Any Bills fan looking at Buffalo's 2018 schedule knew it was going to be a tough row to hoe. Seeing five of the team's first seven games on the road was challenge enough. The team's first four opponents however, were among the toughest for any club in the league.
Proof of that came in the early season power rankings. Entering their Week 3 game at Minnesota, each of Buffalo's first four opponents were ranked in the top 15 of NFL.com's power rankings. Baltimore ranked 15th, the Chargers were 11th, Green Bay was 5th and Minnesota was 3rd.
Buffalo and Atlanta were the only teams in the league to play four top 15 teams in their first four weeks. What separated the Bills from Atlanta is three of those four games were on the road. The Falcons faced three of their four top 15 ranked opponents at home.
“Ever since I have been here we’ve been underdogs so this is nothing new to us. We just go and play. The analysts can pick whoever they want, but at the end of the day it’s just football, we came out and executed a little bit better (Sunday).” Cornerback Tre'Davious White
The quality of the opponent should carry weight with those who wanted to write the Bills off early, even if it doesn't carry weight with the players in Buffalo's locker room. The Bills certainly respect every opponent they play, but the caliber of their opponent never affects the team's level of preparation each week.
"Ever since I have been here we've been underdogs so this is nothing new to us," said Tre'Davious White. "We just go and play. The analysts can pick whoever they want, but at the end of the day it's just football, we came out and executed a little bit better (Sunday)."
Green Bay's ranking of fifth is likely to take a hit this week after losing at Washington, but they'll likely still reside in the top 15, as will Minnesota despite their humbling loss to Buffalo, and Baltimore, which posted a big win against Denver. Even the Chargers loss came at the hands of the top-ranked Rams.
WHAT A DIFFERENCE A WEEK MAKES
Speaking of rankings, following the first two weeks, the Bills defense was 31st in points allowed, 27th in first downs allowed, 21st in third down defense and 22nd in run defense.
On the heels of their dominating performance that almost produced a shutout at Minnesota, many of these rankings saw a sizable jump. That's not easy to do in just a 16-game season, but here is where the more notable defensive ranks went up and by how much.
|Week 2 Rank
|Week 3 Rank
|31st (39 ppg)
|24th (28 ppg)
|First downs allowed
|Third down defense
|Total yards per play
|Total yards per game
NO BIG PLAYS
Perhaps the biggest difference defensively was how the pass rush and coverage on the back end combined to keep big plays to a minimum. Whether it was Buffalo's pass rushers hurrying throws, Bills coverage players forcing incompletions or defenders limiting yards after the catch, the defense didn't get the shutout against Minnesota, but they did get a goose egg in an important category.
The Bills did not allow a single play by the Vikings cover 20 yards or more on Sunday. That's in stark contrast to the first two games of the season when the Bills gave up a total of nine to the Ravens and Chargers collectively.
“It was our job on the back end to disguise some coverages so Kirk (Cousins) didn’t know where he wanted to go with the ball. You saw him back there a couple of times patting the ball and not knowing where to go with the football.” Safety Jordan Poyer
The two longest plays for Minnesota Sunday were a 19-yard pass play from Kirk Cousins to Adam Thielen and a 17-yard pass from Cousins to Kyle Rudolph.
"We had a damn good game plan and the guys up front were eating," said Jordan Poyer. "It was our job on the back end to disguise some coverages so Kirk (Cousins) didn't know where he wanted to go with the ball. You saw him back there a couple of times patting the ball and not knowing where to go with the football."
WHERE THE BILLS RANK IN THE NFL
- Tied for 1st - Matt Milano is tied for the NFL-lead with two fumble recoveries
- 2nd - Bills rank second in average drive start (kicking team)
- 3rd - Bills rank third in kick return yards
- 3rd - Marcus Murphy ranks third in the NFL with a 30.4 kickoff return average
- 5th - Bills rank fifth in the NFL in rushing defense