The Buffalo Bills defense has had a whirlwind ride in 2013. The offseason saw major changes starting with a new coordinator in Mike Pettine, the signings of free agents like Manny Lawson and Alan Branch, the trading of one linebacker for another (Kelvin Sheppard for Jerry Hughes), the drafting of a legend (Kiko!) and a franchised safety unable to reach a new a new contract extension with the team. Despite the roster turmoil, injuries, and worry through 11 games it is abundantly clear that the Bills defense is on the rise and has outperformed last year’s defense by a wide margin.
A defense can be good in a variety of ways, but for this comparison I will look at four stats that show how great the improvement has been with Pettine’s leadership. They are the amount of points the defense has yielded; 273 this year versus 299 in 2012, the turnovers created; 23 vs. 14, how many punts have been forced; 65 vs. 43 and the sacks they have accumulated; 37 vs. 23.
For a defense, pride is taken when one stops the opponents from scoring points, and getting the ball back for your own offense to score. Each of these four stats reflects a piece of the larger picture, which is to say that this defense is good and much improved.
So how much better is this defense compared to last year? We know they have given their offense more opportunities to score points whether that’s by creating turnovers or stopping the opponents more often; in fact, they have given the offense 28, minus the three defensive touchdowns, more opportunities to score than a year ago.
Quite a bit of credit can go to Mike Pettine’s pressure based scheme as it has put Mario Williams on a pace for a career year in sacks and turned former first round bust Jerry Hughes into a wonderful pass rush compliment to Williams. But his impact extends into the dynamic duo of interior linemen who are Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus.
Beyond the front seven the improved play has extended into the secondary as Aaron Williams has found a home as a deep safety with four interceptions and Leodis McKelvin has stepped up as a solid second cover corner with eleven passes defended. Even Jairus Byrd is returning to his Pro Bowl form as he has intercepted passes in two straight games.
All of these factors, including budding tackling machine and playmaker Kiko Alonso, has yielded a great return on management’s investment. From the team replacing four position players and switching schemes each move seems to have sparked this aggressive defense to perform better than from where it was previously.