AFC East: Jim Schwartz

This is the Jim Schwartz Reunion Show.

For the Detroit Lions head coach turned Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator, seeing Detroit at 3-1 and playing well heading into October must bring back some memories.

While it’s unknown exactly how Lions fans will treat Schwartz when he enters Ford Field on Sunday for a game for the first time since cursing at some fans in last season’s home finale, former players will almost definitely be cordial to him. Lions reporter Michael Rothstein and Bills reporter Mike Rodak break down this week’s game.

Rothstein: So this is the Jim Schwartz homecoming game. How much similarity is there in what Schwartz is running now and what he ran the past couple of years in Detroit?

Rodak: It’s almost uncanny how similar the blitz numbers are between Schwartz’s defense so far this season and his defense in five seasons with the Lions. From 2009-2013, the Lions blitzed on 23 percent of plays. Through four games with Schwartz as defensive coordinator this season, the Bills have blitzed 22.7 percent of the time. Over that time, the Lions had an identical QB pressure rate of 23 percent, while the Bills have a 24.4 percent pressure rate this season. Schwartz’s defensive line is again the strength of his team, and he’s able to use Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes in some of those wider alignments that were part of his scheme in Detroit. Schwartz has also been known for his defense’s ability to stop the run. That hasn’t changed, either; the Bills rank second in the NFL behind the Seattle Seahawks, allowing just 2.89 yards per carry.

On the flip side, how much has changed for the Lions since Schwartz left? This always seemed like a talented team that underachieved during Schwartz’s tenure. The Lions are now 3-1, so what has been different?

Rothstein: A lot has changed. Schematically, the Lions are using two tight ends a lot more than they did under Schwartz and Scott Linehan. Defensively, Detroit is blitzing a lot more than it did last season, when the Lions blitzed less than any team in the NFL. More important, though, there's more accountability this season than there was in 2013 under Schwartz. Schwartz never belittled his star players -- particularly Matthew Stafford -- publicly, but multiple players have pointed out this season that it feels like every player is treated the same under this coaching staff.

Also, Jim Caldwell is not a yeller. Not even close. He has a very calm demeanor, and with this team right now, it appears to be working. Detroit's players are buying into that and it's a big reason the Lions are 3-1. It also helps that Stafford is playing extremely well right now and the defensive front is making it hard for teams to run on the Lions. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin has also been a big factor. His ability to scheme despite losing starting linebacker Stephen Tulloch and a multitude of defensive backs over the first four weeks of the season has been impressive.

Since we're talking about switching personnel, what does Buffalo get with Kyle Orton that it didn't have with EJ Manuel?

Rodak: I wouldn’t go as far as to say Orton can take over and win games where Manuel was unable, but it gives the Bills a better shot. The Bills felt as though they surrounded Manuel with plenty of weapons for him to succeed -- a strong running game with two showcase backs, a top-flight talent in Sammy Watkins, and two other capable receivers in Robert Woods and Mike Williams. It just never came together for Manuel and a shake-up was inevitable. The Bills’ hope is that Orton can take advantage of those weapons. He’s not going to be Aaron Rodgers, but if he’s better than Manuel, then the move was worth it. The Bills’ passing “attack” was the main contributor to their last two losses. It may not be the main reason why they win -- if they do with Orton -- but it takes some pressure off the defense to do all the work.

The Lions’ offense gains 76 percent of its total yards through the air, the seventh-highest rate in the NFL. Even with Calvin Johnson hobbled lately by an ankle injury, how have Stafford and others been able to get it done?

Rothstein: A lot of underneath routes and Golden Tate. The Lions signing Tate gave them a legitimate No. 2 receiver and a player who could pick up the targets effectively for this particular scenario. Detroit also added Eric Ebron in the first round of the draft, and while he hasn't done much so far, his role appears to be expanding by the week. But a lot of it has to do with Stafford. He's making smarter decisions, finding the open player and showing more patience than last season, even as his line is not protecting him nearly as well as a year ago.

We talked about the defense at the top of this, so let's come back to that for this final question. The Bills are second in the league in run defense, allowing 2.89 yards a carry. Is this a defense better at stopping between-the-tackles runners or can they handle an edge guy like Reggie Bush as well?

