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Defense, the Best Friend of EJ Manuel and Geno Smith

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | Defenses don't win championships anymore in the NFL, quarterbacks do.

However, rookies E.J. Manuel and Geno Smith are the latest signal-callers to realize the deceptively supporting, nurturing and equalizing powers of having a stingy defense on their side.

Neither Manuel nor Smith has set the world on fire to begin their professional careers. When comparing the two, the Buffalo Bills quarterback has been decidedly better, and the game-winning touchdown drive he led in Week 2 against the Carolina Panthers won't soon be forgotten in Buffalo.

Both quarterbacks have their teams 1-1 and quite easily could be 2-0.

While the play of Manuel and Smith -- at the game's most vital position -- shouldn't go unnoticed, the inspired efforts of the Bills and Jets defenses have been integral to their early success and will likely be instrumental to their future maturation.

In 2012, the Bills defense was an abomination. I really mean that. Here's how it ranked according to Football Outsiders:

  • Yards Allowed Per Drive - 26th
  • Points Allowed Per Drive - 29th
  • Touchdowns Allowed Per Drive - 32nd
Dreadful, right? I'm a huge advocate of Mike Tanier's Law of Interconnectivity (Rule One here), which essentially states that everything in the game of football is, in some way, connected.

Ryan Fitzpatrick is not a viable quarterback. At best, he's a fringe starter. But he sure as heck wasn't helped by his defense last year, that's for sure.

Unsurprising to no one, the Jets defense was good a season ago. Just good, not great. Here's how it was ranked by Football Outsiders:

  • Yards Allowed Per Drive - 8th
  • Points Allowed Per Drive - 13th
  • Touchdowns Allowed Per Drive - 15th
Through two games, Manuel and Smith haven't been put into any majorly precarious situations that can arise for a quarterback when his defense doesn't show up.

As it currently stands, the Jets have allowed the fewest yards per drive in football. They've surrendered the fourth-fewest points per drive and the fifth-fewest touchdowns per drive. The Bills have been fantastic defensively when considering the damage Dave Wannstedt did in 2012. They're 18th in yards per drive, 15th in points per drive and 10th in touchdowns per drive.

(No, the New England Patriots haven't been themselves thus far, but Tom Brady is Tom Brady.)

Oftentimes, when a quarterback is labeled as a "bust," it's thought to be all on him. He wasn't accurate enough. His arm wasn't strong enough. He couldn't read defenses.

While every quarterback "bust" deserves blame for his failure -- a different amount of blame in each case -- we can't disregard the team around him.

Some can overcome playing on a team with a bad offensive line. Others can't. Some can make it work with lackluster receivers. Others struggle. Some thrive due to a strong defense. Others don't.

But with Manuel and Smith, it looks as though they'll only rarely have to force the issue and win games single-handedly for their teams early in their careers.

For two admittedly talented yet somewhat raw quarterbacks, it's impossible for me to put into words how important that is for their development.

Today, something has to give. One of these rookies will make more plays than the other and lead his team to a 2-1 record.

But as the telecast focuses on E.J. Manuel and Geno Smith -- each the most important player on his respective club -- let's not lose sight of something that's going out of style in the NFL.


Chris Trapasso is a sportswriter who lives in Western New York and has been covering the Buffalo Bills and the NFL since 2009 for Bleacher Report.

For Bills and other NFL news, follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisTrapasso
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