DETROIT – The Bills’ starting defense found itself in a familiar position in the first half of the team’s 24-20 preseason victory against the Lions on Friday night at Ford Field: Defending a short field after a turnover.
Buffalo gave up a total of three points on those Detroit drives, which began at the Bills’ 27- and 18-yard lines. And while Matt Stafford put up respectable numbers in the first half, completing 12 of 19 passes for 137 yards, a touchdown and a 102.3 passer rating, the Bills’ defense kept Buffalo in the game, limiting the Lions to just 37 rushing yards and a 0-for-7 performance on third down heading into the break.
The Bills took a 14-13 lead into the locker room, even though Detroit’s average starting field position was the 50-yard line.
“Coach (Sean) McDermott talks about being smart football players and knowing the situation, and so we work those drills in practice and just want it to carry over into the games,” defensive end Trent Murphy said.
“I think it starts with a mindset and it starts with that being our standard. I think we really want to take the ball away and we’re disappointed when they get three points, so it’s just setting the standard and having the right mindset. But it’s another opportunity to showcase our defense and an opportunity to go make a play, no matter how we get out there. We’ve got to keep that mindset. It sets you up for success.”
Last season, the Bills' opponents combined to begin 15 drives inside the Buffalo 30-yard line, an average of nearly once per game, according to Pro Football Reference.
The Bills allowed points on every one of those drives – eight field goals and seven touchdowns – an impressive feat, keeping opponents out of the end zone more than half the time.
“It’s always hard to compare from year to year,” safety Jordan Poyer said after Friday’s game. “I think where we’re at right now, I don’t want to say we’re comfortable or anything, but I think we’re headed in the right direction. And I think today was a huge step, coming out there on two sudden changes with a short field and being able to hold them to three points, I think that speaks a lot about the type of attitude that we want to have.”
The Lions were limited to a field goal in the first quarter after Quandre Diggs recovered Cole Beasley’s fumble at the Buffalo 27. Detroit managed a first-and-goal at the 10, but was backed up 10 yards when guard Oday Aboushi was called for holding.
Stafford completed two of three throws, beginning with a five-yard pass to tight end T.J. Hockenson.
Levi Wallace saved a touchdown on second down by deflecting a pass intended for Marvin Jones.
On third down, C.J. Anderson took a short pass 10 yards before being tackled by Matt Milano at the 5.
Matt Prater made a 23-yard field goal to give the Lions a 3-0 lead.
“It’s a lot different from three points to six points, you know?” defensive end Shaq Lawson said. “To hold them to three, do the best you can, and the offense goes and scores again, that’s complementary football. That’s working together.”
The Bills were once again forced to defend a short field in the second quarter, when Victor Bolden Jr. fumbled on a kickoff return with 10:18 remaining in the half. Detroit safety Will Harris recovered at the Buffalo 18.
Tre'Davious White walked off the field with a bruised quad after an incomplete pass on first down, but the Lions picked up the first down on the next play, when Anderson ran for 10 yards before Captain Munnerlyn shoved him out of bounds at the 8.
Stafford fired incomplete short right to Hockenson on first down. On second down, Anderson was tackled for three-yard loss by Poyer and Tremaine Edmunds. On third down, Stafford hit Danny Amendola, but Poyer was there to tackle him at the 3.
On fourth down, Stafford, under pressure from Murphy and Jordan Phillips, threw the ball away. The Lions led 10-7 with 8:08 remaining in the half.
“There’s a huge emphasis on being good in the red zone,” Poyer said, “and being able to hold sudden changes to either takeaways or three points, and I think our defense was able to step up and do that.”
Detroit scored on two of its four trips into the red zone Friday night, and on one of three trips in the first half.
“Not good enough,” McDermott said. “It wasn’t ideal field position. I thought we held them to some field goals and got off the field on that fourth down there in the red zone, but overall, we’ve got work to do.”