The Buffalo Bills are hoping they have made the correct moves to revamp a defence that ranked dead last against the run in 2010.
Those moves will be put to the test in a big way this Sunday when they travel to Kansas City.
Head Coach Chan Gailey will bring his Bills into Arrowhead Stadium for a 1 p.m. ET kickoff with the Chiefs, the team that fired him before the 2009 season.
“I want to win them all,” Gailey told reporters Wednesday. “But when you’ve been somewhere and they’ve fired you? Yeah, if you said it didn’t mean a little more you’d be lying.”
The team’s off-season moves were made to beat teams like the Chiefs. Gone are former high draft picks Aaron Maybin and Paul Posluszny. In are Kirk Morrison, Nick Barnett and third-overall draft pick Marcell Dareus.
Though Bills fans haven’t had much to be excited about for the past three losing seasons in Orchard Park, the six-foot-three, 340 pound Dareus gives them hope.
Mike Mayock, the NBC College Football analyst and NFL Draft guru, rated the defensive lineman out of the University of Alabama his No. 1 defensive player in this past year’s draft class.
Dareus’s athleticism and size allow him to play anywhere on the line of the Bills 3-4 defence.
“He’s exactly what we thought we were going to get,” Gailey said. “He’s a big strong individual who plays with an edge … I think he’s going to be a very good football player for a long time in this league.”
Dareus will join with Kyle Williams and Dwan Edwards to be much more stout at the point of attack, hopefully clogging the running lanes for the Chiefs’ Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones, who combined to rush for a league-best 2,363 yards last season.
“You have to get where you’re supposed to be, and you gotta get there fast with this guy,” Williams said about Charles. “If he gets a step, nobody’s gonna catch him.”
Charles primary concern
In his third season, Charles accumulated 1,467 yards on the ground, and another 468 through the air. He is most certainly the primary concern for the Bills defence.
They must also be conscious of the Chiefs’ passing attack, a unit led by quarterback Matt Cassel and his number-one wide out Dwayne Bowe.
The two hooked up on a franchise-record 15 touchdown passes last year, the best combination in the NFL, and added a proven receiver in Steve Breaston.
One way to disrupt the passing attack is with an effective pass rush, and that’s where the Bills’ rejuvenated Shawne Merriman expects to make an impact.
“Lights Out” went to the Pro Bowl in each of his first three years of his career, accumulating 39 1/2 sacks with the San Diego Chargers. But he suffered a season-ending knee injury early in 2008, and it has plagued him ever since.
The 27-year-old has totaled just four sacks over 18 games the past three years.
But with apparent good health and a strong pre-season under his belt, Merriman may be primed to wreak havoc on Cassel, who was rumoured to have fractured a rib in the final pre-season contest, but has said he will play regardless.
On the other side of the ball for the Bills, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick will have to keep a keen eye on Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali, whose 14 1/2 sacks were second in the league last year.
Many are anxious to see how two young stars develop in the new season.
Fourth-year receiver Stevie Johnson came into his own in 2010, hauling in 1,073 yards and 10 majors. Running back CJ Spiller had a quiet rookie season after getting drafted ninth overall in 2010, but appeared to make strides late in the season.
Combined with veteran Fred Jackson, the Bills may have a dynamic back field duo of their own in the making.
What to watch for on offence: Will Donald Jones be able to fill the void left by the trade of Lee Evans?
What to watch for on defence: If the front seven holds up against the Chiefs running attack, how will the secondary play when tested?
Last Meeting: Chiefs kicker Ryan Succop made a 35-yard field goal with the clock showing zeros in overtime, giving Kansas City a 13-10 win in Week 8 last year. Charles ran for 177 yards in a game that saw both Succop and Bills kicker Rian Lindell miss potential game-winning kicks in OT.
Toronto Observer Prediction: Bills 21, Chiefs 17.