Rodak: It starts up front with a defensive line that is unmatched. Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams, both Pro Bowlers last season, clog up the middle better than anyone, while Mario Williams and Hughes have buttoned up the outside. The problem, however, is a knee injury to Kyle Williams in last Sunday’s loss to the Houston Texans that could threaten his availability in Detroit. If the Bills need to turn to backups Stefan Charles or Corbin Bryant, they’ll be more prone to runs up the middle. On the second level, they added Brandon Spikes this offseason, and while he has been limited in his playing time, he has brought some physicality that has added another dimension to the run defense. The Bills don’t have the fastest group of linebackers, so if the Lions want to find a way to exploit that, they should give the ball to Bush in space and see if he can make some plays.

One of the Lions’ strengths is their defensive line, and we know the impact Ndamukong Suh can have on a game. Yet the Lions' defense as a whole has allowed only 15 points per game, fourth fewest in the NFL, so surely there’s more to the defense than the front four. Where else have they excelled?

Rothstein: Teryl Austin has done a great job masking any issues the Lions may have because of injury (linebacker, slot corner) and has come up with different ways to pressure opposing offenses. It has probably helped some that there hasn’t been a ton of film on Austin’s tendencies yet, so it’ll be interesting to see if this keeps up. But four weeks in, it has been tough to face the Detroit defense. DeAndre Levy is a major reason for the success, too. He’s still pretty underrated nationally, but is one of the best coverage linebackers in the league and is always around the ball. Having a guy like that in the middle third of your defense can hide any problems.

Jim SchwartzAP Photo/David RichardDefensive coordinator Jim Schwartz arrived in Buffalo after five seasons as Detroit's head coach.
Even the Cleveland Browns haven't had it this bad.

The Buffalo Bills have run through more defensive coordinators over the past four years than any other team in the NFL, complicating their player-acquisition process through both free agency and the draft.

While their defensive schemes have changed each offseason since 2011, it's not all bad news. In hiring Mike Pettine last winter and Jim Schwartz to replace him in January, the Bills are sacrificing long-term coaching stability to help win now.

It's the right approach. Schwartz has extensive experience as a coordinator and head coach, while Pettine is a riser in the NFL coaching ranks, having recently been hired to lead the Browns. They're both talented defensive minds and better than the alternative, which would have been to promote from within or to poach an up-and-coming position coach from another team.

Schwartz is already putting his mark on the Bills defense. General manager Doug Whaley revealed last week that Kiko Alonso, who finished second in voting for the Associated Press' Defensive Rookie of the Year award, will move to weakside linebacker as part of yet another defensive overhaul.

Replacing Alonso at middle linebacker will be newly signed Brandon Spikes. The Bills also signed Keith Rivers, a former first-round draft pick, to potentially start at strongside linebacker.

It will be a whole new look, but one that presents some challenges for the Bills.

It was only a year ago when Buffalo signed linebacker Manny Lawson to a four-year, $12 million deal. The lanky veteran proved a strong fit in Pettine's system, starting 15 games and posting his best statistical marks since 2009.

Now Lawson is a man without a home. Under Pettine, Lawson could play close to the line of scrimmage, setting the edge against the run and blitzing on occasion. Things will be different with Schwartz, who rarely blitzes his linebackers and requires sturdier defensive ends than the 240-pound Lawson.

[+] EnlargeMike Pettine
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliThe Bills' defense improved in a number of areas during Mike Pettine's lone season as coordinator.
With three years left on Lawson's contract, the Bills wouldn't have received much of a salary-cap benefit by releasing him. Instead, they paid Lawson his $500,000 roster bonus last week and will try to find him a place among their new furniture.

"I think he's going to be a hybrid player. He's going to be able to bring us something as an outside linebacker but also come off the edge as a defensive end," Whaley told WGR 550 last week. "His versatility is going to be utilized within this system. That we think is going to be very valuable for us."

Translation: We like you Manny, but we don't really know what to do with you.

Lawson might find a situational role at defensive end, where Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes are the top two options. It also could be a position where the Bills try to add depth in the draft.

What about Alan Branch, who started 13 games at defensive end last season? Pettine's system required three big bodies along the defensive line. At 325 pounds, Branch fit that bill.

Without waiting to see how things would unfold with Pettine, the Bills jumped the gun in late December and gave Branch a three-year extension worth more than $3 million per season, with nearly $4 million in guaranteed money.

