Coming into the 2018 season, it was expected that the Buffalo Bills defense would be the strength of the team, but after two weeks, the Bills boasted a defense that ranked at or near the bottom in most major statistical categories.
Buffalo had allowed 78 points in back-to-back losses to the Baltimore Ravens (47-3) and Los Angeles Chargers (31-20) in starting the season 0-2, although there was reason for hope. In the second half of the Chargers game, Buffalo held their high-flying offense to three points and only 61 total yards of offense (including only three rushing yards when the Chargers were in an obvious run-the-ball-and-kill-the-clock mode) after halftime.
Since then, Buffalo’s defense has thrived, throttling Kirk Cousins and the potent Minnesota Vikings offense during a 27-6 Week 3 win in Minneapolis, and holding Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers offense in check in a 22-0 setback at Lambeau Field.
Buffalo’s defense harassed and confused the Tennessee Titans during a 13-12 Week 5 win at New Era Field. The unit’s turnaround continued in Week 6, when the Bills sacked Deshaun Watson seven times, forced three fumbles, and recorded two interceptions in doing everything it could to earn the win against the Houston Texans.
Watson entered the game having thrown for 300 or more yards in his last four games, but the Bills limited Watson to 177 passing yards. Buffalo has not seen an opposing signal-caller throw for 300 or more yards in its last 15 games, the longest current streak in the league.
Since the Week 2 blowout loss to the Chargers, Buffalo has climbed the rankings in many key statistical categories. Buffalo was next-to-last in the league in points allowed per game (39) after the team’s 0-2 start, but has climbed to 12th (allowing 23 points per game).
After ranking 18th in total defense, Buffalo has risen to 3rd, allowing 48 fewer yards per game (from 359 yards per game to 311 yards per game). The run defense has gone from 22nd to 8th (from 113 yards per game to 92.5 yards per game), while the pass defense has climbed from 16th to 6th (from 246 yards per game to 219.2 yards per game).
Buffalo’s pass rush has done some serious damage over the last four weeks, rising from 16th to 7th (from recording sacks on six percent of plays to nine percent). Jerry Hughes (4.5 sacks) is leading the charge rushing the passer, followed by Kyle Williams (3.5 sacks), Trent Murphy (3), and Lorenzo Alexander (2.5).
Add it all up and you have a defense that, according to the experts at Football Outsiders, trails only the Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens in their DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) ratings, which according to the Football Outsiders website “breaks down every play and compares a team’s performance to the league average based on situation in order to determine value over average.
The Buffalo Bills defense has moved up to third in our DVOA ratings this week, behind only Chicago and Baltimore. The Buffalo Bills offense is now the second-worst ever since 1986, behind only the 2004 Dolphins.— Aaron Schatz (@FO_ASchatz) October 16, 2018
The resurgence of Buffalo’s defense is good news, considering how mightily the Bills offense has been struggling, especially moving forward knowing that prized rookie quarterback Josh Allen will miss the next few weeks with an elbow injury.
If the Bills (2-4) are to win games over the next month, most of the responsibility is going to fall on Leslie Frazier and his 4-3 defense—whose squad has certainly been the backbone of this team over the last month following a slow start to the year.