The Buffalo Bills have proven repeatedly that they are up for big games in the AFC, and on Sunday, they used their extra two days to completely re-shape their defense to stop the run-heavy Baltimore Ravens. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier and defensive-minded head coach Sean McDermott deserve a ton of credit for the design and general manager Brandon Beane deserves a lot of credit for providing the horses.
Let’s recap. The Baltimore Ravens were averaging 5.6 yards per carry entering the game. The Ravens are outclassing their opponents, leading the league in points scored and currently sitting second in yards per game. They are running over and through teams—but not the Buffalo Bills.
Buffalo held them under 3.6 yards per carry on Sunday, two full yards under their season average. Their 118 yards of rushing and 257 yards of total offense were both the lowest of the year for the Ravens, led by offensive coordinator Greg Roman. Quarterback Lamar Jackson had his lowest rushing numbers since the season opener (when his team won by 49 points and he threw for five TDs).
For the love of Pete, punter Sam Koch had kicked six times total in the team’s last five games. He punted seven times against Buffalo, more than twice as many times as any other game this year.
To achieve this remarkable game against the hottest offense in the NFL, the Bills re-imagined their defensive personnel. Instead of their base defense being the nickel with Taron Johnson, where they have lived for a majority of the season, the Bills kept three linebackers on the field and Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds were in coverage a lot. Those linebackers were also available in run support in a healthier way than Johnson would have been able to provide.
The week before, the Bills played the Dallas Cowboys, who are the only team to gain more yards than the Ravens. In that game, they played a ton of nickel coverage with Johnson seeing the field on 84% of the Dallas snaps. (He played just 38% of the snaps against Baltimore.)
Before the Ravens and Cowboys, Buffalo held the Denver Broncos to just 134 yards of offense. That’s the third-lowest total for any team in 2019.
Let’s go back a bit further, too. In Week 4, the Bills nearly beat a New England Patriots team in the middle of an 8-0 start. The defense gave up just 224 yards to Tom Brady and the Patriots, their lowest total since September of 2018 and the fourth-lowest total in a game that mattered since 2010.
More simply put, the Bills have the players to limit any offensive scheme they see. They have solid cornerbacks and safeties to be successful in the passing game. They have the linebackers who can drop into coverage, blitz, and fill holes in the run game. They have a front four that can get after the quarterback some of the time and be their 1/11 in the run defense.
Buffalo is third in team defense behind two of the tops teams in the NFL in the San Francisco 49ers and the New England Patriots. They are second in scoring defense, allowing 212 points this season, and scoring percentage, allowing an opponent to score on just 22.3% of their drives.
When the Bills get into the playoffs, their defense can show up on any given day and get the team in a position to win the game. Not just any given day, but really EVERY given day. They’ve proven that. Now about that offense...