Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk wants to know what defines the Buffalo Bills, which team best compares to the Bills' biggest strength, and what the Bills can learn from that team in the home stretch. It's the perfect week for Mr. Faulk to be asking us that question.
In your humble author's opinion, the 7-6 Bills are built most similarly to the 9-4 Detroit Lions, particularly when it comes to the strength of each team: the defense. That should not come as a particularly big shock, given the Jim Schwartz connection between the two units.
Heading into Week 15, the Lions have the No. 2 defense in the NFL, and are No. 1 defending the run by a comfortable margin. The Bills have the No. 5 defense in the league, with a No. 5 overall ranking defending the pass. These are also two top scoring defenses; the Lions allow a league-low 17.2 points per game, while the Bills rank fourth giving up 18.5 per contest.
Schematically and philosophically, the defenses are very similar. They are predominantly 4-3 defenses that switch between base and nickel looks, with very little in the way of exotic blitzes or crazy concepts. The teams have two of the best defensive lines in football, and quality, highly underrated linebackers. Where the Bills' defense puts up better statistics on an individual level, the Lions are a tad better as a team defense. These are, truly, two of the very best in the business right now.
What makes the comparison interesting is that the Lions, despite big names offensively, are riding that defense straight into the playoffs. Despite the big names on the other side of the ball, the Lions, believe it or not, are scoring fewer points per game than even the Bills are. But just a bit more consistency on that side of the ball (and, perhaps, playing in a slightly weaker conference, top-to-bottom) has the Lions two games better than the Bills, and en route to their first playoff appearance since 2010.
Even more intriguing about the Bills-Lions defensive comparison: this weekend's Bills opponent. The Green Bay Packers have one of the most potent offenses in the NFL, with the best quarterback in the business in Aaron Rodgers. Only twice in 13 tries have Packers opponents held them under 320 yards of offense this season: Seattle (ranked No. 1 defensively) did it in Week 1, and Detroit did it two weeks later, holding the Packers to a season-low 223 yards of offense in a 19-7 win at Ford Field.
Buffalo, in desperate need of a home win over Green Bay to stay alive in the AFC playoff race, would do well to follow Detroit's model established in that win. They shut down the Packers' running game, holding the team to 76 yards as a team, and star runner Eddie Lacy in particular to 36 yards on 11 carries. Rodgers completed 16-of-27 passes for 162 yards with one touchdown, and was sacked twice. Green Bay was only able to convert 4-of-10 third down tries, and thanks to a high degree of efficiency from the Lions on third downs offensively (11-of-18 conversions), which helped the Lions limit Green Bay to just 21:47 of ball possession. As a cherry on top, the Lions also returned a Packers fumble 40 yards for a touchdown, and recorded a safety in the 12-point win.
The Bills are capable of playing that level of defense against any team in the league - they did a lot of good things just a week ago against Peyton Manning, after all - but like the Lions' defense before them, they'll need more efficiency on offense to complement what they're doing defensively if they're going to upset a bona fide Super Bowl contender.