The Buffalo Bills’ run defense was a strength just two weeks ago.
Entering the team’s Week 9 game against the New York Jets on Thursday Night Football, the team had given up just 80.1 yards per game, which ranked third in the NFL.
“We’ve really fallen off a cliff,” defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said Monday.
Indeed they have. The Bills’ inability to stop the run has been a glaring weakness during back-to-back blowout losses to the Jets and New Orleans Saints. Those two teams have combined for a whopping 492 yards on 89 carries, an average of 5.5 yards per rush, and nine rushing touchdowns. That has dropped the Bills from third all the way to 22nd in just two games.
“When you look at the tape from yesterday's ballgame, it's purely us not being where we needed to be on certain occasions,” Frazier said. “Our tackling was't bad, it was much better than the week before, but being in and out of our gaps was a big problem. We played a lot of eight-man front yesterday, which means you think you're going to be fine against the run, but didn't turn out the way for us. That's the biggest culprit from yesterday.”
As for why it’s happening, Frazier said “we’ve got to go back to the fundamentals of what we do. Teach it as if we're at the beginning of training camp – not take for granted that everybody understands the importance of being in their spots. Obviously, that’s not the case. We have to get back to the basics of run defense.
From a personnel standpoint, there have been two changes to the Bills’ front seven. Linebacker Ramon Humber returned from a thumb injury – which should be a good thing – while defensive tackle Marcell Dareus was traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars – a move that was made two days before the team’s Week Eight game against the Oakland Raiders.
Coach Sean McDermott ruled out the run defense's slide having anything to do with the departure of Dareus.
"We've played good run defense, even when Marcell was in the building, but not on the field," McDermott said. "We've played good run defense, and I expect us to do that again."
In four games without Dareus this season, Week Three against Denver when he was injured and the three since he was traded, the Bills have allowed 657 yards on 126 carries (5.2 yards per rush) and 11 touchdowns. In five games with Dareus in the lineup, those numbers are 124 carries for 396 yards (3.2 yards per rush) and three touchdowns.
Asked if teams might not have to respect the middle of the Bills' defense as much without Dareus, Frazier said "I just know that we have to do a better job of defending the run in what we’re doing right now. No matter who’s out there, we have guys that are capable of doing it, they’ve done it, so we just have to get back to doing it."
"Gap integrity" has been the buzzword about what's gone wrong.
"Now, that that’s been on tape from a run-defense standpoint, that’s what people are going to do. They’re going to test our run defense," Frazier said. "We have to shore it up, it’s going to take a lot of work on our part. Have to do a much better job when it comes to gap integrity along with being able to shed blocks, get off of blocks and then tackle. We have our work cut out for us. It’s almost like a training-camp mentality when it comes to what we have to do to get it fixed. We have some work to do."
Frazier is confident his players will do just that.
"These guys have a lot of pride," he said. "That bothers them, what happened yesterday. I’m sure they’re going to come back to work on Wednesday, with the mindset to get it fixed and get it right, leading up to the game against the Chargers. We have some guys who really like what they do, and have a passion for the game. They’re going to do all they can within their powers to get it fixed, I’m assured of that, for sure."