Under Schwartz, Branch figures to have a lesser role. The Bills already have a pair of defensive tackles in Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus -- who both made the Pro Bowl last season -- and Branch will be a capable but likely overpaid backup.

The Bills were smarter in doling out contracts last week. Spikes received a one-year deal and Rivers signed for two years. Both contracts included little guaranteed money.

After all, who knows where Schwartz will be by next January?

It took Schwartz eight seasons as the Tennessee Titans' defensive coordinator to earn his first head-coaching job, with the Detroit Lions. He's known as a prideful coach who, when introduced in Buffalo, came off miffed about the way things ended after five seasons in Detroit.

"I think if you look around, just about every coach has been in that position. Every coach has had some situation," he said. "There are some great ones that have been fired."

At 47, Schwartz might not have to wait long for another head-coaching opportunity, but that doesn't make him a bad investment by the Bills.

The Bills gambled when they hired Pettine last winter. It was among the NFL's worst-kept secrets that Pettine wanted to become a head coach. He was on the fast track. Unusual circumstances may have led to his hire by the Browns, but the departure from Buffalo was inevitable.

Likewise with Schwartz. The Bills might rebuild and grow with Whaley, Doug Marrone and EJ Manuel, but it's unlikely that Schwartz will stick around long enough to see that process through.

In Pettine and Schwartz, the Bills hired the best options on the market. Pettine boosted several areas of the Bills defense, helping it improve from 22nd in yards allowed per game in 2012 to 10th in 2013, while seeing the red zone defense jump from 31st to sixth last season. The Bills finished second in opposing QBR, second in sacks, second in interceptions and first in opposing completion percentage.

Meanwhile, Schwartz's defenses were typically strong in Tennessee, especially against the run. The Titans finished in the top six in rushing yards allowed in five of Schwartz's eight seasons as defensive coordinator.

Most important, both coaches are confident and experienced, allowing Marrone to focus his attention where it's needed the most: on offense. Had the Bills turned to a younger, less experienced defensive coordinator than Pettine or Schwartz, it would have created more continuity with scheme but also would have stretched Marrone thin.

Whaley and his scouting staff might get headaches trying to keep up with the defensive changes, but for a city that desperately needs a winning team, this is the right way to go.

The inside scoop on Jim Schwartz

February, 4, 2014
Feb 4
What's the skinny on Schwartz?

We recently chatted with ESPN Detroit Lions reporter Michael Rothstein about Jim Schwartz, who was introduced last week as the defensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills.

Here's Rothstein's perspective, having covered Schwartz in his final season as Lions head coach:

Mike Rodak: Jim Schwartz told reporters last Monday that he couldn’t put a label on his defensive scheme and that it would be opponent-specific. Did that hold true in Detroit? Or did they follow the same general strategy each week?

Jim Schwartz
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliDon't expect the Bills to blitz much under Jim Schwartz.
Michael Rothstein: They appeared to stick with the same strategy most weeks. They only blitzed 19.6 percent of the time -- third-least in the NFL. A lot of that had to do with Detroit's front four and the talent the Lions had up there, though. That said, the run defense was superb this season. Other than a couple of big plays early in the season and LeSean McCoy's snow-filled day of fun on the ice in Philadelphia, the Lions' run defense was incredibly stout. Despite it being Gunther Cunningham's defense, I really believe Schwartz had a major hand in that.

Rodak: The expectation is that the Bills will blitz significantly less under Schwartz than they did under Mike Pettine. How well did the front line generate pressure without help from linebackers?

Rothstein: The front line did a decent job of generating pressure, but didn't actually register quarterback sacks all that much. Toward the end of the season, Detroit began to blitz some more with linebackers and safeties, but if Schwartz thinks he has the talent up front to generate pressure, he'll use the front four to try and dominate the game. Having Mario Williams certainly is a start. If fans want to get an idea of the best-case scenario for the Schwartz defense, check out the Thanksgiving game this season against Green Bay. The Lions were at their best defensively in that game. But they weren't consistent enough.

Rodak: What kind of personality are the Bills getting in Schwartz? Do you see him easily making the transition back to being a coordinator?

