Four Downs: Bills are NFL’s most improved team

A few items on my mind this week after emerging from the film room, starting with the team that gets my vote as the NFL’s most improved.

1. The most improved team in the league right now is the Bills. The Bills are 2-4 over the last six weeks, and three of those losses were in overtime. They also should have easily won in Pittsburgh last week. I see improvement in all areas for the Bills, especially along the offensive line. More specifically, at left guard and left tackle. Demetrius Bell and Andy Levitre are a very, very talented left side we’re going to hear about for a long time. They’re a big reason why Ryan Fitzpatrick is flourishing. They have great technique, don’t get beat and are very physical. They took on the Steelers’ toe to toe and not only didn’t flinch, but outplayed the guys across from them.

2. Very quietly, the Dolphins have become a top 10 defense. They shut down Darren McFadden last week, and I think they’ll do the same to Peyton Hillis this week. Mike Nolan jettisoned OLBs Jason Taylor and Joey Porter when he put this 3-4 defense in, and I’m interested to watch the young and talented Cameron Wake and Koa Misi going forward. Wake can rush with both speed and power. It’s a credit to him that he’s an everydown player at his size, and a credit to his conditioning he’s able to play hard every play. Last week he took Raiders OT Langston Walker, who outweighs him by more than 100 pounds, and lifted him off his feet. That’s tough to do in this league. Misi is very strong and stout against the run. Wake and Misi have 14 sacks between them, and I’m willing to bet they reach 20 before the season is over. That’s what you’re looking for in a 3-4 defense.

3. I don’t know how Finnegan wasn’t penalized for the three plays leading up to the one that prompted the fight with Johnson. Finnegan was taking his right hand and jacking Johnson right in the chin, and I don’t know how it was allowed to go on. If I were Johnson, I would be thinking the whole thing was ridiculous. If it were me, and they weren’t going to call a penalty, I would want to do something about it. I’m all for the league not suspending Johnson, and if they don’t suspend him, they can’t suspend Finnegan. I’m OK with the fines because Johnson has a perfect track record on and off the field, and it was totally out of character. If I were Johnson, I would have done the same thing.

4. I know people in San Diego are wondering if the Chargers will go on their annual late-season run, and I think they will. As much as Philip Rivers is in the MVP discussion for the way he’s playing, I think you have to look at what Ron Rivera is doing with the defense. During their four-game winning streak, teams have converted only 28 percent of third downs, which is last in the league. Last week the Chargers held Peyton Manning to 3-of-12 passing on third down with three of his four interceptions. Watching the Chargers on third downs, they challenge every receiver on the field by jamming and re-routing them off the line. It worked well against Reggie Wayne, and it’s just the start of what they do. The Chargers are coached this way, and I think it’s the way you have to play defense in the NFL right now. Look for more of the same from the Chargers going forward, and I believe their game against the Chiefs in Week 14 will decide the AFC West.

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