In 2013, the Buffalo Bills had an exciting defense. They flew all over the field and piled up sacks and interceptions. In each respective category, Buffalo’s defense ranked second in the NFL. Based on those stats, you’d think Buffalo’s overall defense was terrific. You’d be wrong. Buffalo was atrocious against the run, giving up 2,063 yards. Against the run, Buffalo ranked 28th in the league. Even with that blemish, Bills fans were excited about what Mike Pettine would do in his second year as defensive coordinator.
On January 23rd, plans changed as Pettine became the head coach of the Cleveland Browns. It was the Browns, but hey, still pretty cool for Pettine.
Buffalo moved fast and signed former Lions head coach, Jim Schwartz, as their new defensive coordinator. Schwartz made his name as a defensive coordinator with the Titans. His defensive philosophy was much different than Pettine’s, as he showed a history of relying on his front four to get to the QB, as opposed to Pettine’s creative chaos. The addition of Schwartz also meant shifting the team’s defense to a 4-3 base. With these changes in mind, how will the Bills perform in certain defensive categories in 2014? There’s no crystal ball to tell for sure, but I’ll make my predictions based upon last season’s numbers and Schwartz’s history as a defensive coordinator and head coach.
Over/Under 57 Sacks: Under
This one was a pretty easy prediction to make. Buffalo’s 57 sacks were only second to the Carolina Panthers’ 60 sacks in 2013. While it’d be nice to see the Bills get to the QB that much in 2014, it’s highly unlikely. Pettine used exotic looks and blitzes to create pressure. Schwartz isn’t likely to do that often. As mentioned, he depends on his defensive line to create pressure, and with Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus and Jerry Hughes, they should be successful in that regard. However, Schwartz’s defenses never came close to this number. As the defensive coordinator of the Titans, Schwartz’s highest sack amount was 44 in 2008. With the Lions, Schwartz’s highest sack total was 43 in 2010. Don’t expect Buffalo to come close to reaching 57 sacks in 2014.
Over/Under 23 Interceptions: Under
Schwartz came close to 23 interceptions a few times in his career as a defensive coordinator and head coach, but he’s never actually reaching that number. Schwartz’s 2007 Titans had 22 interceptions, while his 2011 Lions had 21. Buffalo has a talented secondary and linebackers who are capable for pulling in interceptions, but based on his history I’m going with the under.
Over/Under 3,271 Passing Yards Allowed: Over
The NFL has evolved a lot since 2001, so I avoided Schwartz’s early career as defensive coordinator of the Titans and started my research in 2006. In 2007 and 2008, Schwartz’s defenses held opposing offenses to 3,187 yards and 3,196 yards. These were the only two years where his defenses were better in regards to passing yards. Last season, teams didn’t pass as much on the Bills due to their poor run defense. If Buffalo’s run defense improves, teams will have to throw on the Bills more. For that reason, I expect this total to go up.
Over/Under 2,063 Rush Yards Allowed: Under
Jim Schwartz only had one season as a defensive coordinator where his team gave up more than the Bills did in 2013. In 2006, Schwartz’s run defense gave up 2,313 yards with Tennessee. As Lions HC, Schwartz’s worst season came in 2011 when the Lions gave up 2,050 yards on the ground. Run defense is Schwartz’s specialty and he had many great years as the Titans’ defensive coordinator. His success varied in Detroit, but he finished on a strong note with the Lions. In 2013, Detroit allowed 1,596 rush yards.
This is one category where I expect the Bills to improve quite a bit. Buffalo was simply awful in 2013, so it’d be hard for them not to improve this season. Schwartz’s defenses have a history of doing well against the run which also makes me confident in Buffalo improving. Last, the team added Brandon Spikes to their roster. In the last two seasons, Pro Football Focus (Subscription Required) has listed Spikes as the top ILB in regards to run defense. The addition of Spikes also moves Kiko Alonso to weakside linebacker. This move will allow Alonso to be more disruptive defensively, both against the run and pass. The Bills have pieces in place to improve upon their run defense this season.
While my predictions show a decrease in sacks and interceptions and an increase in passing yards allowed, I believe Buffalo’s defense will be improved in 2014. If Schwartz’s scheme improves Buffalo’s run defense, something I fully expect, you will see Buffalo’s opposition finding themselves in 2nd and 3rd in long situations. It’ll also encourage teams to pass more, making them one dimensional.
BillsMafia, how do you think the Bills will fare in terms of sacks, interceptions, passing yards allowed and rushing yards allowed? Share your over/under responses with us in the comment section!