Bills' dreadful run defense could lead to offseason makeover

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Saturday has an issue with the Bills complaining (1:23)

Jeff Saturday says letting one play dictate the mentality of your team can't happen and Ryan Clark couldn't agree any more. (1:23)

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Middle linebacker Preston Brown was blunt earlier this month after the Patriots trampled the Buffalo Bills for 191 rushing yards in a New England win at New Era Field.

"We know we have to get better or we’re not going to play," he said Dec. 6. "That’s how it is. We’ve got to go out there and find a way to be better in this league or you’re not going to be out there much longer."

Brown could prove prophetic after the Bills surrendered 193 rushing yards to New England in a 37-16 loss Sunday. The performance was the latest gashing for a Buffalo defense that remains near the bottom of the league in stopping the run, and it could result in the leaky front seven being plugged with different players next season.

The Bills rank 30th in allowing 126.7 rushing yards per game this season, as well as 23rd in giving up 4.28 yards per rush. Tackling has been a major issue, as opponents are averaging 2.07 yards after contact, second-worst in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Bills opponents are gaining first downs on 26.1 percent of their rushes, tying Buffalo for second-worst in the NFL.

The issues have to do with more than simply the trade of defensive tackle Marcell Dareus in October, but losing Dareus has not helped. Since Week 8, the Bills' first game without Dareus, they rank 32nd in rushing yards allowed per game (154.9), 30th in yards allowed per rush (4.69), 32nd in yards allowed per rush after contact (2.14) and 31st in first downs per rush (27.9 percent).

Jobs will be in jeopardy this offseason. Using Pro Football Focus' overall and run defense grades as context for where players rank at their position in the NFL, here is a look at the best-to-worst run defenders among the Bills front seven this season and where they stand for 2018:

DE Jerry Hughes (tied-34th overall among edge defenders; tied-fifth in run defense): With 4.0 sacks this season, Hughes must record a sack in Sunday's finale to avoid his worst season in that category since 2012. PFF ranks him 55th among edge rushers in pass-rushing, but his run defense has been superb. Hughes' $10.4 million cap number next season is third-highest on the team, and the Bills could save most of that figure by releasing or trading him. But he is a durable player whose departure would leave a gaping hole at the position. Hughes, 29, is set to play in his 80th consecutive game for Buffalo on Sunday and is signed through 2019.

DE Shaq Lawson (88th among edge defenders; 36th in run defense): A first-round pick in 2016, Lawson was a better fit in the Bills' 4-3 system this season than in Rex Ryan's 3-4 scheme last season. He started 10 games before an ankle injury ended his season, but missed one start because of an undisclosed "situation" with coach Sean McDermott that cast doubt on whether Lawson is viewed as a culture fit. It would not be shocking if the Bills traded Lawson this offseason, as they have several draft picks made by the former front office, but odds are still that Lawson starts next season. PFF, though, ranks him 100th at his position this season in pass-rushing.

LB Matt Milano (43rd among linebackers; 38th in run defense): A fifth-round rookie from Boston College, Milano has started the past three games in place of veteran Ramon Humber. Milano has shown some natural instincts for the position and is the favorite to start at weak-side linebacker next season.

DT Kyle Williams (53rd among interior defensive linemen; 45th in run defense): After what might have been his final home game in Week 15, Williams said he had not yet decided on retirement. But now 34 and with his contract expiring, this is probably the end of the road for Williams, who has played 12 seasons in Buffalo. Either way, the Bills must look for his replacement in the draft.

DE Eddie Yarbrough (92nd among edge defenders; tied-52nd in run defense): Yarbrough spent the 2016 season out of football and was signed in April by Buffalo to fill out the roster, but impressed in training camp to earn a spot. However, he ranks 99th by PFF in pass-rushing and will be competing for a situational role next preseason.

Brown (tied-57th among linebackers; tied-68th in run defense): Brown is scheduled for unrestricted free agency in March, and after four seasons in Buffalo, it would not be surprising if he heads elsewhere. PFF ranks Brown 35th at his position in pass coverage.

Humber (85th among linebackers; tied-74th in run defense): The coaching staff tried Humber as a starting weak-side linebacker this season, but that did not pan out. He will be an unrestricted free agent who could return on a small-money deal to play special teams.

DE Ryan Davis (74th among edge defenders; 85th in run defense): Davis had a late-season meeting with defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier to discuss what Frazier said were "some things that he’s aware of when it comes to performance in our league." Frazier said Davis' play improved, but the Bills will likely look to upgrade despite Davis remaining under contract through 2018.

OLB Lorenzo Alexander (99th among edge defenders; 89th in run defense): PFF's grading has not been friendly to Alexander this season; he ranks 77th in pass-rushing and among the worst at his position in pass coverage. Alexander is a high-effort and high-character player, but with him being 35 by next season, it is worth questioning whether he should start again. He is signed through 2018.

DT Adolphus Washington (110th among interior defensive linemen; 96th in run defense): The Bills had Washington on the trade block this summer, and it would hardly be shocking if the 2016 third-round pick is dealt or released this offseason. He has two years remaining on his rookie deal.

DT Cedric Thornton (116th among interior defensive linemen; 119th in run defense): He signed at the start of the regular season as a fill-in option and will be an unrestricted free agent this March.