The most stunning thing about the NFL, heading into Week 6? How bad the Bills have looked, especially on defense.
"Yeah,'' coach Chan Gailey said from Arizona Thursday, "I hate to use that word [stunned]. But this has really caught me off guard."
Roll this around in your brain, about the team that has one of the best defensive tackles in football, Kyle Williams, and a supposed wunderkind bookend for Williams, Marcell Dareus, and a $16-million-a-year defensive end, Mario Williams: The Bills have surrendered 1,201 yards and 97 points in the last two games.
I watched the tape of their historically bad game against San Francisco -- historic because it's the first game in NFL history where an offense compiled more than 300 yards rushing and 300 yards passing. I saw two quarterback pressures of Alex Smith. I saw gigantic holes for Frank Gore, and I saw Dareus and Mario Williams getting pushed around at will.
On the second 49ers">49ers drive of the game, Gore ran through such a massive hole that he wasn't touched by a Bills defender until he ran 13 yards past the line of scrimmage. Think of how many things go wrong when that happens -- the line is obliterated and the linebackers neutralized, to the point where Gore gained 19 yards and two-thirds of the gain was totally free.
Dareus, according to the football analytics site ProFootballFocus.com, is the lowest-rated of 77 defensive tackles, and last of all defensive tackles against the run.
I listened to Gailey and Kyle Williams try to explain why it's gotten so bad. Gailey said it was two horrendous halves, the 45-point second half against New England 12 days ago and the 28-pointer at San Francisco last Sunday. Gap control, Williams said.
He makes a good point there -- on a 31-yard Gore run behind left tackle Joe Staley in the third quarter, it looked as if half the Bills front got fooled and thought the run was coming up the gut instead of wide left, for what reason I still can't figure.
The Patriots and the 49ers are two of the best five or six offenses in football right now. There's no shame in allowing some long drives to them. But to allow 90 points to anyone in a six-quarter span is a disgrace, particularly for a team that appeared to be a solid playoff contender six weeks ago.
"We've missed an inordinate amount of tackles,'' said Gailey, who has his team in Arizona this week because of back-to-back games out West. Buffalo plays at Arizona Sunday. "And we're not playing on the other side of the line nearly enough. We've got to create more force with our defensive front, so we're playing on their side more, not on ours.''
That's the simplest way to look at it. What's strange is how highly regarded and respected the three (supposedly) good run players are. And then you look at the games, and you see Mario Williams and Dareus, particularly, getting physically handled. Add to that the fact that Mark Anderson, who wasn't playing well anyway, is now out with a knee injury, and that the offense is sputtering and gives the defense no margin for error. With all of that, the Bills have to hope that somehow, some way their defense can turn things around against a couple of inconsistent offensive teams, Arizona and Tennessee, in the next two weeks.
"I think it's a couple of things,'' said Kyle Williams. "Gap control, which is important because if just one guy doesn't cover his gap, if the guy thinks he can move over and make a play instead of playing disciplined and staying in his gap, then a [cut-back] runner can make a big play against us, and that's been happening. So that's been a big focus this week at practice. And I think we've had so many third-and-twos, third-and-threes ... When a quarterback has those time after time, he can call so many different things. Whereas if it's third-and-five-to-10, you're in a much better position to be able to rush the passer and be disruptive.''
In the sixth SI NFL podcast of the year, I give you the triggerman to the Vikings' 4-1 start, quarterback Christian Ponder, along with Niners left tackle Joe Staley, who previews the title-game rematch with the Giants on Sunday. NFL Films maestro Greg Cosell also analyzes the surprises of the first five weeks of the season. As usual, it's available on
"If he's cleared and he's healthy, then you go into it the same way you always do,'' offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said after Thursday's practice. "He's been great at practice this week. It sounds like he's going to be all right. Once I wait for that and get that cleared, you go into the game assuming he's healthy and you see how it plays out. You never want him to have to run the ball too much.''
That's the idea. Now they've got to make Griffin do it.