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Vic Carucci's Bills analysis: Emphasis on takeaways is still a sustainable formula for success

It drew skepticism as something that couldn't possibly last, something that would eventually run its course as all things seemingly dependent on luck tend to do.

Sure enough, those cynics crowed, all of that good fortune the Buffalo Bills enjoyed did run out at MetLife Stadium last Thursday when they stopped taking the ball away and, instead, lost it three times in their 34-21 loss against the New York Jets.


The fact the Bills entered the game with an NFL-leading turnover ratio of plus-14 and still lead the league at plus-11 had less to do with luck than it did with design.

Ask any player who was on the defense before the arrivals of first-year coach Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, and they'll tell you that forcing takeaways has never been emphasized as much as it is now. A player even standing at practice with a football in his hands must constantly be aware that someone could come along at any moment to try to swat it loose.

Ball-stripping techniques are constantly taught and worked on, along with being in position to grab deflections, because the coaches firmly believe they drive the sort of success the Bills had in winning five of their first seven games.

That isn't about to change, nor should it. During the four-game streak in which they had at least three takeaways per game, the Bills were 3-1.

Is it a perfect formula? No. The Bills took the ball away from the Cincinnati Bengals three times and still lost because their offense was terrible. The New Orleans Saints, who come to town this weekend with a six-game winning streak, had no turnovers through a 2-2 start yet have given the ball away nine times in winning their last four.

But there's enough history of success with winning the takeaway/giveaway battle for the Bills to remain as fully committed to it as they were when Marv Levy constantly preached it during the run to four consecutive Super Bowls.

"As has been proven, if you take it away in our league, it’s going to result in a greater win percentage for your team," Frazier told reporters Monday during his weekly news conference. "We’re going to continue to emphasize it, stress it, and try to come up with those takeaways because we’ve seen the results for our team when it happens."

Frazier pointed to Leonard Johnson's dropped interception Thursday night as a pivotal moment, because had the cornerback made the play, it "probably could have impacted the ballgame, especially as early as it was. But (forcing turnovers is) something we’re going to emphasize. You can win with that model, it’s been proven."

What happens when you don't get takeaways?

Your defense needs to step up in other places, and that was the Bills' biggest shortcoming against the Jets. Failing to take the ball away is one thing. What's far less excusable is failing to make tackles.

The Jets' running backs shouldn't have found it as consistently easy as they did to run through and around Bills defenders. The last display of tackling this poor by a Buffalo team was last Christmas Eve's 34-31 home loss against Miami, when Jay Ajayi had his second 200-yard rushing game of the season against the Bills.

Frazier found Thursday night's atrocious run defense especially hard to watch as he reviewed videotape of the prime-time debacle.

"You go back and you try to figure out why the missed tackles (happened)," he said. "That’s the thing that really sticks in your craw, because we have tackled well. Even going into the preseason, when you don’t expect to tackle well, and then throughout the regular season, we’ve tackled well.

"But for whatever reason, we didn’t tackle well the other night. A lot of different reasons for it, but you have to be able to. … You identify the areas where you came up short, and then you try to pinpoint why. You have to get your focus on to the next opponent, and that’s where we are now."

Still, the Bills are wisely keeping their attention on generating takeaways. Maybe the Saints, who have four interceptions and five fumbles in their last four games, will be coughing up a few helpful gifts.

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