No matter what he does or how he plays, defensive tackle Ron Edwards will be held to the standards set by the man he replaced.
Pat Williams' name has popped up often since the Buffalo Bills' defense got run over by Tampa Bay and Atlanta. Edwards has yet to make anyone forget about Williams, who went to Minnesota via free agency.
Edwards had a solid effort in the season-opening win over Houston, but against Tampa Bay he had trouble getting off blocks and was knocked off the ball on several running plays. He played better last Sunday versus Atlanta, but it was hardly noticed as the Bills yielded 236 rushing yards in a 24-16 loss.
"You always try to get better and improve in everything you do," Edwards said. "I know I can play better. You just keep working at it and try to find a way to get better."
Actually, the Bills have no complaints about Edwards' play. Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray called the fifth-year veteran one of his steadiest performers.
The Bills still appear to miss Williams, who formed a dominant interior tandem with Pro Bowler Sam Adams. But the team says it's unfair to Edwards or anyone on defense to imply that Williams' absence is the sole reason they haven't stopped the run lately.
"I don't think bringing one person back will make a difference the way that we're playing," defensive end Chris Kelsay said.
The Bills' defensive woes have been a group effort. The unit has given up 522 yards rushing and ranks dead last in the NFL, allowing 174 yards per game.
The Bills have been victimized by opponents' zone blocking schemes, which call for offensive linemen to move laterally off the snap. When defenders over-commit to where the play is designed to go, the line can push them aside and running backs are able to find huge cutback lanes opposite the play side.
Many of the big runs by Tampa Bay's Carnell Williams and Atlanta's Warrick Dunn and T.J. Duckett were on cutbacks.
"We're not doing our job, and it shows up when a guy runs through an open gap," Gray said. "You can take a scout team guy and do that, so you know if a No. 1 draft pick sees that he's going to get 100 and some yards."
The Bills' defense hasn't played with much patience or discipline, Gray said, and players are getting caught out of position.
Gray said everyone needs to stop trying to do too much and focus on their own assignments.
"We've got one guy that's out of place, and it's not because he's doing it on purpose," he said. "It's just that you've got to be disciplined enough to do your job and let the defense take over."
The Bills' defensive line wasn't very stout against the run against Tampa Bay or Atlanta. The ends are losing outside containment and the tackles are clogging gaps. Gray has them slanting and stunting on a lot of plays, but if the linemen slant in the wrong direction it plays into the hands of a good zone-blocking team.
Defensive end Aaron Schobel spoke for a number of players when he said the defense needs to keep it simple.
"I like just lining up and playing our base front," Schobel said. "I think that's when we're at our best. I think right now we're trying to do too much and it's hurting us because of some communication breakdowns. It's always one guy. It's not always the same guy, but it is one guy that's out of position and the running backs are finding it. I think we'll be fine once we go back to the simple things."
Gray doesn't buy the notion that a simplified defense is a better one.
"You look at us, we've been doing the same thing for the last four years and we haven't changed," he said. "We've made some adjustments, but it goes back to guys trying to do too much. It's not too much within the call, I don't think. They're trying to do somebody else's job. Do only yours and you'll see the defense start climbing back to where it's supposed to be. We'll stop the run, we'll stop the pass and get off the field on third down."
Whatever the solution, the Bills have to find a way to stop the run. It won't be easy with linebacker Takeo Spikes out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon. Making it even tougher is all the top-shelf running backs they're going to face in the next several weeks, starting Sunday with New Orleans Saints two-time Pro Bowler Deuce McAllister.
But Gray promises what we have seen from the Bills' defense won't be what we'll get the rest of the season.
"If we were doing our jobs and getting slapped around I'd be worried," he said. "Our mistakes are self-inflicted. You've got to pick yourself up and say, 'Hey, let me make only my plays,' and you'll see the defense step back up. We're confident that by the end of the year, when you look at the stats, we won't be where we are now."