The Bills offense has had a penchant for the big play through the first month of the 2011 season. In most cases those big plays have helped lift Buffalo to their three victories. Their defense has also made their share of big plays with eight interceptions through the first four games. However, the offenses the Bills have faced have put up more than their fair share of big gainers as well and the frequency with which its happening has to be brought under control.
"It's concerning, it is," said head coach Chan Gailey. "You've got to get off the field. You can't give up the big plays. The long runs, the long passes hurt us this past week. You can't give up those kind of yards on a consistent basis and expect to win."
Through the first three games Buffalo's defense was able to overcome a lot of the big plays produced by opposing offenses with takeaways. The Bills 11 turnovers rank second most in the league. That along with a Bills offense that was producing just as many big plays as their opponents, if not more, led to a 3-0 start.
Last Sunday, though Buffalo's defense had a pair of interceptions, including one which was returned for a touchdown, the offense had their fewest number of plays that covered 15 yards or more (4). And all of them were in the first half at Cincinnati.
"We never could hit a big play," said Gailey. "We took some shots, but we never hit on a big play. That's something we've done in other games is be able to hit a big play."
"I think frustrated is the best way you can put it," said Ryan Fitzpatrick. "A lot of stuff left out there on the field and a lot of missed opportunities."
Buffalo's defense is well aware that their offense is not going to be able to put up seven to 10 big plays a week like they did the first three games of the season. That's why the men of George Edwards' unit know they have to cut down on the number of big plays they're surrendering each week.
Through the first four games the number of big plays (15 yards or more) given up by Buffalo's defense has numbered 39. That's 15 percent of the total plays run against the Bills this season (260).
That may not seem like much, but Buffalo has given up the fifth most "big run plays" (10 yards) allowing 15 thus far, and the fifth most "big pass plays" (25 yards) with 10, in the league. It's why at the season's quarter pole Buffalo has surrendered more total yards (1,620) than they did through the first four games in 2010 (1,556).
"The yards do concern you," said Gailey. "You can't give up those yards on a consistent basis. You've got to be able to get off the field on third downs. We haven't done that as well as we need to."
Naturally points allowed is the most important statistic for any NFL defense and the Bills rank in the middle of the pack at 16th allowing 24 points per game. But there's a direct correlation between big plays and points, and the more big plays Buffalo gives up the more likely their opponents are to put points on the board.
In the first four games this season when the opposing offense has just one big play on a possession they've put a touchdown or field goal on the scoreboard almost half the time (5-12). When Buffalo's opponents have had two or more big plays on a drive they've scored almost every time (10-11) with the only failure a missed field goal by Kansas City in Week 1.
This week they face a Philadelphia offense that ranks first in the league in big plays with 25 rushes of 10 yards or more and nine pass plays of 25 yards or more for a total of 34 in just four games. Buffalo's offense is tied for fourth most with 26.
Buffalo's defense is determined to avoid relying on big plays by their offense to bail them out. Their takeaways have certainly helped, but they have to reduce the number of big gainers made against them. According to their head coach achieving that begins with solid fundamentals and consistent execution down in and down out.
"You can't miss as many tackles as we did last week and not execute and expect to win a football game," said Gailey.
"We had chances to make tackles and we missed tackles," said Spencer Johnson. "We had the opportunities to make the plays and we didn't make them and that's what it comes down to in this league."