By Anthony Stampone
I am going to keep this as short and to the point as possible, but for those of you that are freaking out and blaming the teams defense as the or a major part of the problem for the inconsistency this season need to reevaluate your thought process and/or your overblown expectations. Many of my fellow Bills that I have either talked to, read posts from, or heard talking on the radio seem to be under the impression that our defense isn’t good and that our coach should be fired or at least the defensive coordinator should be replaced. While I am not a “professional football analyst" I do understand the game and many of its nuances very well. To those of you that believe that Bills defense is even just average, I am sorry but you are terribly mistaken.
One major issue I believe most fans have is that there was a preconceived notion prior to the season that this defense was not going to just stop, but completely dismantle every opponent they came across. They would single handedly win the Bills 11 or more games. Unfortunately that is just flat out a fantasy and unfair. This is 2015, almost every single rule that is enforced on any given Sunday is designed to help the offense move the ball and put up points. Defensive players are considerably more scrutinized than offensive players. Most people do not give this fact the attention it is truly due. I know that our coach is pompous and made some statements before the season started that probably has played a role in your prejudice of how well the defense has fared so far this season. Rex’s boisterousness and sometimes overzealous prognostications aside, a major fact remains, the man is without question one of the best defensive minds in the entire football world. He can coach, design, and scheme an effective and productive defense that is and can be successful in today’s NFL even with all the handcuffing the league does to that side of the ball. Ryan coming out and saying the Bills had a chance to be one of if not the best defenses in the history of the NFL this year was not just typical Rex “soap box” speak, there is some truth to it. We have the coach and the talent on that side of the ball that we could be the best defense in the NFL this season and there is still plenty of time to climb the rankings.
To many of the people I hear from are concentrated on sack numbers and not on the effectiveness of the scheme that is in place on any given game day. Yes, we have a group of defensive linemen whose contracts are a more than the gross national product of some countries, and many feel justified in saying, “With them making that kind of money, they should be getting five or more sacks per game.” While I would personally love to see the Bills get more sacks myself, this thought process is misguided and incorrect. The Bills pay their defenders well to be effective, not just sack the quarterback. The sack, as exciting as it can be, is not the only measure of a great player or defense.. This line has been great this year, containing mobile QBs such as Luck, Tannehill, and Mariota in the pocket and forced them into making significant mistakes that lead to wins. Luck, who was successfully taken down for a sack two times during the game, was also rushed and rattled into a completion percentage of 53.1%, two interceptions, and over seven passed knocked away by our coverage group. Against a QB of Luck’s ilk, that is not only containing and slowing him down, that is pure dominance. Luck’s success against the Bills came in garbage time as the Bills rushed out to a commanding lead early and did more than enough to hold on to keep the game from ever coming close, as Luck has a reputation for comeback victories. Against Tannehill, who has shown great progression every year since he entered the NFL as a 1st round pick, was also shut down and dominated by the Bills defense. In the two games prior to playing the Bills, Tannehill completed no less than 65% of his passes has zero interceptions with a passer rating no lower than 93.5. Against the Bills defense in week three the Dolphins and their potent passing attack were manhandled. Tannehill was held to a putrid 53.1% completion percentage (identical to Luck's), tossed three interceptions, and had a passer rating of 59.7. The Bills defense did all of this while only getting two sacks on Tannehill. I am sure at this point you are seeing a trend, it is not just sacks that show a defense is doing its job.
I know we as Bills fans have been spoiled over the last two season with Marcel, Mario, Kyle, Jerry and company putting up franchise setting sack numbers in back to back years and leading the whole league in that impressive category. With that said, I would like a question answered as to how that translated to the teams overall success; what were are records at the end of those seasons? Don’t remember? I’ll remind you, 6-10 in 2013, and 9-7 in 2014. So even after shattering a franchise record one year and performing on par in sacks the next season, how did our Bills do? Terrible one season, and not all that much better the next. Did we snap our playoff drought with these impressive sack numbers and #4 ranked defense according to footballoutsiders.com DVOA? I’ll answer for you, NO! Bottom line is that the Bills aren’t far behind how well they performed the last few seasons and we are basically in the same position we have been. Your frustration, while well deserved, is completely misguided and blown out of proportion. You want to be mad about how this team has performed so far this, then go ahead. It would be best that fans accept that at some point injuries (Yes, I am saying injuries are a legitimate reason a team doesn’t succeed) and inconsistent offense which leads the NFL in 3-and-outs should be the cause of your frustrations.
As it stands right now the Bills defense is currently ranked 10th in total defensive DVOA on footballoutsiders.com (which is an outstanding rating system, if you are unfamiliar with it or don’t know how it is calculated, go to their page and you can easily read how it is broken down and how the numbers are calculated). Some might say that isn’t good enough. I say after facing arguably four elite QBS in our first six games, with an offense that is so streaky it’s sickening , it's remarkable they are still ranked in the top 3rd of the league in total defensive effectiveness. Take away the lopsided dismantling by Tom Brady (And please tell me how well did Pettine or Schwartz do against him as our DCs as well), and an impressive and effective Andy Dalton who operated almost his entire first half offense on our side of the field, and you still have one of the best defenses in the entire NFL!
Not all the criticism the Bills have faced on defense is unwarranted, and Ryan is not without blame. Dropping Mario, Jerry, Kyle, or Marcel into coverage and rushing just four against a QB that is known to hold the ball to have time to push the ball down field was asinine and unacceptable. Rex knows that. It is a nice strategy to use against a team like New England that is notorious for getting the ball out in less time than it takes to get out of a three point stance, but not Dalton. However, even with it being a disastrous approach against the wrong kind of offensive opponent, in the right setting it is genius (hint hint, the Colts took notice to this approach and attempted to implement it against the Patriots and had some success with it).
Stop looking at one exciting statistic and start looking at the smaller details and you will see, this defense is and will continue to prove to be, one of if not the best defense in the NFL by the end of the season. The defensive line is 100% worth the money, and the rest of the defense has been outstanding minus two poor showings against the best two teams in the AFC and maybe the entire NFL. They will come around, but look for more than just sacks as the result of their effectiveness!