"He's got a nose for the football." It's said about every player who gets his team multiple turnovers. The Buffalo Bills could certainly use more of those players.
Last season, Buffalo's defense was second in the league in interceptions, picking off 28 passes. They were also dead last in fumble recoveries, with only five on the year, while the overall 33 turnovers placed the Bills fifth in the NFL.
Why are turnovers so important? In the six games Buffalo held the advantage in turnovers, they were 5-1 in 2009. The lone exception was thegame, where they were out-gained by 235 yards. In the seven games where the Bills were beat in turnover margin, they went 0-7. In the remaining games where the turnover margins were equal, the Bills finished 1-2, with both losses coming to New England in close games.
More than any other single statistic, the turnover margin was the best way to predict the outcome of a Bills game.
In the NFL last year, Dallas made the playoffs while finishing No. 27 in turnovers forced, but they also had the second-ranked scoring defense. Minnesota was No. 23 in turnovers forced, but had a top ten scoring defense and the second-best scoring offense. Unless the Bills plan on fielding a top ten scoring offense and defense - something that hasn't happened since Mike Mularkey's first year in Buffalo - they are going to need to take the ball away.
The addition of Jairus Byrd last April certainly helped in the turnover battle a year ago. He picked off a league-leading nine passes in 2009 and was almost single-handedly responsible for a win against Carolina. The rest of the safeties also did a heck of a job, hauling in 10 more interceptions combined.
The area the Bills really need to improve in is forcing and recovering fumbles. The team forced 13 fumbles last season, but only recovered five. Chicago, Carolina and San Francisco all recovered recovered more fumbles (15) than the Bills forced. Osi Umenyiora recovered four fumbles by himself in 2009.
Linebackers and the defensive front are where the majority of fumbles are forced. In the Bills' defense from a year ago, gap penetration was the key. Each defender was supposed to be in one spot at one time. The problem with that in regards to fumbles is even if you force the fumble, there's only one guy guaranteed to be in the spot where you are. In the new 3-4, with Dwan Edwards, Marcus Stroud, and Torell Troup occupying two lanes, the linebackers will (theoretically) be free to flow to the ball. If they pop the ball out, there will be more chances for the defensive linemen and the linebackers (who are hopefully not tied up with blockers) to come up with the loose ball.
In 2009, Paul Posluszny picked off three passes and forced three fumbles in 12 games. With the addition of Andra Davis to play the strong-side ILB spot, Posluszny should find himself around the ball a lot. Let's hope that translates into more turnover opportunities for the Bills.
There's also something to be said about the pass rush forcing fumbles on sacks. Second-year pass rusher Aaron Maybin needs to step up his game and get to the quarterback to force bad throws that can get picked off, or get the football on the ground with some strips. Even including the wildly unproven Maybin, the Bills' pass rush is going to have a lot to prove in 2010.
With the the offense going through quarterback issues, the defense is going to have to be solid in the turnover column once again in order for the team to be successful. Approaching the interception totals from last year will help, as will increasing the number of forced and recovered fumbles.
Let's hope when the pigskin hits the carpet that some Bills show their nose for the football.