Buffalo’s hot start has cooled off a bit now that they have suffered their first loss against the San Diego Chargers. Many will now start looking for an individual to unload their frustration on, and while that may seem like a good idea, I would argue that a major issue is actually the entire secondary unit.
Although the Bills lost Pro Bowler Jairus Byrd this off-season, there wasn’t an expectation that the unit would struggle as much as it has this year. Thus far, quarterbacks have been more successful against the Bills, and it’s led to decreased time of possession for the offense and increased wear on the entire defensive group. Fans can look at a couple key statistics that show where, and why, the group is regressing.
First, there has been an increased amount of penalties accrued by the unit. Right now the Bills are averaging, as a team, roughly nine penalties for 83 yards per game. Of their 26 total penalties, 65% of them are defensive plays. This shows that the Bills are being overaggressive and showing poor technique defensively. These errors are keeping opposing offenses on the field.
It doesn’t help that officials have made it a point to emphasize defensive pass interference, illegal contact and defensive holding. All three of these penalties carry an automatic first down. In three games, the Bills have had seven such calls made against them, which tops the NFL.
Along with leading the league in pass interference calls, the Bills are also tied for second in defensive holding with three.
In terms of secondary penalties, the main culprit happens to be Leodis McKelvin. He is the only player with multiple penalties against him, whereas the rest of the group (Stephon Gilmore, Aaron Williams, Corey Graham, Nickell Robey and Duke Williams) each has one.
The second disturbing trend has been the lack of interceptions. For a unit that did so well in baiting quarterbacks a year ago, the fact they only have three interceptions this year, with one belonging to defensive tackle Kyle Williams, is not a good sign.
One year ago the team recorded 23 interceptions with five going to non-secondary players. Needless to say, the pace the team is currently on will not keep up with last year’s unit that finished second in the league. One can argue that the loss of Byrd is one contributing factor, but the team is still applying pressure on the quarterback just as they were a year ago. Opposing quarterbacks have made mistakes, but the defenders have been out of position and unable to intercept the ball.
Finally, quarterbacks in general have been picking the secondary apart despite the consistent heat from the defensive line. The secondary in 2013 was the third stingiest in the league, giving up 5.3 net yards per pass, and fourth best in passing first downs with 170. In all, quarterbacks had a completion percentage of 55% against the Bills’ aerial defense.
Fast-forward a year and the team is giving up nearly an extra yard (6.2), a higher completion percentage (62%), and the fourth most passing first downs in the league (46).
Perhaps the group has not gelled in new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s scheme, but the fact that only Aaron Williams and Corey Graham can play consistently is a worrisome sign. Corey Graham is the only Bills corner with more than one pass defensed according to Pro Football Reference, and he’s got seven. This should be alarming for any Bills fan.
Buffalo’s secondary unit as a whole has to start playing up to their talents, especially considering the Bills have yet to face their toughest quarterback competition as games against Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Matthew Stafford and Aaron Rodgers all loom.