Jerry Sullivan: What Bills fans miss is the idea of Dareus - The Buffalo News

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Jerry Sullivan: What Bills fans miss is the idea of Dareus

Column as I see 'em, Week 11:

You could see it coming, like a naked streaker on Sunday, after the Bills gave up a combined 492 yards rushing in losses to the Jets and Saints, the most they had allowed in consecutive games since 2012.

The issue was raised in coach Sean McDermott's postgame presser and in the locker room afterwards, on radio shows and social media, in bars and basements and barber shops all over Western New York.

They miss Marcell Dareus, was the fans' lament. This is what they get for trading away a former Pro Bowl defensive tackle for a sixth-round pick. Successive opponents identified the void in the defensive front and constructed their game plans to run the ball down the Bills' throats.

There's a shred of truth in it, to be sure. It was chic to suggest that they didn't miss Dareus when they crushed the Raiders in the first game after the trade. But you don't take away a hulking run stopper, even one as slovenly as Dareus, and not be negatively affected in some fashion.

With Dareus gone, other defensive linemen were asked to do more in the rotational scheme. It's nice to talk about marginal guys rising up to make a difference, but at some point a lack of talent and depth — and age, in the case of Kyle Williams — begins to catch up to a defense.

But it's not as big a deal as people suggest. Keep in mind, Dareus was playing limited snaps before he left, and the defense was doing fine. He's played on some bad run defenses in the past. He played the last six games a year ago when the Bills were the worst run defense in the NFL.

Where's Marcell? Bills coach McDermott said run-defense struggles can't be put on Dareus trade

I'm aware that the Jaguars have held teams to 116 total rushing yards and 2.5 a carry in two games since Dareus arrived. It's no secret that he can be a force when he's motivated and in shape. And when the Bills' run defense goes to pieces when he leaves, it's natural to suggest they miss him.

"It's fair for them to say that," said Bills D lineman Ryan Davis. "He was a big part of this, but at the same time we've got guys who are more than capable of doing what he did. If you hear questions like that, you've got to let it go in one ear and out the other and play your game."

Dareus is gone. What people miss is the idea of Dareus, the grand notion of a former No. 3 overall pick at his best. The Bills traded the Dareus who had become a serial knucklehead, an unreliable and uninspired player who was a drag on the salary cap and needed a change of scenery.

Yes, trading him made them marginally worse. But Brandon Beane made it for the franchise's long-term benefit, same as he did with the Sammy Watkins deal. It's more evidence that, despite the team's surprising start, they're in a major rebuilding mode.

Beane and McDermott have moved out nine first- or-second-round picks since coming to Buffalo. It was naive to think it wouldn't affect the product on the field. Beane was probably as shocked as anyone when they got to 5-2. He decided he'd be better off in the long run without Dareus.

Regardless of what happened the last two weeks, he was right.

* * *

The Bills head to LA to face the Chargers Sunday. With the Chiefs and Patriots next on the docket, it looms as a must-win situation. They're 5-4 and haven't been over .500 after 10 games since 2000. A third straight loss would take a lot of the steam out of their promising beginning.

Sean McDermott keeping big-picture perspective despite back-to-back blowout losses

The Chargers figured to a difficult test, even before the Bills' recent troubles. Any West Coast trip is tough. The Chargers are better than their 3-6 record. Four of their losses are by three points or less. They've lost games to four division leaders: Eagles, Patriots, Chiefs and Jaguars.

Since the start of the 2015 season, the Chargers have lost 11 times by a field goal or less. According to ESPN Stats, that's the most in the league during that time. Since the start of last season, 14 of their 17 losses have come down to one possession, again tops in the league.

So it should be a close one. You can expect head coach Anthony Lynn, who was seen as the favorite for the Bills job late last season, to have his guys fired up at the old StubHub Center. The Chargers aren't dead yet in a scrambled AFC wild-card race, and their schedule gets easier from here on. It's even more of a must-win for them.

* * *

Is He Owned? This week, we feature an upcoming Bills opponent, Chargers backup running back Austin Ekeler, who scored both LA touchdowns in a 20-17 overtime loss at Jacksonville on Sunday. As of Monday afternoon, he was available in both my fantasy leagues.

Ekeler, who is 5-9, 200 pounds, went undrafted last April after breaking most of the rushing records at Western State Colorado University, a Division II school that competes in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.

In Week 4, Ekeler ran for a 35-yard touchdown against the Eagles in his first NFL carry. He's more of a pass-catching threat, filling the role that Danny Woodhead served for the Chargers in previous years.

Philip Rivers checked down to Ekeler for 22- and 28-yard touchdowns against the Jaguars. Ekeler also ran 10 times for 42, by far his busiest day as a runner. He had more rushing and receiving yards in the loss than starter Melvin Gordon, who struggled against the Jags.

Ekeler became the first running back since Jamaal Charles in 2013 with two receiving TDs in one game. He lost a fumble late in regulation, but seems to have earned more playing time for the Chargers. Could the Bills be facing another dynamic two-headed tailback combo next week?

* * *

Stats Incredible: It went largely unnoticed in the carnage, but the Bills' league-leading streak of scoring at least 20 points in 13 straight home games ended against the Saints ... Atlanta's Adrian Claiborne had six sacks for minus-32 yards against the Cowboys on Sunday. The Bills have four sacks in their last six games, for minus-14 yards. They're tied for 28th with 14 sacks ... Vikings receiver Adam Thielen, who was undrafted in 2013, has at least five catches in every game and is third in the NFL in receiving yards with 793 ... When was the last time the Sabres lost on Friday-Saturday and the Bills lost on Sunday? It happened last Dec. 22-24. Mercifully, neither had to play on Christmas ...

[BN] Blitz newsletter: Bills fans miss the idea of Dareus

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