The problem position on the Buffalo Bills' defense is coming around.
The Bills are getting improved play from their three defensive tackles, and it has helped them climb out of the NFL's run defense basement.
The Bills have improved from 32nd in the league to 19th against the run over the past five weeks.
Defensive tackles Larry Tripplett, Kyle Williams and John McCargo each are making more of an impact in their second seasons in the Bills' defensive scheme.
"I think I've come a long way from last year, being in better position and being better at the point of attack," Williams said. "I think a lot of it is experience."
Williams said it's amazing how much he has learned in one year.
"As a rookie, you feel your head's about to explode. Then you come in your second year and you're not learning at that pace but you're still learning a lot."
Nineteenth might not sound great, but it's a big step forward for the Bills, who ranked 28th against the run last year and 31st two years ago.
The Bills allowed 177 rushing yards over the first three games this year. The past five they have allowed 78 a game. They had their best showing in Sunday's 33-21 win over Cincinnati, holding the Bengals to 28 yards on 17 carries.
Greater familiarity is helping the defensive tackles. Williams and McCargo were rookies last year. Tripplett is in his sixth year but said he spent much of last season adjusting to his new team, even though his old team (Indianapolis) plays a similar defensive style as Buffalo.
"Last year I was trying to play what I did in Indy here in our scheme," he said. "But I'm not in Indy. So that second year has made me that much more comfortable. Kyle and McCargo definitely have made a jump in their second year. The game has slowed down a little bit for them, and now they have an opportunity to really be more aggressive."
"My approach on my first step and when I engage a player is different here," Tripplett said. "In Indy we didn't play the run at all. We were thinking all pass, whereas here we do try to play the run. It's a focus for us. So that's different."
Bills coach Dick Jauron says Tripplett's work ethic and leadership have a positive effect on Williams and McCargo.
"I guess I would refer to him as a quiet leader," Jauron said. "He's very professional in his approach. Every down you know what you're going to get from him on the field. He's going to give it to you all the time. He has a big motor, he's a good athlete and he has the ability to slip blocks."
Tripplett thinks the defensive tackles are seeing fewer double teams lately because of the defensive scheme. The linebackers have been moving around more before the snap and causing offensive linemen to adjust blocking schemes.
"I'm impressed with [defensive coordinator] Perry Fewell and the different things he brings to us every week, things we weren't doing last year," Tripplett said. "It was new for everybody last year so he couldn't throw everything at us."
The three DTs are rotating evenly. Williams plays nose tackle, lining up across from the outside shoulder of the center. Tripplett lines up opposite the outside shoulder of a guard, in the "three technique." McCargo plays nose tackle when he pairs with Tripplett. McCargo plays the three technique when he pairs with Williams.
McCargo is a first-round pick in 2006 who has come back strong from a broken foot suffered last season. He made two big plays from the nose in the first quarter last week, with the Bengals backed up on their own 5-yard line. On first down he shed a double team and stopped Rudi Johnson for no gain. On second down he did well to shed a block and made a good stop on Johnson for a 4-yard gain.
"On the first one, I was playing the double team like we're coached to do," McCargo said. "I was engaged with the center and the guard is going to bump down on me [then go after a linebacker]. I have to stay in that 'A' gap. . . . I stayed in the gap pretty good. When he left I was still in the gap and I came off and made the tackle."
Williams is a fifth-round pick from last year who has been a pleasant surprise.
"Kyle is just a good football player," Jauron said. "He probably doesn't get enough credit for his athleticism."