Year One of George Edwards' role as Bills defensive coordinator was like a roller coaster, starting with a big dip but finishing with a nice climb. The team adjusted to playing a 3-4 defense and the multiple formations that come with it, helping it to improve tremendously in the second half of the season after an 0-8 start.
A key to the turnaround has been the play of SS Donte Whitner. Always one of the more talented Bills defenders, Whitner has had his best season in 2010, posting 134 tackles, the most for any defensive back in the NFL. The fifth-year pro told PFW that the team has become comfortable with Edwards' approach, leading to their improved play.
"We're starting to settle in, starting to see how teams attack us in the coverages that we play and we're starting to react to those things faster," Whitner said. "Whenever you put a new defense in, you have multiple new coverages, it takes some time to really understand how teams are going to attack you. So once we understood that — and that really started happening after our bye week — we've started to make more plays on the football."
The unit still has its holes, especially on the ground. Buffalo ranks last in the league in rushing defense, allowing 162.5 yards per game. Opponents have had their way running through the Bills' front seven, a major reason that Whitner has been forced to rack up so many tackles.
"The next (step) is being able to stop the run on a consistent basis. And that's what we demand. It's just honing in on the things that we've learned throughout this year and going out there and just playing dominant football," Whitner said. "If we can continue to keep those things down and continue to play sound, fundamental football, then we can win a lot of football games."
A major question surrounding the defense will be Whitner himself. An unrestricted free agent, he will be highly coveted based on his play this season, but the safety says he wants to remain in Buffalo.
"I want to return to the Bills, I've stated that publicly and privately," Whitner said. "But you know, there's always a business side to it; we're still in talks. We still have all the way until March to see if something gets figured out with the CBA and free agency opens, so there is still some time to get some things worked out."