There's no bigger game changer on defense than the ability to rush the passer. This is what gives Miami an edge over the other units. Joey Porter has been one of the game's best at getting after the quarterback for a long time. I'll still never be able to understand why the Jets didn't go after him harder in 2007. They had the cap space. Matt Roth anchors the strong side well. The Dolphins has good depth behind this pair at outside linebacker. How much does Jason Taylor have left? Who knows. He still can probably do a quality job as a situational player. Ditto Cameron Wake, the CFL's best pass rusher the past few years. Channing Crowder has done nice work inside coming off a 113 tackle season, while Akin Aylodele is adequate at worst next to him.
I give the Pats the second slot by a hair over the Jets. This was close. A couple of factors differentiated the pair for me. The first was the versatility of Adalius Thomas. You can play him either inside or outside. Calvin Pace hasn't shown the same. I also think New England has better depth. Tully Banta-Cain was something of a free agent bust in San Francisco, but he got a contract from the 49ers because of his work with the Pats in 2006. As a situational pass rusher, he has shown more than Marques Murrell or Vernon Gholston. I'll also take the relatively unknown Pierre Woods over the known mediocrity Bryan Thomas. Aside from that, it's close. Take your pick of Jarrod Mayo or David Harris for young tackling machine at inside linebacker. Bart Scott is very effective on the inside, but how about the leadership and other intangibles Tedy Bruschi brings to the table.
I love, love, love three quarters of the starting lineup. No complaints here about Scott, Harris, and Pace. There are three problems. The Jets always have to send at least five to get heat on the quarterback. Pace is an above average pass rusher, but defenses don't have to gameplan around him. My second issue is depth. There is none. Maruqes Murrell hasn't done much outside of special teams. Vernon Gholston hasn't done anything at all. Jason Trusnik had a Hall of Fame second quarter Week 17 against the Dolphins. That's it. The third problem is Bryan Thomas. He can take on blockers and stop the run. That's not good enough for a weakside 3-4 outside backer. That's where the pass rush is supposed to come from. Aside from 2006 and September 2008, Thomas may as well have stuck his face on a milk carton.
The Bills are tough to judge because they are the only team in the division with a 4-3 defense. I made this call because I'd rather start a 3-4 team with the four linebackers of any other team than a 4-3 with Buffalo's linebackers. I like Paul Posluszny, but how many middle linebackers in the division would you take him over? Maybe Aylodele. Keith Ellison and Kawika Mitchell aren't anything special.
Check out the other AFC East blogs for more discussion on the division's linebackers.