You don’t have to spend a ton of time poring over the Buffalo Bills’ recent box scores before a trend jumps off the page.
The team is dominating the turnover battle.
The Bills have given the ball away just twice this season and taken it away 11 times, a turnover differential of plus-9 that ranks second in the NFL behind the undefeated Minnesota Vikings.
“That’s huge,” outside linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. “If you lead in the turnover ratio, you often times are winning games. So that’s’ what we pride ourselves on on defense. Our core principle is to take the ball away and score on defense.”
The Bills are the only team in the NFL not to lose a fumble, and are tied for the league lead with five fumble recoveries. The Bills’ six team interceptions rank tied for fifth in the league, as does their two interceptions thrown.
“That’s a big point of emphasis – that’s how you win games,” coach Rex Ryan said. “Every team goes through what we call ‘turnover circuits.’ You try to teach them how to strip the ball – you do all those type of things – how to fall on a ball, how to scoop and score, how to do different things.”
Despite all that, there is more than a fair bit of luck that goes into turnovers, particularly when it comes to fumble recoveries. The Bills recovered just eight opponent fumbles last season, a number that ranked in the league’s bottom 10.
“Last year, we couldn’t buy a fumble recovery, it seemed like,” Ryan said.
Taking care of the football, however, can be learned, so security on the offensive side is emphasized over and over and over.
The Bills have five fumbles on offense this season, one each by EJ Manuel (which he recovered himself) and LeSean McCoy (recovered by right tackle Jordan Mills), two by Tyrod Taylor (one recovered by himself and one that went out of bounds) and one charged to center Eric Wood on the botched snap Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams that was recovered by Taylor.
“Our quarterback is so much better about protecting the football than many quarterbacks in this league,” Ryan said. “He will not put the team in jeopardy that way. I think that’s something that’s underrated.”
Since taking over as the starter last season, Taylor has done an exceptional job of taking care of the ball. He threw just six interceptions last season, and the team lost only one of his nine fumbles. This year, he’s been picked off just twice.
“It’s definitely been a big part of our success – taking care of the football, especially on the road,” Taylor said. “Teams feed off of that. It’s a momentum swing. We know if we can protect the football, finish the drive – whether it’s a punt, a field goal or a kickoff, which is ultimately the main thing that we’re trying to get. We know if we finish the drives in those three phases, then we’re doing a good job.”
During Sunday’s 30-19 win over the Rams, the Bills won the turnover battle, 3-0. Linebacker Lerentee McCray forced a Todd Gurley fumble late in the first quarter that was recovered by safety Corey Graham.
Two plays later, Mike Gillislee was in the end zone for a touchdown that put the Bills up, 13-3.
After the Rams battled back to tie the game in the third quarter, cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman made the play of the game when he intercepted Case Keenum and returned it 41 yards for a touchdown.
“It was kind of sluggish, and then that play, I feel like it sparked us,” Robey-Coleman said. “ I feel like it gave our defense some juice – it gave the team some juice … and sometimes that’s what you need to bring everybody together. Somebody has to make a big play.”
Robey-Coleman sealed the victory when he intercepted Keenum again with less than 2 minutes to play.
“When we get a lead, that’s when we start getting those things,” Ryan said. “That’s what happens. Right now, you get them in bunches and that’s kind of where we’re at right now.”