Bills show they actually can still play defense
In the fourth quarter, with the clock ticking down on the Kansas City Chiefs’ fading hopes for a rally, Alex Smith couldn’t find anyone open deep on third-and-6 from midfield, so he threw short to Tyreek Hill for 2 yards.
The Chiefs wound up surrendering the ball after a fourth-down attempt to Hill fell incomplete, and their next drive ended with Tre’Davious White’s interception to seal the Buffalo Bills’ 16-10 victory at Arrowhead Stadium. But it was that futile third-down pass into the flat, with Smith looking confused and frustrated before letting it go, that best symbolized the smothering defense the Bills played for most of the day.
“He had no idea what (coverage) we were in. None,” safety Micah Hyde said. “I think there were some plays like that on third down where we really executed well and disguised well. I think we did a really good job disguising.”
The Bills did a really good job of everything on defense.
They held the Chiefs to 236 yards, including 57 on the ground. They didn’t allow them to get the first of their 14 first downs until three minutes remained in the second quarter. Although they only sacked Smith twice and were credited with hitting him only four times, they frequently had him running for his life (he had five carries for 35 yards).
In short, their defense did what it hadn’t done through the previous three games, all losses, and returned to the dominant form it showed through the team’s 5-2 start. That – along with the far more efficient quarterbacking Tyrod Taylor provided than rookie Nathan Peterman in last week’s abomination against the Los Angeles Chargers – was enough to beat a Chiefs team that has lost five of its last six games while keeping the 6-5 Bills in the thick of the playoff race.
“That’s what we’re used to doing,” Hyde said.
“We’ve got a lot of guys in this locker room who are mentally tough, we’re sticking together,” White said. “I feel like Coach (Sean) McDermott does a great job of telling us that we want to play our best in November and December. I feel like we’re going to go up at the right time and I feel like this is the right time.”
And much of the rebound was due to the scheming of McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, the teaching the Bills’ defensive coaches did all week, and the ability of their defenders to absorb and properly execute what they were taught.
One of the Bills’ biggest defensive accomplishments was confusing Smith with two-deep-safety looks that he had not seen much of in his study of Buffalo’s game video because there wasn’t much of it to see. Smith frequently hesitated after dropping back, allowing the Bills to get after him with a variety of pressure packages.
“Can’t totally anticipate everything,” admitted Smith, who threw for 199 yards and a touchdown (although most of Albert Wilson’s 19-yard score was from his running after the catch) and finished with a passer rating of 76.
“Our secondary,” defensive end Jerry Hughes said when asked for the key to the Bills’ defensive prowess Sunday. “Our secondary did a fabulous job of forcing the quarterback to hold onto the ball, go through his second and third reads, and when he does that, up front, we have to get there. For us to get him off his spot and get his eyes focused on us and not downfield so he can extend plays and drives, is huge.”
The Bills got very little from their own offense. Taylor threw for a mere 183 yards and a touchdown to rookie Zay Jones. LeSean McCoy rarely found room to run and finished with only 49 yards on 22 carries for a pathetic 2.2 yards per rush. The Bills finished with 104 yards on the ground and averaged 2.8 yards per carry.
No, if they were going to have any shot at winning their first game here since 2011, they needed to rely heavily on their defense. The Chiefs had been struggling in all phases, but they do have an outstanding rookie running back in Kareem Hunt, who finished with only 17 yards.
“We understood that they were going to come out here and try to establish the run,” Hughes said. “They have the league’s (second-)leading rusher. He’s a big, physical all-purpose running back, so for us, we had a tough task. And I felt like we answered that call, especially being on the road. We knew that they weren’t going to go away (from that), especially coming into the second half. We really wanted to just hone in on that, just stick to doing what we do.”
Members of the defensive front spent a good portion of the week studying themselves as much as they studied the Chiefs’ offense. They looked at all of the tape of what they did wrong during those three consecutive losses against the New York Jets, New Orleans Saints and Chargers.
They also reviewed techniques and fundamentals they began working on at the start of the offseason. At the same time, they blocked out mounting criticism from the outside.
“We worked hard, just showing up early, staying late after practice,” Hughes said, “and you could see that it really paid off.”
A significant adjustment was the linebackers keeping their eyes focused on what they saw in front of them rather than having them pulled laterally by jet sweeps and reverses. The defensive linemen winning a good portion of their physical battles up front helped make that task easier.
Now, the bigger task is understanding that the same effort that went into preparing for Sunday’s game doesn’t waver as the Bills get ready to face their next opponent, the New England Patriots, to start a three-game home stand.
“Because these games are going to get hard,” linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. “We have to have that same mindset when we were losing – that same intensity, that hunger to win, because we haven’t done nothing yet.
“We haven’t been to the playoffs in 17 years, so we have to understand if we want to get to where we want to be, we have to have that same desire that we had this week and not relax because we got a win, finally.”