Fast. Free. Confident. Just some of the adjectives play-by-play man John Murphy used to describe the Buffalo Bills defense this past Monday following its monster 23-17 win over the Atlanta Falcons. And he’s not wrong. The players have taken to new head coach Sean McDermott’s system and are thriving despite losing its entire secondary and other key play makers from a year ago.
In fact, Leslie Frazier’s unit is smashing the expectations as it leads the NFL in fewest points allowed per game (13.5) and currently has the best DVOA (Defense-adjusted value over average) out of all 32 teams, according to Football Outsiders. The switch to a 4-3 defense is a big part of it, but how else has this side of the ball returned to pre-Rex Ryan form in a matter of months? We’ve got some ideas:
The Bills Defense is playing…
Fast because the players are being consitently put in the right positions to make plays. Guys know where they are supposed to be and when. There are not as many checks and substitutions in this defense beyond McDermott’s lineman rotation. The coaching staff preaches tackling fundamentals and allows its players to do what they do best, like Jerry Hughes getting to the QB. Players are excited and swarming to the ball.
Free because the players know this new defense inside and out, allowing them to play more off instincts instead of over-thinking it. Many of the guys on the roster are familiar with a 4-3 scheme and this defense seems far less complex than what the Ryan brothers ran. There is a ton of prep work but assignments are more defined. This 4-3 defense allows them to just go out and play.
Confident because the players have been drilled for all possible scenarios by McDermott which makes nothing a surprise. They seem prepared for every football situation imaginable and have heavily bought into the new system. Where there seemed to be a lack of trust over the past couple seasons on D, this unit is playing for “each other” and with “brotherly love”. When you legitimately are willing to put your body on the line for the guy next to you without a second thought, that’s when confidence grows as a group and great things can happen.
It really is an encouraging and much-needed sign going forward in Buffalo. And as the schedule gets harder with Tampa Bay, Oakland, New Orleans, Kansas City, New England and more still remaining, it will be interesting to see how this Bills defense reacts. For now, the Bills Mafia can simply enjoy being #1!
Additional Bills Defensive Rankings
Takeaways: 7 (T-4th)
Passing yards per game: 212.8 (12th)
Rushing yards per game: 93.3 (13th)