Oct 8, 2011, 12:50 PM EST
If you like shootouts, Sunday’s contest between the Birds and the Bills could be the game for you. By any measure, Buffalo’s defense is near the bottom in the NFL, most notably surrendering the sixth highest number of yards in the league. They don’t do anything particularly great, so in theory, the Eagles should be able to score some points.
LDE Marcell Dareus
Not so fast though. The Bills finally operate out of a 3-4 after a failed attempt to convert to the system last season, and Dareus is the primary reason why they were able to make the move this time. The third overall pick out of Alabama, Dareus gives the defense another big body that can control the line of scrimmage, which they needed desperately. At 6-3, 340, he already commands double teams from the offensive line, and he can play either end or nose. Needless to say, Danny Watkins will have his hands full in his first career start.
NT Kyle Williams
Dareus joins the disruptive Williams, who essentially held the interior of Buffalo’s front together on his own. A Pro Bowler in each of the past two seasons, Williams is an adept run defender who puts up silly tackle numbers for a lineman. The sixth-year veteran will utilize his ability to penetrate and occasionally pressure opposing quarterbacks as well, last season racking up a career best 5.5 sacks. We’ve noticed Jason Kelce has been getting blown off the ball in some key short yardage situations, and while Williams has only average size for a nose tackle (6-1, 301), he could easily give the rookie center fits this week.
ILB Nick Barnett
Barnett is an active linebacker who is more than capable of cleaning up whatever scraps are left over after Dareus and Williams are finished. He spent the previous eight seasons in Green Bay, but couldn’t finish two of the last three because of injury, and found himself out of a job. He’s still got some years left in the tank, but isn’t a big time playmaker the offense will have to game plan around.
ROLB Shawne Merriman
The Eagles will catch a slight break on Sunday, as Chris Kelsay will miss the game with a calf injury, leaving Merriman as the Bills’ only proven pass rusher. Of course, proven would only be an apt term if this were 2007, the last time Merriman showed any evidence of being able to get after the passer himself.
Injuries have worn down the man once known as “Lights Out.” After exploding on to the scene with 39.5 sacks in his first three seasons with the Chargers, he has just five in the last four seasons, playing in only 22 games. Even when he’s healthy, the burst that made him such a dangerous player coming off the edge is gone, and it’s never coming back. Merriman might pull some wily veteran tricks out of the bag to beat King Dunlap a few times, as he will be starting in place of the injured Jason Peters, but at this stage, whoever is out there should be able to contain number 53.
CB Leodis McKelvin
Selected 11th overall in 2008, McKelvin hasn’t developed into the shutdown corner Buffalo had hoped. To be fair, his second season was derailed by a broken bone in his leg, and he may have been spent last season trying to get back up to speed, but a pair of interceptions in 2010 is not the productivity they were searching for. McKelvin is still a threat to take one to the house when he gets his hands on the ball, but he’s not going to eliminate one side of the field or anything like that.
CB Drayton Florence
Florence is a crafty veteran who just sticks wherever he goes. A second round pick of the Chargers in ’03, Sunday will mark his 85th start over a nine-year career. He already has two picks on the season, so even though he’ll be 31 in December, the offense has to respect his talent.
FS Jairus Byrd
It’s hard to say what the Bills have with Byrd, as you would have a difficult time finding a much more uneven start to a career. As a rookie in ’09, Byrd intercepted nine passes and earned an invite to Honolulu. Last season, he picked just one in what Football Outsiders described as a “miserable sophomore campaign.” The truth is the huge total he posted as a first-year player was in part fueled by some lucky breaks, and he’s not likely to sniff that number again. His coverage abilities undoubtedly will be tested by DeSean Jackson several times in this contest, so we’ll soon see for ourselves if Byrd is the real deal, or if he is merely that one statistic.
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