The Buffalo Bills' defense has played a bend-but-don't-break style to maximum advantage this season.
The Bills' defense closed the regular season ranked 26th in yards allowed and 18th in points allowed. It was 29th against the run and 20th against the pass.
Not too impressive. Yet the defense spearheaded the team's drive to a playoff berth.
The main statistical categories simply don't tell the whole story with the Bills.
"I think yesterday was a good indicator in some ways of who we are as a defense," coordinator Leslie Frazier said of Sunday's 22-16 win in Miami. "You look at the yards, but you look at the points allowed. At the end of the day, that’s the big deal – points allowed."
The Bills had given up only 135 yards by the time they built their lead to 19-0 over the Dolphins in the third quarter. Over the final 22 minutes of the game, the Bills gave up 221 yards while protecting their lead.
The bottom line: The Miami win was the eighth time this season the Bills have allowed 17 or fewer points and the 11th time in 16 games they yielded 23 or fewer points.
"Really in our league, under 23 now is the average because you expect to score at least 24 on offense," Frazier said. "But our goal is to hold teams to 17 or less. When you can do that, you know you have a high percentage chance of winning."
Here are three key statistics that better show the effectiveness of the Bills' defense:
- It allowed just three passes of 40-or-more yards, the fewest of any team in the NFL any of the past four seasons. It's also the second fewest in Bills history. (The 1993 Bills Super Bowl team yielded only one 40-plus pass.)
- The Bills finished ninth in the NFL in takeaways with 25.
- Subtract the Bills' three-game, mid-season slump (miserable losses to the Jets, Saints and Chargers), and Frazier's defense allowed only 17.2 points a game, which would have been fourth fewest in the NFL.
The point is the Bills played like a top-10 scoring defense for a majority of the season. The whole has been greater than the sum of the parts.
"I just think that we work hard off the field, not just the secondary, it’s all 11 guys on the football field," said safety Jordan Poyer. "It’s a tough group of guys. It’s a great group of guys. It’s a brotherhood."
The Bills' defense probably will need to be at its best in Jacksonville on Sunday because the Bills' limited offense isn't built to win a high-scoring game.
Jaguars will bring more overall defensive talent and speed than Buffalo to the wild-card playoff game. Jacksonville finished the season No. 2 in yards allowed and No. 2 in points allowed.
Preventing "cheap," quick scores will be a Buffalo key.
The Bills are good at limiting intermediate pass plays as well as long bombs. Buffalo gave up the sixth-fewest 20-plus passes in the league (42).
"You have to do a really good job of not giving up those explosives over the top of your defense," Frazier said. "We’ve been relatively good at that for the most part. We can still improve, which we expect to. Those usually lead to points when you give up explosives."
"We feel like we have a chance to be in the ballgame in the fourth quarter, to have a chance to win the game, if you could minimize those explosives," he said.