The Bills defense came into the season with a ton of hype. A top five unit overall last season (4th) combined with Rex Ryan and Dennis Thurman's scheme expertise was expected to dominate in every facet. Through seven games we've learned an adjustment period was necessary to acclimate to a new system that was in stark contrast to the previous one.
Here's what we've learned to this point about Buffalo's defensive capabilities.
1 – Darby and Gilmore are a special combinationThe setback with Leodis McKelvin's ankle injury opened the door for rookie Ronald Darby and he sprinted through it. Stephon Gilmore coming off his first healthy offseason picked up where he left off at the end of last year. Both have been fantastic in coverage. In fact entering Week 8 play the pair stand first and second in the league in pass breakups (Darby 14, Gilmore 12).
The cornerback tandem is a major reason why the Bills defense ranks third in the NFL in opponent completion percentage at 58 percent.
2 – Run 'D' even betterOver the final half of the season last year Buffalo's run defense slipped noticeably. In the final seven games of 2014 the Bills gave up 120 rushing yards a game to the tune of 4.6 yards per carry. Those figures haven't repeated themselves in 2015. The Bills have been a top five unit in run defense for the entire season, and currently rank fifth in the NFL allowing just under 92 yards per game.
One of the big reasons is they haven't given up many big runs this season. That's why they rank fifth in the NFL in 20-plus yard runs allowed having surrendered just two through the first seven games.
3 – Dialed in at the start **Buffalo's defense doesn't put their offense behind on the scoreboard early. The Bills have often forced opponents to punt at the outset of games. Of the team's first seven opponents only one has managed to generate points on their opening possession.
The Giants' field goal on their first series in Week 4 are the only points Buffalo's defense has given up on an opening drive. That's good for second-best in the league. In fact on 20 first quarter possessions by their opponents this season, 15 have resulted in either a punt or a turnover (13 punts, 2 INTs).
4 – Valuable returnsThe Bills defense is currently tied for the fourth-most interceptions in the league with eight in seven games. What they do with those interceptions however, might be the more impressive feat.
Of their eight interceptions, six have been returned for 20 yards or more including two for touchdowns (Preston Brown, Corey Graham). Ronald Darby returned both of his takeaways for 20-plus yards. Stephon Gilmore has a 29-yard interception return and Aaron Williams turned in a 26-yarder.
5 – Graham crackerKnown for having one of the higher football IQs on the defensive side of the ball, most expected that Corey Graham would make a smooth transition from cornerback to safety in Buffalo's defense. Whether they expected the veteran defensive back to be so physically involved in the run game is another story.
Through the first seven games Graham is the team's leading tackler with 61. That's seven better than linebacker Preston Brown, and Graham is far and away the leader in solo tackles with 45. The safety is also tied for second on the team with three tackles for loss and has the longest interception return for a touchdown with his 44-yard return against Jacksonville.* *