Yes, the Buffalo Bills have seen their defense lose several key players to injury and suspension, but while we’ve been focused on who isn’t there, we’ve missed out on who is there.
The Bills’ secondary isn’t getting nearly enough credit for the success of the defense over the course of the first two preseason games, and that shouldn’t be.
While other units are a little thin and unproven on depth, the secondary is one of the more talented and deeper groups on the roster.
Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby are one of the better cornerback tandems in the NFL today despite both coming off injuries (Gilmore had shoulder surgery and Darby underwent sports-hernia surgery). Aaron Williams is a solid player at the strong safety position, while Corey Graham should bounce back from a disappointing 2015 at free safety.
Beyond the starters, there are more talented players waiting for a shot. Nickell Robey could develop into a tremendous slot corner, and we’ve talked before about sixth round rookie Kevon Seymour and how well he has played this summer.
There are a few more players vying for roster spots, like Sterling Moore and Mario Butler, both of whom have been up and down this preseason but are also solid depth players.
The competition in the secondary has helped it play well this summer and that, in turn, has helped the defense as it tries to regroup after losing Reggie Ragland for the year, Shaq Lawson for much of the year and Marcellus Dareus for at least four games and maybe more since he is in rehab.
As head coach Rex Ryan will tell you, a solid secondary helps the defensive line buy time to get after the quarterback, and that has been what has happened during the first two preseason games. It’s a positive sign that things are more on track than we expected after the defensive line issues, although you can’t read too much into preseason games. Especially against a terrible offensive line like the one the Giants roll out there right now.
That said, you can see the play as a positive, especially when the unit helps hold Eli Manning to 4-for-9 and 44 yards passing. It was a vast improvement over the first game, when the defense allowed Scott Tolzien and Stephen Morris to account for 244 yards in the loss to the Colts.
We expected the struggle in the first week, fresh off several weeks of bad news and injuries, but a second down game would have been a big concern.
The secondary has to keep up its efforts though, because good in the preseason doesn’t always translate to good in the regular season (the opposite is also true). Especially when you are facing a tough opening frame like the Bills.
The Baltimore Ravens, Arizona Cardinals and New England Patriots can all throw the ball (yes, even minus Tom Brady) and the New York Jets could also be a problem if Ryan Fitzpatrick gets his act together. The Bills also face the Seattle Seahawks, Cincinnati Bengals, Oakland Raiders, and Pittsburgh Steelers, all of whom can throw the ball. And like the Jets, if Ryan Tannehill and Blake Bortles can get it together, the Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars could be a problem as well.
So no matter what, the Bills appear to face a tough road in the regular season. The key to success will be the relatively overlooked secondary.
Whether for good or bad, though, by the end of the season you’ll know who they are.