Buffalo Bills fans are currently grasping for straws of optimism in the wake of yet another disappointing season, brought to an abrupt conclusion by a horrifying loss. For most, the improvements the team has made defensively since their Week 8 bye is the first straw grasped.
In the team's first seven games, Buffalo's defense was horrendous. Opponents averaged 424 yards and 32.4 points per game during that 3-4 stretch (all three wins came against league bottom-dwellers in Kansas City, Cleveland and Arizona). The team was horrible defending the run, surrendering 177 yards per game on the ground, and while they did manage to pick up 17 sacks, just 3.5 of them came from star defensive end Mario Williams.
"Night and day" would not be the best way to describe the defensive turnaround since the bye week. The team did, after all, give up a game-winning touchdown pass with under a minute remaining in their last appearance on the field. What once was a historically awful defense, however, is now a pretty dang good unit.
The biggest gain has been in the run department, where the Bills have trimmed their per-game allowed rushing average by more than half; they've given up 85 rushing yards per game in their last six contests, and have held opponents under 100 rushing yards for four consecutive weeks. Their total yardage allowed per game has dropped from 424 all the way down to 290, and opponents are now only averaging 20.8 points per game. The team has slowed its sack pace a bit, but of their 14 sacks since the bye, half have come from Williams, whose 10.5 sacks are the most for a Bill since Aaron Schobel had 14 in 2006.
Fixing the defense was the team's biggest priority this past off-season. It took a long time for the unit to come together - and they played a lot of brutal football before it happened - but many of those investments now appear to be paying off. There's still work to be done, of course - largely in the coming off-season - but the notion that the team is headed in the right direction on that side of the ball, and that Dave Wannstedt may in fact be the right man to coordinate the effort, is completely justifiable.