. Williams is schemed to line up against Joe Thomas which is still a challenge but it would not be a surprise to see them move him around so he can go up against Schwartz and see if he can recapture some of that success.
Marcell Dareus might be the most anonymous of the top picks from the 2011 NFL Draft by staying quiet and playing in Buffalo, but he has been impressive. So far, he has notched 3 sacks at basically the same size as Phil Taylor. He is not an easy player to block and Alex Mack will likely be spending most of his time helping the guards block him depending on where he is positioned. That leaves Kyle Williams, another underrated defensive tackle opportunities to make plays. He is everything Dareus is not in terms of size at just 6’1” and barely 300lbs, but he just keeps coming and works extremely hard. And they have another giant presence in Alan Branch who can rotate in and keep them fresh as well as allow them to put almost 700lbs of beef in the middle of that line if they feel the need.
The middle linebacker position appears to be where the Bills have found something special in Kiko Alonso. Their second round pick from Oregon, Alonso had some issues off the field and was not a great run defender. Where he showed to be special was in pass coverage where he has displayed an incredible set of instincts and understanding on where plays seem to be going. In Eugene, he was constantly putting himself in great position to make plays and that has carried over to the Bills.
Alonso has caused at least one turnover in every game of his young career. He had a forced fumble and recovery in the opener against the New England Patriots and has had an interception in each of the next three games including two against Joe Flacco this past week. Alonso is not only in great position to win the Defensive Rookie of the Year if he can keep producing, but he appears to give the Bills a linebacker presence they have been missing for years. Alonso has 4 of the Bills’ league leading 9 interceptions.
In the secondary, the Bills are trying to make up for the losses of Stephon Gilmore and Ron Meeks with Leodis McKelvin and Justin Rogers. They are hoping to have Jairus Byrd healthy to play his first game of this season and give them another ball hawking presence in their defense who can help on the back end. Aaron Williams, his partner in crime on the back end is a converted corner turned strong safety and has 2 interceptions as well.
The Bills’ defense is not overpowering but has some big playmakers that are opportunistic with their ability to cause turnovers. The Browns will have opportunities to score points as the Bills give up yardage and have given up at between 20 and 27 points in every game through their first four, but the key will be avoiding the turnovers that killed them in the loss to the Miami Dolphins. Brian Hoyer was able to stay turnover free against the Bengals this past week, but did have three interceptions against the Minnesota Vikings. Thursday games have a tendency to be sloppy so it will be interesting to see if that has more of an impact on Hoyer and the Browns offense or Alonso and the Bills defense.