FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — For the Buffalo Bills defense over the years, the only constant has been change.
Over the past four seasons, the Bills have had four different defensive coordinators. George Edwards ran the show in 2011, followed by Dave Wannstedt in 2012, Mike Pettine in 2013, and now, former Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz makes the defensive calls.
“Jim, defensively, has done a really good job with making that transition,” said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. “They’re quite different than what they did last year defensively, but he’s made them quickly into a real good defensive unit.”
Make no mistake; the Bills were already solid defensively. Last season, they ranked 10th in total defense and fourth in pass defense. Their defensive front logged 55 sacks, the most in the NFL, with three players — defensive end Mario Williams, linebacker Jerry Hughes, and defensive tackle Kyle Williams — all notching double-digit sack totals.
Between those three and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus — the Week 5 AFC Defensive Player of the Week for his three-sack effort against the Lions — the Bills have built a stout defensive front that does its job regardless of scheme.
Their ability to get after the quarterback hasn’t necessarily been all about scheme.
“The scheme has changed a lot: It was a lot different with Pettine, it was the Jets’ scheme, [but] it’s a lot different [now],” Belichick said. “It was a lot of pressure. They have good players. I mean, look, you’ve got to block those guys no matter what defense they’re in. It’s still the same guys that are hard to block. I would say the scheme is quite a bit different. I mean, they had a four-man rush last year, too. I’m not saying that. But there was a lot more pressure.”
Pettine was sending more exotic pressures, with extra defenders going after the quarterback on 79 of 213 opponent dropbacks (37.1 percent), according to stats website Pro Football Focus.
Schwartz isn’t doing anything ground-breaking or innovative to get his defense playing the way they are playing. He has utilized mainly a four-man rush, as Belichick noted, and has only sent an extra defender after the quarterback on 39 of 216 plays (18.1 percent).
That’s not a huge diversion from his previous defensive tendencies in other stops in his career, and the standout play of the defensive line has been the catalyst that’s allowed Schwartz to run his scheme.
“It looks very much like Jim’s scheme from Detroit and from Tennessee,” Belichick said. “Obviously, the [defense] is playing well. They have a very good front. They have good depth. They play the run well, they rush the passer well, so they’re obviously playing good techniques, and that’s a credit to everyone.”
The Patriots offensive line had struggled over the first four games of the season before a dramatic turnaround in Week 5 against the Cincinnati Bengals. The Patriots’ best bet may be to stick with the veteran group that led the charge on Sunday, helping New England to rush for 220 yards.
The challenges will get tougher before they get easier, with this week’s contest against the Bills serving as another measuring stick for the growth and improvement on the offensive line.