With Paul Posluszny serving as a centerpiece, the Bills' new 3-4 defense has begun to click during the middle portion of the schedule.
After allowing 33 points per game through their first six games, the Bills have rebounded by allowing less than 16 points per game the last three weeks.
It's probably no coincidence that Posluszny has had some of the best statistical games of his career recently; most notably a career-high 17-tackle performance in a loss at Kansas City Oct. 31.
Despite missing two games with a knee injury, Posluszny is currently tied for ninth in the NFL with 78 tackles (54 solo, 24 assists), one fewer than Bills leading tackler Donte Whitner.
The fourth-year linebacker from Penn State said it was difficult to adjust to the 3-4 at first, after playing in a 4-3 his first three seasons, but he thinks the defense has finally settled in to the system and is picking up new techniques – and opposing running backs – faster.
"We're feeling more comfortable in our scheme and our job responsibility, so that's making it easier for us to make plays," Posluszny said. "Any time you're comfortable with a defense and you're able to just read and react, as opposed to think and hesitate … you'll always play a lot faster, and that's what we're getting to."
After posting 110 and 111 tackles the last two seasons, respectively, Posluszny's 78 thus far in 2010 have him on pace for 130. More than half (40) of Posluszny's tackles have come the last three weeks.
Despite only two tackles for a loss and one sack this season, Posluszny is making his tackles count.
In Sunday's win against Detroit, Posluszny (13 total tackles) was instrumental in holding Lions' running back Jahvid Best to 35 yards on 17 attempts – stopping the rookie for fewer than four yards on five separate carries.
Against Chicago on Nov. 7, all 10 of Posluszny's tackles held the Bears to fewer than four yards, half of which went for either no gain or one yard.
Even when Kansas City shredded the Bills for 6.1 yards per carry, Posluszny still managed eight stops of four yards or fewer.
Posluszny deflected credit for much of his own recent success to the defensive line's play, which has allowed him to focus on his own job each snap, rather than improvise.
"Any time you have a group of guys like the one we have on the D-line – that is able to really control the line of scrimmage – it makes the world a lot easier for linebackers to flow and get to the ball," he said. "You have to always take care of your job responsibility first. You have to have a great understanding of your defense and how the offense is attacking (it). To me, I just like to line up, do my job the best of my abilities and play as well as I can."
Coach Chan Gailey agreed that Posluszny's play has been noticeably stronger of late.
"He has, for the last three weeks, really come on and is playing extremely well," Gailey said. "He's getting a better understanding of the scheme, understanding what we're asking him to do, and he's understanding where everybody else is. That's the mark of a good linebacker; he knows where everybody else is."
Oustide linebacker Reggie Torbor said Posluszny's emergence as a defensive leader has translated to tackles.
"The leadership role he's taken has grown tremendously in three weeks… seriously," Torbor said. "He kind of yelled one time while people were talking and (it was like), 'Man, Poz is yelling?' He's kind of putting it on his shoulders to lead this defense."
Torbor added Posluszny's rapidly growing confidence has also had a major impact on his play, and have erased any doubts Posluszny may have had about playing in a 3-4.
"During the week, you can tell – by the questions that he's asking – his understanding level is going up," Torbor said. "He knows what each possibility is. He's able to look at a play and understand, 'This might cause trouble; what do we do if this happens?' Once you have success at something, the confidence comes and you kind of get the feeling, 'I can do this.' He's had success, he's getting tackles; now he's like, 'Let's do this, let's go.'"
Posluszny said he hopes to lead the Bills closer to boasting a highly regarded defense.
"We're not there yet, but we've got to make sure that we continue to make improvements each week," he said. "We feel like we're starting to play more comfortable now; we're communicating a lot better now. We just want to continue to improve and continue the path that we're on."