As total team efforts go, the Buffalo Bills' defense was as good as it has been all season on Sunday.
Whether it was stopping the run, rushing the passer, buttoning down in coverage or forcing turnovers, the Bills' "D" put it all together in a 17-14 win over the Miami Dolphins.
The Bills have allowed just 20 points in the last two games, both victories. Granted, the Dolphins and Browns are hardly offensive juggernauts. But for a defense that has struggled stopping anyone at times, the past two weeks have to be considered progress.
"Defense is getting a lot better; week in and week out, getting a lot better," Bills coach Chan Gailey said. "I have seen the progress since about four or five games ago. What did we get, two turnovers today? We have been averaging three turnovers a game for the last four weeks or so. So our defense is really coming on."
The Bills shut down the Dolphins' running game, which finished with 65 yards on 19 carries. Curiously, Miami abandoned the run for the most part and put the fate of its offense in the hands of struggling quarterback Chad Henne.
While Henne's numbers (33 of 45 passes completed for 276 yards with one touchdown and one interception) might suggest otherwise, he did not have a good game.
The Dolphins lack a deep threat at wide receiver, so the Bills' secondary clamped down and made Henne settle for short throws over the middle and near the sideline. He averaged only 6.1 yards per pass thrown.
"We kinda knew coming in that [Henne's] forte is not throwing the ball downfield," said Bills cornerback Drayton Florence. "And then, these last few weeks with their O-line being banged up he's been hit a lot, too. So we knew the ball would be coming out quick, which they did throw a lot of short passes. But you know in this league offenses can't win dinking and dunking down the field."
Even as Henne tried to get the ball off quickly, the Bills were able to generate a consistent pass rush.
Outside linebacker Arthur Moats led the way with 1.5 of the Bills' three sacks. He is the team's first rookie to record a full sack in consecutive games since former nose tackle Jeff Wright in 1988.
"The [defensive backs] were covering good, and then me along with my teammates on the front line were able to box the quarterback in and keeping him from scrambling and just making big plays," Moats said. "Any time the quarterback is sitting back there four or five seconds and we're still getting pressure on him and the DBs haven't given up anything, that's great."
The Bills augmented their pass rush with well-timed blitzes from the outside. Coverage was tight enough for strong safety Donte Whitner to come around the edge to team with Moats on one sack. Free safety Jairus Byrd also got his first career sack on a blitz.
"Every week we have those things in," Whitner said of the safety blitzes. "When you run blitzes like that, you kind of leave some area to be exposed. We had it in since training camp, but somewhere underneath we wouldn't run it correctly and guys would get open because you don't have many people in coverage underneath when you do that, so you have to get [to the quarterback]. But recently we've been doing a lot better in practice running these things and that gives Coach the confidence to run it in the games."
The Bills made plays when the pass rush got to Henne. Defensive end Alex Carrington and safety Bryan Scott both batted down balls directed at open receivers and a tipped pass by outside linebacker Chris Kelsay resulted in an interception by safety George Wilson.
One of the most impressive plays was turned in by nose tackle Kyle Williams, who smelled out a screen pass and dropped Dolphins running back Ricky Williams for a 6-yard loss. That play was followed by Wilson's interception.
"It was a good day all around," Williams said. "I don't think we had one big star today. It was where when we needed a play, the secondary made it or the linebackers or line made it. It was an all-around good team win."