Kyle Williams is “week to week” with a knee injury suffered in the second preseason game at Cleveland. That’s certainly troubling for coach Sean McDermott, who wants his veteran defensive tackle to be part of his rotation in the front seven. Even at age 35, Williams can be a disruptive presence and an emotional leader on the field.
But I wouldn’t overestimate his importance. Williams has been a very good player during his 12-year Bills career. He’s also been part of some of the worst run defense in team history. His surrounding cast has been a big issue at times, but when you’re a defensive tackle in the NFL, you have to take your share of the blame when your team is getting steamrolled on the ground.
The Bills were 29th in the league in run defense last season. It’s a trend. They were 29th the year before. During Kyle’s 12 years in Buffalo, the Bills were BOTTOM FIVE against the run eight times. So in two-thirds of his NFL games, Williams has managed to be part of a run defense that finished 28th or worst. The Bills have been top 15 against the run just once since 2004, when they finished 11th in the 2014 season.
Numbers can deceive, I know, but it’s pretty clear that teams have run effectively against the Bills for a very long time. I guess you could go back to Tom Donahue deciding that Pat Williams wasn’t worth keeping for the last time they were truly stout against the run. We glorify Kyle Williams (and I’ve done my share, though I’ve never considered him great). But he’s not the D tackle that Pat Williams and Ted Washington were.
I understand that Josh Allen is the big story in Bills Land. I’ve been writing about him a lot lately. One of my rules as a columnist has always been “When in doubt, write the quarterback.” But I get the sense that fans are taking the defense for granted, assuming it will be much better this year with the additions of Star Lotulelei and that Murphy guy who can’t stay healthy.
It’s a familiar feeling in the summer. I’ve been through a lot of these preseasons, where fans and media tend to assume the best about new players and the team. Many times, we’ve heard about how the defense was going to emerge. I won bets the last two seasons against fools who felt they would finish top 10 or top 12 in total defense.
McDermott is a fine defensive coach. He did wonders last season getting his team to hang together after an epic stretch of bad defense at midseason. They also marched heroically into the playoffs against quarterbacks named Jay Cutler, David Fales and Jacoby Brissett in their last three wins of the regular season.
So let’s wait and see before anointing them as a potentially elite defense, or even top half of the league. The secondary is good, but I think they played over their heads last season. It starts up front against the run, and that opening drive by the Browns was certainly alarming. Cleveland ran seven times for 63 yards on the drive. They cleaned things up later, but when the real games begin, teams are going to attack them up front.
They need to prove that they won’t be pushed around this year.