Coming into the season, there was a general feeling that the Bills' couldn't possibly match the defensive numbers they posted a year earlier under Mike Pettine. But at the midpoint of the season, they're on an almost identical pace of a year ago, when they set a team record with 57 sacks.
After eight games, the Bills lead the NFL with 28 sacks, which puts them on pace for 56, one behind last year's record output. They have 12 interceptions, on pace for 24 picks. A year ago, they had 23.
The Bills are fourth in the league in yards per play, sixth in yards per rush against, fifth in net passing yards allowed. They're seventh in points allowed with 165, or 20.6 points a game. That's a big improvement. A year ago, they allowed 24.3 points a game, which ranked them 20th in the league.
Jim Schwartz, the defensive coordinator, shrugged off his unit's gaudy numbers and reminded everyone of the biggest stat of all:
"It's 5-3," Schwartz said Tuesday in the ADPRO Sports Training Center, where the players gathered before leaving for this week's bye. "That's where we are right now. It doesn't matter how many sacks or turnovers or rushing yards or third-down percentage or points allowed or anything else. It's about winning the game, and that's the only stat we judge ourselves on.
"Those other things can help you win a game," Schwartz said. "So we're not going to shy away from them. But that's not how we judge ourselves. We're 5-3; we get a chance to take a breath here and gear up for the second half.
"I think the story of our defense will be written in the second half of this year, not the first half."
The Bills also rank highly in some key special teams categories. Danny Crossman's return coverage unit is third in average kickoff return and sixth in average punt return. Dan Carpenter is fifth among NFL place-kickers with 66 points, on 15 PATs and 17 of 19 field goals.
Overall, the Bills have some mediocre offensive numbers. They're 26th in total offense, 26th in red-zone offense, 23rd in rushing, 31st in first downs. But things have improved considerably since Kyle Orton took over at quarterback.
Orton stands sixth in quarterback rating at 104.0. He's in good company. The NFL's top five rated QBs are Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady. Tony Romo is seventh, Andrew Luck seventh.
But Orton leads the league in fourth-quarter passing with a stunning 132.5 rating. He has 442 yards passing yards in the fourth quarter, an average of 110.5 a game. He has five TD passes, no interceptions and 9.21 yards per pass in his four fourth quarters.
Sammy Watkins has been the prime beneficiary of Orton's fine play. Watkins is sixth in the AFC and 12th in the league in receiving yards with 590. His 157 yards against the Jets are tied for the ninth-best receiving day of the season in the league.
The Bills lead the NFL in takeaways with 18. Their turnover margin of plus-7 ranks fourth in the league.