Rothstein: Schwartz is a fiery personality, something that came through over and over again during his tenure as a head coach -- from chasing Jim Harbaugh after a handshake-gone-awry to yelling at the fans during the final home game in Detroit. That said, he is a very intelligent man and a good coordinator. My guess is he will be out to prove he is a good coach -- you got that feeling in his news conference -- and I expect you'll see that the next couple of years. I'd imagine the two games in Detroit this season will be a bit extra for him, as well. But I'd bet he'll be working harder so he can get another head coaching shot.

Rodak: What went wrong for Schwartz with the Lions? What is the general view of him among fans and reporters?

Rothstein: The obvious is the team didn't win enough, but it went beyond that with a franchise that hardly ever wins. It was the way his teams fell apart at the end of seasons -- again, that is not an issue exclusive to Schwartz among Lions coaches -- but it did him in. If Detroit had made the playoffs, he'd likely still be the Lions' coach.

That said, his personality could rub some people the wrong way and that certainly didn't help him toward the end. Yelling at fans in the home finale essentially sealed how they felt about him, and they won't forget that. It's a shame for him because in some ways he did what he was supposed to do in Detroit. He took over a team that went 0-16 the year before, gave them confidence and swagger, took them to the playoffs and turned expectations around a bit. So in that way, his tenure was a success. He just couldn't do enough to take the Lions beyond that point.
On Friday, we asked the following question: What did we learn about the Buffalo Bills in January?

Now we'll ask this: What do we expect to learn about the Bills in February?

As the Bills move into the second month of the offseason, here's what on the radar:

Does Alonso win rookie honors? On Saturday, the NFL will reveal the Associated Press' NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year at their annual awards show in New York City. Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso could be the favorite, having been awarded the Pro Football Writers of America's version of the award last month. Alonso played every snap his rookie season and finished third in the NFL with 159 tackles. Alonso's top competition could be a pair of defensive tackles: Star Lotulelei (Carolina Panthers) and Sheldon Richardson (New York Jets).

Does Andre Reed make the Hall of Fame? For the eighth consecutive year, former Bills receiver Andre Reed is a finalist for election into the Pro Football Fame. On Saturday, the 46 voters will meet to decide the latest class to be inducted into Canton. The feeling on this end is that Reed is a longer shot to finish in the top five of the voting. Among wide receivers, he faces stiff competition from Tim Brown and Marvin Harrison.

Does Byrd get franchise tag? Teams have from Feb. 17 to March 3 to assign the franchise tag to player set to become an unrestricted free agent. Realistically, the only Bills player who could get tagged is safety Jairus Byrd, who was also franchised last season. Because of the back-to-back tags, the Bills would need to tender Byrd at $8.3 million, which is 120 percent of his salary this season. That amount would be guaranteed if Byrd signed the tender, which could happen at any time after he is tagged. From this perspective, the Bills could keep the franchise tag on the table if they feel (a) they feel they aren't making progress in talks with Byrd's representatives, and (b) they believe the $8.3 million figure is palatable to keep Byrd in Buffalo for one more season.

Does coaching staff get finalized? The departure of defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has brought several changes to the Bills' coaching staff, which should continue into this month. The Bills are likely looking to hire one or two linebackers coaches (they had two last season) and potentially a defensive line coach, should Anthony Weaver follow Pettine to the Cleveland Browns. New defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz made it clear at his introductory news conference that the hiring decisions would be made by Doug Marrone, not Schwartz. Still, it would hardly be surprising if some of Schwartz's former lieutenants landed in Buffalo; the Bills have already hired former Detroit Lions quarterback coach Todd Downing for the same position.

Do Bills make any cap casualties? It's difficult to pin down the Bills' exact salary cap position -- the NFL has yet to settle on a figure for the 2014 season -- but the expectation is that the Bills will be around the middle of the pack in cap space entering the new league year in March. Teams are allowed to release players as soon as Monday, following the Super Bowl, and it would not be a shock if the Bills trimmed their roster in order to free up extra cap space. We'll dive deeper into that topic Monday.
Former New England Patriots assistant coach Pepper Johnson agreed to join the Buffalo Bills' coaching staff Friday, a source confirmed to ESPN's Mike Reiss.

It's not immediately known what role Johnson will fill on the Bills' staff, but he is expected to work under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who was hired last week.

The Bills are without both of their linebackers coaches from last season. Outside linebackers coach Jim O'Neil became the defensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns, while inside linebackers coach Chuck Driesbach was fired. The Bills have also granted the Browns permission to interview defensive line coach Anthony Weaver.

