By Tim Graham
When the games of Week Nine were over, the Buffalo Bills' run defense looked like an abomination on the field and on the stat sheet.
They ranked 31st in rushing yards allowed, 32nd in average carry and had given up the most rushing touchdowns and first downs in the league. They were on pace to have one of the ugliest seasons of all-time.
Since then, however, the Bills have had the NFL's top run defense based on yards per attempt.
On the Press Coverage blog Monday, we took a look at how well the Bills have done over their past three games, holding opponents to 60, 87 and 50 yards on the ground.
Little did I know, that within a league context nobody is stuffing runners like Buffalo in the second half of the season.
From Week Nine onward, Buffalo's defense ranks first in average carry at 3.14 yards.
- 1. Buffalo Bills: 3.14 yards (four games, 100 attempts, 314 yards)
- 2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 3.27 yards (four games, 113 attempts, 370 yards)
- 3. Denver Broncos: 3.38 (four games 96 attempts, 324 yards)
- 4. Cleveland Browns: 3.40 (three games, 58 attempts, 197 yards)
- 5. San Francisco 49ers: 3.43 (four games, 113 attempts, 388 yards)
Buffalo is second in average rushing yards per game.
- 1. Cleveland Browns: 65.7 (three games, 197 yards)
- 2. Buffalo Bills: 78.5 (four games, 314 yards)
- 3. Washington Redskins: 77.3 (three games, 115 yards)
- 4. Denver Broncos: 81.0 (four games, 324 yards)
- 5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 92.5 (four games, 370 yards)
"Guys are playing better," Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams said. "We're playing well up front. The backers are coming down and hitting things.
"The main thing is nobody's missing gaps. They know where they're fitting. They know where they're supposed to be, and they're getting there fast. Guys are getting off blocks in the front seven. It all works together."
The Bills' opponents in this stretch haven't resembled the 1962 Green Bay Packers.
The Bills held the New England Patriots to 117 yards on 29 carries, the Miami Dolphins to 60 yards on 24 carries, the Indianapolis Colts to 87 yards on 29 carries and the Jacksonville Jaguars to 50 yards on 18 carries.
Those teams currently rank eighth, 17th, 18th and 32nd in run offense and 13th, 21st, 20th and 32nd in rushing average.
Even so, the improvement compared to the first half of the season, when the Bills were on pace to have one of the worst run defenses in NFL history, is indisputable.
What's more, they've been doing it without injured defensive ends Mark Anderson and Chris Kelsay.
"There's a lot of trust among our defensive players now," Bills coach Chan Gailey said. "I thought that early in the year, guys felt like 'If I don't make this play, nobody will.' So you get out of your gap to go to another gap.
"Now, everybody's holding their own gap. Instead of a backside linebacker running over the top to make the play, he's sitting, waiting for the cutback. Or the three-technique defensive tackle not trying to play too far across the face, trusting that the guys on the other side will make the play, he's got the cutback in the B-gap on the other side."
The Bills were so bad in the first half of the season, however, their rankings still stink.
They're still 30th in run defense and 31st in rushing average.
But Gailey sounded legitimately excited about what he has seen lately.
"To me, once you develop that trust, you develop that consistency and they see it works, then they continue to do it," Gailey said. "I think you do nothing but build on it from there."