The Bills improved run defense has drawn a lot of attention over the past week. Very quietly over the past month however, Buffalo's pass rush has also improved production. Currently ranked ninth in the league in sacks with 31, the defensive unit is turning up the pressure of late.
"The number one thing you've got to do in this league is stop the run, then get after the pass," said Mario Williams. "I think the biggest thing for us is we've been able to do that here lately and we've got to just try to keep it going."
Bills defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt has said from the very start that in this defensive scheme it starts with the front four. The men up front have accounted for the lion's share of the quarterback takedowns this season. Buffalo's defensive linemen have accounted for 28 of the team's 31 sacks on the season. That's third-most among the 32 defensive line fronts in the NFL. It's also almost double the league average for defensive lines (15.6).
"I think the main thing is guys are playing fast," said Kyle Williams of their pass rush success. "Guys are getting on and off of blocks and getting to the ball. Getting guys knowing where they're supposed to be and getting there fast and how hard guys have worked. There's really no substitute for that. We've practiced well really since the bye and it's kind of paid off."
Almost half of Buffalo's sacks on the season have come since the bye, including 11 in just the last three games, the most in a three-game span for the team this year. Over the past month Mario Williams has led the charge with five sacks in his last four games, tied for third-most in the NFL over that span. He now has 9.5 on the season good for fifth-most in the AFC.
With Kyle Moore providing effective pressure on the other side of the formation, it's prompted opposing offenses to chip both of Buffalo's defensive ends. Last week it was the crux of Jacksonville's game plan as they were using a good deal of seven-man protections. Still, the Bills were still able to post four sacks in the contest.
"I think that was part of the scheme coming into the game," said Williams of the Jaguars. "It definitely throws you off and we've got to find ways of countering that. That's something we look heavily into doing to put us in positions to deal with that and still make plays, especially when both sides are getting chipped."
"Teams are keeping tight ends in more, using seven-man protections to get passes off," said Alex Carrington. "You can't just leave five men in there to protect against us. You can't just do that because any of our guys can win one-on-ones, whether it's our starters or our backups."
Much like Carrington, head coach Chan Gailey also sees a benefit with Buffalo's ends getting additional attention from opposing offenses.
"I think teams will continue to do that," said Gailey. "That means they get less guys out quicker, which is good. Hopefully it allows us to be able to play back there and get more guys underneath the football and make smaller windows to throw the ball when they don't get their receivers out as fast."
With their recent run of success Kyle Williams expects to see opponents turn to other means of slowing Buffalo's pass rush.
"You're going to see teams that are going to play action more, and they're going to leave guys in to block," said Kyle Williams, who has five sacks on the season. "And there's going to be more time to throw the ball by design. They're going to leave six, seven guys in sometimes eight and get guys out in routes. But you have to continue to push and fight double teams and stop the run and do all those things."
When Buffalo's pass rush has been kept off the quarterback they've done a good job in getting their hands in the passing lanes. The defensive line has deflected 14 passes thus far this season. That's tied for third-most in the NFL.
Over the last four games the Bills defense has also held opposing quarterbacks to a passer rating of 69.4 the seventh-lowest in the league.
"I think to consistently play the way we have been the last few weeks, obviously what we've seen is us stop the run better, win more downs on first down, second down, get them in passing situations where we can rush the passer," said Kyle Williams. "Earlier in the year we were struggling with the run game or quick passes and teams were in situations where it was 3rd-and-3, 3rd-and-4, where it opens up their playbook and it puts a lot more stress on us. Now we've done better on first down, stopped the run better and gotten in more pass rush situations where we can get more pressure on guys."
"Any time you can create second and longs and third and longs and you keep them on the field without letting them get big chunks (of yardage)," said Gailey. "All of a sudden their chances for making a mistake go up."