By Jerry Sullivan
You can change the general manager and the head coach. You can bring in new linebackers and a new coordinator and assistant coaches. But while many of the faces change, one thing never seems to change about the Bills. Their run defense will rank near the bottom of the NFL.
After three weeks, the Bills are back in their customary spot near the bottom of the league stats. They're allowing 155 yards a game on the ground, which ties them for 30th. The Bills have finished 28th or worse against the run the last four seasons; their average per rush against was 27th or worse all four years.
In fact, the Bills have not finished better than 22nd against the run since 2004. Their average per rush has been 27th or worse in seven of the last eight seasons. In 2008, they were 21st.
In a pinch, I always blame Tom Donahoe. He was the general manager in 2004 when the Bills' run defense was seventh overall and averaged just 3.6 yards a rush, tied for second in the NFL. But Donahoe decided that nose tackle Pat Williams didn't play consistently hard enough and allowed Williams to walk in free agency.
Williams moved on to the Vikings after the '04 season and was a pillar on one of the best run defenses in recent NFL history. Buffalo's run defense has been horrid since.
The good news on this year's run defense is that the average per rush against is only 4.3 yards, which would be the Bills' best in five years. But they've been on the field for more than 35 minutes a game and have faced the most running plays of any team in the league. That's partly because the offense plays fast and isn't staying on the field enough.
Coach Doug Marrone said third downs are the problem -- on both sides of the ball.
The Bills are 28th in the league in offensive third-down conversions and 27th in getting off the field defensively on third. That's a lethal combination, and one with which Bills fans have become all too familiar.