A stout rushing defense seem to be something that follows defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz wherever he goes.
As of this week, the Bills currently stand as the number one rushing defense in the league, allowing just 67.5 yards per game. This, in addition to being one of only two teams to not surrender a rushing touchdown thus far in 2014.
The players in the locker room say that this has everything to do with the way Schwartz explains his philosophy. Many on the Bills defensive front have worked under various coordinators, but none have been able to conjure the effort quite like Schwartz.
"He tells us how to understand situational football," LB Nigel Bradham said. "It's the way he teaches it, it's different. You can understand it more. Coaches in the past have done it, but sometimes you couldn't grab a hold of what they were trying to say. I think the way [Schwartz] does it is a great way of teaching it."
And this is something Schwartz has always been known for throughout his career.
From 2001 until now, he has produced a top-six rushing defense seven times, including this year's Bills team. Most notably when he was in Tennessee as a defensive coordinator, his defense was sixth-or-better five times out his eight-year tenure. Not to mention that he is responsible for talents such as DT Nick Fairley and DT Ndamukong Suh as well as the league's sixth-best run defense in 2013.
On past teams, the Bills always had a few of the necessary pieces to be a formidable force on defense (DT Marcell Dareus, DT Kyle Williams) but not enough to paint the whole picture. But then when you bring together guys like DE Mario Williams, DE Jerry Hughes, DE Manny Lawson, LB Brandon Spikes, and Bradham and then place them under a defensive mind like Schwartz, good things are bound to happen.
"A lot of it has to do with the type of scheme that we're running than what I've been in before," Lawson said. "[Schwartz's] way of approaching the game, as far as how he can communicate to the DBs, the linebackers, and D-line all differently and explain what he expects and what he wants. And also taking feedback of what we have normally been seeing and normally been getting."
The motivation, however, isn't just verbal or mental – it's visual too.
Schwartz has implemented his new policy that an inactive player wears a "chain" around their neck to remind the other players that there can be no weak links on the defense. So far, it seems to be working.
This week, the Bills face the Vikings – a team that Schwartz is familiar with from his days with the Lions. Not to mention that Minnesota gave up eight sacks and three interceptions to Detroit.
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said that he is well aware that the Bills are the top rushing defense in the league and has taken notice of what the team is capable of doing. He added that if his team isn't able to perform better than they have the past two weeks, 'they probably won't have much a chance to win.'
A difference between this team and past teams is its ability to recover from mistakes when they occur. Kyle Williams said that in the past, it was hard for players to bounce back from mental errors or missed blocking assignments. This year, the team is able to do that – and that is what makes the Bills a good defense.
"Really good teams show themselves through adversity," said Lawson. "So what we have to do is remain calm and understand that things happen, that [the offense] has good players too. We just have to work within ourselves, search within ourselves and do what we came out here to do and that's beat the man across from us and stop the offense."
Right now the team is on pace to come in right behind the franchise record of 65.2 rushing yards per game set in 1964 – the year of the Bills' first AFL championship.
But there is a lot of season left and the players know it. The unit just needs to maintain its intensity and stay committed, as Lawson put it.
"We're committed to our goal, and our goal is to make the offensive opponents one dimensional and getting after them in any way that we can," he said. "If the guys come in here, work hard, understand what their role is, understand what our role is within the defense and that's what we try to get done."