The Buffalo Bills defense put on another show against the Cleveland Browns further cementing their place among the greatest units in Bills’ history. The Bills defense turned the game around when Jerry Hughes forced a fumble on Browns running back Terrence West, returning it for a touchdown. It’s was Hughes’ first touchdown of the season, but it underlies the story of the season, and that’s the fact that this defense is carrying the team.
As a whole, this teams screams 1999, which ironically was the last time the Bills made the playoffs. If you don’t remember the 1999 Bills, they started one quarterback, flipped midseason and the defense dragged the team to the playoffs winning three of their last four contests. That defense only allowed two opposing offenses to score more than 21 points all season.
This year’s team is allowing opponents only 18 points per game, and has given up 23 or more points in only three times. It’s a brutal last month as the team plays three of the top five offenses in the league, but if they hold it together for this last month, then fans will start talking about this group as one of the all time greats.
With that said I decided to compare this unit to four others over the past 25 years.
The five defensive groups within 25 years:
2014– Led by Jerry Hughes, Mario Williams, Kyle Williams Brandon Spikes and Marcel Dareus.
2004– Led by London Fletcher, Takeo Spikes, Terrence McGee, Aaron Schobel, and Lawyer Milloy.
1999– Led by Ted Washington, Sam Cowart, Phil Hansen, Marcellus Wiley and Antoine Winfield.
1996– Led by Bruce Smith, Chris Spielman, Mark Schulz, Bryce Paup
1990– Led by Daryl Talley, Cornelius Bennett, Shane Conlan, Nate Odomes, and Carlton Bailey.
After selecting the teams deemed to be the best in franchise history, I compared their finish to where they ranked against one another. Both yards and points are considered in pass and run defense, and I kept the sacks and turnovers separate as impact plays.
1.) 1999- 1,370 yards 9 TD
2.) 2014- 1,178 yards 6 TD (projected 1570 & 8 TD)
3.) 2004- 1,604 yards 6 TD
4.) 1996- 1,669 yards 12 TD
5.) 1990- 1,808 yards 13 TD
1.) 1996- 3,068 /11 TD / 5 ypp /51.9%
2.) 1999- 2,675 / 12 TD / 4.9 ypp / 53.1%.
3.) 1990- 2,799 /17 TD / 5.6 ypp / 55.8 %
4.) 2004- 2,624 / 20 TD / 4.9 ypp / 53.7%
5.) 2014- 2,661 / 14 TD/ 5.4 ypp / 63% (projected 3548 / 19 TD)
Sacks & Turnovers:
1.) 2014- 48 sacks/ 15 INT / 12 FF / 1 TD (projected: 64 sacks / 20 INT / 16 FF)
2.) 2004- 45 sacks/ 24 INT / 21 FF / 4TD
3.) 1996- 48 sacks/ 14 INT / 12 FF / 1 TD
4.) 1990- 43 sacks/ 18 INT / 9 FF / 3 TD
5.) 1999- 37 sacks/ 12 INT / 10 FF / 1 TD
After reviewing the rankings the 2014 Bills are stampeding opposing quarterbacks and running backs. Now consider the fact this group is on pace to set a new franchise benchmark for sacks in a season, after it was just broken a year ago. The front seven is disciplined enough to stuff running lanes, but quick enough to get into the backfield and pressure quarterbacks.
Consequently this group’s weakness is the secondary. It just hasn’t matched the front seven’s play as they are allowing quarterbacks to complete 63% of their passes. They are intercepting passes and are on pace to finish second in that category only behind 2004’s squad, but they’re still on pace to give up over 3,500 yards on the season.
It’s taken 10 years for the defense to return to respectability, and at the rate their going this could be one of the greatest defensive groups we are watching. They may also carry this team into the playoffs; that is if they are able to fend off three of the best quarterbacks in the league.
So 1999’s squad may be ranked as the best per ProFootballReference.com, and they certainly were the stingiest defense most fans have ever seen, but this year’s unit is certainly making a run.