As you might expect from two of the top 10 NFL defenses, the Bills-Lions game saw points and yardage come grudgingly. And the game featured two of the league's top defensive tackles-Buffalo's Marcell Dareus and the Lions Ndamukong Suh.
Photos from the Week 5 matchup between the Bills and Lions from Ford Field in Detroit.
It's hard to say which one of them was better. Dareus continued his outstanding season by posting a career high three sacks and forcing a fumble. The Bills lined him up as a nose tackle on several plays trying to take advantage of a matchup with Lions C Dominic Raiola. Dareus has been consistently good through the first five games and his Head Coach has taken notice.
"We knew Marcell has been playing extremely well," Marrone said Monday, "kind of under the radar from a statistical standpoint. But he really has been playing well."
So has Detroit's Suh. He was a day-long handful for the Buffalo offensive line. In the second quarter, Suh made a couple of plays in a five minute span that showed how dominant he can be. With the Bills at their own 7-yard line, on 2nd and 23, Suh blew up an attempted double team block and knocked C.J. Spiller back allowing linebacker DeAndre Levy to stop Spiller after a two yard gain. Two minutes later, on a play that was nullified by a hold, Suh was unblockable on a first down run play by Fred Jackson. And then on 3rd and 3, with the Bills at Detroit's 17-yard line, Suh lined up directly over Bills Center Eric Wood and caused a rare poor snap by Wood. QB Kyle Orton had to cover up and take a ten yard loss.
Suh is 27-years old. Dareus is 24. They're already two of the best at their position in the league.
THE NUMBERS DON'T LIE
With the season just about one-third complete, it's safe to say concerns about Jim Schwartz replacing Mike Pettine as Buffalo's Defensive Coordinator were misplaced. Buffalo's defense finished 10th in yardage allowed in 2013. So far this, the Bills are 8th in the league in 2014.
Run defense was the biggest issue last year. That problem looks solved. The Bills are 2nd in the league in run defense, allowing just 71 yards per game. They're giving up 3.0 yards per rushing attempt, also second in the league to Seattle. And Buffalo has yet to allow a rushing touchdown in five games played so far this year.
The Bills set a team record with 57 sacks last year. They're on a pace for 54.4 sacks this year. And Buffalo's 17 sacks puts them in a tie with the Jets for more sacks through the first five weeks.
Most importantly, the Bills are allowing 19.2 points per game. Only seven other teams are giving up fewer points.
After spending the last ten games on the sidelines with QB EJ Manuel, Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett went back to the booth for the Lions game. And it would be a surprise if he didn't stay there for a while. Hackett has a much better look at the game from the upstairs vantage point and it's got to help calling plays. He sends the plays down to Quarterbacks Coach Todd Downing who passes then along to Kyle Orton in the huddle now.
Head Coach Doug Marrone told me last week how much easier it is to see the game from upstairs and get an understanding for what opposing defenses are doing. Marrone was in the coach's booth when he was a Tight Ends Coach at Tennessee and Georgia Tech.
NO HAPPY RETURNS
One big boost for Buffalo's defense has been the work of kickoff specialist Jordan Gay. Of his 27 kickoffs this season, 25 of them have been in the end zone. And 21 of those have gone for touchbacks. Only six other NFL kickers have a higher percentage of touchbacks on kickoffs.
The Bills had an interesting decision to make on the final kickoff of the game with :04 left on the clock and a three-point lead. Do they squib kick it and keep it out of the hands of Detroit's Jeremy Ross, a good return man? Or do they let Gay do his thing and bury it deep into the end zone, and take their chances with one play of defense still left to be played.
Buffalo opted for the latter, for a number of strategic reasons. First, the Lions were playing for the squib, with two return men (including Ross) up around the 15 yard line. Secondly, with four seconds on the clock, Detroit could have covered up the squib and had another offensive play anyway. Bills kicker Dan Carpenter told me if there were only one second left, a squib might have been the better play, but not with a full four seconds.
Doug Marrone indicated Monday there are too many variables on a squib kick in that situation. "You squib it, you don't know - are you going to be able to punch it through or hit off someone's leg, you still might have a shot for a Hail Mary at some point," he said. "We came up and they were playing a squib and they brought everyone up, and we said let's just kick it through the end zone and play defense and get the ball."
It wasn't the most perfectly executed game, but it was the perfect end to the 55-year tenure of Ralph Wilson and his family with the Bills franchise. And the sight of Mary Wilson in the anteroom of the postgame locker room, clutching a game ball, her eyes moist with tears, is the lasting impression I'll have from Sunday's win in Detroit. Perfect.