Johnson, 49, spent the past 14 seasons as an assistant coach for the Patriots, serving as an assistant linebackers coach (2000), inside linebackers coach (2001-2003), defensive line coach (2004-2011), and linebackers coach (2012-2013). He decided to leave the team earlier this month.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick said in a statement that he was "proud and honored to have spent more years of my career with Pepper Johnson than any other player or coach." Johnson played under Belichick as a linebacker with the New York Giants (1986-92), Cleveland Browns (1993-95) and New York Jets (1997-98).

Schwartz served as a personnel scout for the Browns from 1993-95.

It is believed that Johnson departed the Patriots to seek opportunities for advancement. Schwartz, a veteran coach who was fired after five seasons with the Detroit Lions, could be in line for another head coaching job as soon as the 2015 season. That could potentially open the door for Johnson to become the Bills' defensive coordinator.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Introduced to reporters Monday, new Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz wasn't willing to divulge much about his scheme, calling it opponent-specific.

"I don't know if you can put it in a box like that, we've never put a label on it," Schwartz said. "Whatever anybody wants to tag the system as far as a name, it won't be us. We're just going to try to do whatever we can every week to do the best to have the game plan."

[+] EnlargeJim Schwartz
AP Photo/Paul Sancya"We'll be fast, we'll be physical, and we'll attack," Buffalo's new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "We are not going to be a reading defense."
Schwartz, however, did offer a little more than that.

"We're an attack scheme, it's a scheme built on the guys up front getting after the quarterback," he said. "As much as you want to be multi-dimensional with personnel groups, this league comes down to one on one and I think we have some guys that can do that."

That should be music to Bills' fans ears. Just like in Buffalo, the strength of the Detroit Lions was in their defensive line. If Schwartz is able to maximize the Bills' front-line talent like Mike Pettine did last season, it will set a solid foundation for the rest of the defense.

"We'll be fast, we'll be physical, and we'll attack. We are not going to be a reading defense," Schwartz said. "There's going to be a lot of defensive lineman that will be real happy to play in a system like that."

Schwartz and his long-time defensive line coach with the Tennessee Titans, Jim Washburn, have been associated with the "wide nine" defense, which uses defensive ends aligned in a "9-technique" -- a few yards off where the tight end typically aligns on offense. On Monday, Schwartz downplayed the importance of that concept within his defense.

"Mostly that's thrown around by people that couldn't line it up if they wanted to. That's no disrespect to those people," he said. "I'll say this, there's 32 teams in the NFL and all 32 line up in a wide nine. Not all of them are called wide nine teams, but that's just the way it goes.

"That's what it developed into because it fit our personnel and it fit what our opponents did. You can dictate something your opponents did and it makes it hard on offense. There's some things that you need to constantly work because like anything it has strengths and weaknesses. It will certainly be part of our scheme here, but that won't define our scheme."

While Schwartz didn't get into the specifics Monday, his defensive scheme is known as more of a true "4-3" look than that used by Mike Pettine, who has roots in the "46" defense. How much Schwartz will meld his system into what players have known under Pettine will come to light as the offseason progresses.

"First of all, Mike and I are different guys. Even though I think continuity is important and there is something to be said for that, we're going to look very hard at ways over the next few months to keep continuity as much as we can," Schwartz said.
Offering some follow-up thoughts after the Buffalo Bills hired Jim Schwartz as their defensive coordinator Friday:

1. In hiring a veteran coach like Schwartz, the Bills are showing an urgency to win now, which should appeal to most fans. Their other option was to hire a less-experienced position coach -- either from their own staff or another team's -- and have him grow into the role over time. In this case, I feel like level of talent on the Bills' defense calls for a more established coach like Schwartz.

2. With that said, the downside of replacing Mike Pettine with Schwartz is the potential for more instability. Schwartz is the Bills' fourth defensive coordinator in as many seasons, and if he performs well could be back on the head-coaching market next winter. That could begin the cycle over again for the Bills, creating more turnover and uncertainty. There might not be as appealing an option as Schwartz available next offseason.

3. Schwartz's arrival means that the Bills will not promote Jim O'Neil or Donnie Henderson to defensive coordinator. ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported Thursday that the Cleveland Browns have requested permission to interview O'Neil, who remains under contract with the Bills. From this perspective, it would be poor form for the Bills to try to keep O'Neil in Buffalo with an unfamiliar boss (Schwartz) when he has an opportunity to advance his career under Pettine in Cleveland.

