High standard helps Bills boast the NFL's best defense through 9 games

Taron Johnson (24) celebrates his 1st quarter interception with Micah Hyde (23), Levi Wallace (39), Tre'Davious White (27) and Jordan Poyer (21). Buffalo Bills vs New York Jets at MetLife Stadium, November 14, 2021. Photo by Bill Wippert

Jordan Poyer embodied the Buffalo Bills' standard on defense at a team meeting back in Week 2, the day after they lost their opener to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Steelers mustered just one touchdown on 252 yards of offense in that game. When defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier asked Poyer why he felt the Bills lost, it would have been easy to deflect blame for the 23-16 result toward the offense.

Instead, Poyer – a defensive captain – looked inward.

"He told the whole group, 'We didn't take the ball away,'" Frazier said.

The moment was emblematic of the mindset that has made the Bills the NFL's best defense at the halfway mark of their season. The group responded with a 35-0 shutout of the Miami Dolphins the following Sunday, fueled in part by two defensive takeaways.

The defense carried the same mindset into their week of preparation against the New York Jets. The unit did not allow a touchdown during the 9-6 loss in Jacksonville but still had a bad taste in its mouth, according to cornerback Levi Wallace.

"I can only speak on the defense, just going over last week, we didn't get enough turnovers to give the offense more opportunities," Wallace said. "I think that was one of our main focuses this week, to give our offense more chances to score points."

The result was five takeaways against the Jets, tying the season high set against Houston in Week 4. Each of the Bills' five starting defensive backs – safeties Poyer and Micah Hyde and cornerbacks Wallace, Tre'Davious White, and Taron Johnson – accounted for a turnover.

Still, the focus afterward shifted to what the unit could have done better. The Bills allowed two fourth-quarter touchdowns after the game already well out of reach for the Jets.

"We've just got to work on finishing a little bit better," Wallace said. "Me personally, I didn't like being out there just letting them score towards the end of the game. We've got to finish teams."

The season has crossed the halfway mark, now nine games into the elongated 17-game schedule. The Bills defense is the NFL's best my most measures, including yards (2,467), points against (135), first downs (147), and takeaways (24). It ranks second in pressure percentage (28.1) behind Baltimore despite blitzing roughly half as much as the Ravens.

But the numbers also compare favorably with the best defenses in recent memory. Their 124.61 defensive expected points added is the fourth-best mark by any team through nine games since 2000, according to TruMedia, behind the 2019 Patriots (187.05), 2019 49ers (142.81), and 2005 Bears (130.96).

Buffalo's 135 points allowed are the eighth-fewest by any team through nine games since 2011.

The success is in part the result of continuity and preparation, two ingredients that have helped the decent start games as well as any unit of the past two decades. The Bills' six first-quarter points allowed are the fewest by any team through nine games since 2000, according to TruMedia.

"The mindset each week doesn't change for us," Hyde said. "We put the work in each and every week. … Practice hard, try to execute the game plan that we have."

Sean McDermott has preached complementary football as one of the tenets of the Bills' process since taking over in 2017. Buffalo's ability to boast a dangerous offense is what separates it from recent teams with similarly performing defenses in recent seasons.

The Bills – despite low-scoring snafus against the Steelers and Jaguars – have set a club record with 280 points through the first nine games.

Since 2000, 66 teams have allowed 150 points or less through nine contests. Only two scored more than the Bills' 280 points: the 2007 Patriots (355 points score; 147 against) and the 2003 Chiefs (287 scored; 150 against). Both of those teams were 9-0.

Of course, no defense has ever been remembered for what it did through half a season. The Bills have a eight games to go, including a matchup with the reigning Super Bowl champion Buccaneers and a pair of games against what could be an up-and-coming team from New England.

Poyer refused to take the bait when asked to assess where the defense stands entering Week 11.

"We're not complacent," he said. "We're gonna continue to get better, we got a lot of work to do, a lot of football games to be played, so we got to keep working."

That is the standard.

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