4. The second paragraph of the Bills' news release announcing Schwartz's hire brings to light his success in run defense during his tenure with the Tennessee Titans, when the Titans finished in the top 10 in rushing yards allowed per game five times in Schwartz's eight seasons. That stands in contrast to the Bills' 28th-ranked run defense this season.

In discussing the potential of Pettine leaving this week at the Senior Bowl, one head coach offered this thought to me: If the Bills' run defense was better, would their passing defense -- it ranked first in completion percentage, second in opposing QBR and fourth in passing yards allowed per game -- have shown as well statistically? It's a good point, but it's also worth noting that offenses relying less on passing would give a defense less chances to sack the quarterback. The Bills finished second this season in sacks, with 57.

AFC East wire: Let's tidy up a busy day

November, 10, 2010
Wednesday was jammed with so much AFC East news, I wanted to compile a few items that might've gotten overshadowed by bigger stories.

Buffalo Bills

Head coach Chan Gailey classified the leg injury outside linebacker Shawne Merriman sustained as "minor." Gailey hasn't officially ruled him out for Sunday's game against the Lions, but the chances Merriman makes his Bills debut appear slim.

"You've got to realize he hasn't played a lot of football," Gailey said of Merriman. "He hasn't had pads on in a while, all that kind of stuff. You want him out there, but he's not quite ready. We're not going to put him out there till he's ready. That's the No. 1 thing."

Miami Dolphins

The NFL didn't find conclusive evidence to punish Ravens fullback Le'Ron McClain for allegedly spitting in Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder's face.

"You can see it on film," Dolphins defensive tackle Tony McDaniel said in a South Florida Sun-Sentinel article. "For them not to take any action, it says it's all right for us to spit on each other. Maybe they'll start something by not fining him for that."

New England Patriots

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady missed Wednesday's practice with a sprained foot, but is expected to play Sunday against the Steelers.

The signing of kicker Shayne Graham isn't intended to be temporary. The Patriots placed Stephen Gostkowski on season-ending injured reserve with a torn quadriceps muscle. The switch is a bad one for New England. Gostkowski was an All-Pro two seasons ago. Graham was on the street after missing two field goals for the Bengals in a first-round playoff loss to the Jets.

New York Jets

Inside linebacker Bart Scott fired another shot at Lions head coach Jim Schwartz, who belittled Scott's claim the Lions are the NFL's dirtiest team. Schwartz said "consider the source."

"Listen, I don't have to play Detroit for another four years," Scott said. "I couldn't care less what that man has to say. Don't even exist to me anymore. Does it really matter? I don't have to see him ever again. Do I have to see him at the Super Bowl? Playoffs? Probably not. In the parking lot? ... We're playing the Browns. I'm not going to oblige him. He'll be watching TV in January."

Vote yay or nay on Proposition Head Coach

November, 2, 2010
In honor of election day, don't forget to vote in SportsNation's NFL head coach approval ratings.

The polls are open all week, every week. But early returns show most AFC East fans seem decently satisfied with their men in headsets.

Rex Ryan is the exception this week. Although the New York Jets are 5-2, their home shutout loss after a bye week isn't sitting well with fans. Ryan's approval rating was 44 percent late Tuesday afternoon. He pulled down a 79 percent last week and posted a season-best 86 percent after Week 4.

Bill Belichick has guided the New England Patriots to a 6-1 record and has generated an 89 percent approval rating. Belichick is second only to Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz at 92 percent.

Miami Dolphins coach Tony Sparano is tied for 10th at 77 percent. Sparano is a popular figure in South Florida, but a lack of touchdowns and too many field goals is keeping his number down.

Even winless Buffalo Bills coach Chan Gailey is receiving more favorable feedback than Ryan these days. Gailey's approval rating is at a season-high 53 percent after Bills went into overtime on the road two straight weeks. conducts its own approval ratings by the month for Gailey and general manager Buddy Nix.

Gailey closed out October with a 30 percent approval rating after. He finished September at 91 percent and August at 88 percent because of a hopeful training camp and preseason. Nix was at 27 percent for October, his first month under 73 percent since when he was hired.

In case you were wondering, Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress was at 5 percent in the SportsNation poll as of this posting. Childress is overseeing a fiasco with the decision to waive Randy Moss and the Brett Favre ordeal. But Childress still is a point better than Dick Jauron was for the Bills last year.

Buffalo doesn't have secondary concerns

March, 24, 2010

Ed Mulholland/US PresswireLed by rookie Jairus Byrd, the Buffalo secondary was one of the deepest in the league.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Buffalo Bills are an organization engulfed by uncertainty.

Who will be their quarterback?

What difference will new head coach Chan Gailey and rookie general manager Buddy Nix make?

Will Pro Bowl pass-rusher Aaron Schobel play or retire?

Can running back Marshawn Lynch bounce back?

How will they transition into their new 3-4 defense?

One area that cannot be questioned is the depth in Buffalo's secondary.

The Bills' defensive backfield isn't loaded with star power, but the quality of depth is remarkable.

The Bills ranked second in pass defense last year despite injuries pushing them to the limit. Ten defensive backs started for them.

Right cornerback Leodis McKelvin, the 11th overall pick from 2008, lasted only three games before getting hurt. Free safety Donte Whitner, the eighth overall pick from 2006, lost his job to rookie Jairus Byrd, who tied for the NFL interception lead and was selected for the Pro Bowl. Left cornerback Terrence McGee missed five games with a knee injury. Strong safety Bryan Scott started six games at linebacker.

Despite all that, the Bills allowed only 184.2 passing yards a game and 14 touchdowns. They snagged 28 interceptions, second in the NFL.

Now that's depth.

"I've gone to a lot of teams," Gailey said at the NFL owners meetings. "I don't know that I've ever gone to a team that the secondary -- I'm talking corner and safety position -- is as strong as we have right now overall.

"When I went to Dallas, when I went to Miami, when I went to Pittsburgh they were all good. But I'm not so sure that this isn't the strongest group."

Gailey isn't about to compare them player for player. After all, when he was head coach of the Dallas Cowboys he had cornerback Deion Sanders and safety Darren Woodson together.

"Those are two pretty good players," Gailey said. "We had a couple of other good players, but we were always trying to fill a hole."

Gailey joined the Denver Broncos as a defensive assistant the year safety Dennis Smith and cornerback Louis Wright went to the Pro Bowl. The Broncos later lined up Smith and Steve Atwater at safety while Gailey was there.

Gailey was on the Pittsburgh Steelers' offensive staff when they had future Hall of Famer Rod Woodson. As offensive coordinator of the Miami Dolphins, Gailey practiced against three repeat Pro Bowlers: Sam Madison, Patrick Surtain and Brock Marion.

No, the Bills aren't that good yet. Gailey isn't going to make like New York Jets coach Rex Ryan and proclaim they could reach legendary status. On Tuesday, Ryan said his star cornerbacks, Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, remind him of the renowned Los Angeles Raiders tandem of Mike Haynes and Lester Hayes.

What the Bills do have is a quality starter and backup at every spot. One of only three assistants Gailey retained from Dick Jauron's staff was defensive back coach George Catavolos.

"Even the backups at Buffalo, I'm talking about eight players, your top eight players," Gailey said, "this is as strong a group as I've ever been around."

The importance of depth in the secondary can't be emphasized enough.

As Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz explained Wednesday morning, you can't have too many serviceable defensive backs.

"You're going to play more defensive backs than you are at other positions," said Schwartz, known as one of the NFL's brightest defensive minds. "You're not just going to play four. You're going to play five for half the game and you may even have a quarter of the game when you're playing six defensive backs.

"The other thing to look at is defensive backs get hurt at a higher rate than just about every other position on the field. Other positions have gotten bigger and bigger and bigger. Defensive backs have stayed the same, particularly corners. So with everybody else getting bigger and corners staying the same, it's not a matter of if somebody gets hurt and has to miss a game, it's a matter of when."

Five Buffalo defensive backs finished the season on injured reserve, including both of the opening-day starting cornerbacks, McGee and McKelvin.

Schwartz mentioned another important facet of defensive backfield depth.

"One person in the secondary that doesn't play well makes the whole secondary look bad," Schwartz said. "It's how the whole group plays, and if there's one weak link in that chain, then the whole group can look bad, and offenses are real good at finding that one guy and exploiting him."

Nobody can look at the Bills and call their secondary a weak link.