OPINION: Jury is still out on Bills defense

Buffalo's 4-0 start is great, but the defense isn't there yet

The Buffalo Bills are off to a 4-0 start for the first time since 2008 after their 30-23 win on the road against the Las Vegas Raiders.

The Bills are averaging over 30 points per-game through the first quarter of the season and are, very clearly, being led by one of the leagues most dynamic offenses. With a defensive minded head coach, that’s certainly a new recipe for this Bills team.

Since Sean McDermott’s first season in 2017, it’s been apparent his recipe for victory was to play solid defense, don’t turn the ball over and run the football. Considering the Bills are throwing the ball over 35 times a game, I’d say there’s been a fundamental shift in how McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane think they can win consistently in the NFL.

I, for one, am incredibly happy to see their change of heart.

Having said that, I’m slightly concerned about the defense. Yes, I’m aware no one is playing particularly well on the defensive side of the ball across the league at the moment with the shortened offseason. However, the regression appears to be real and significant, and it’s, at least, semi-concerning.

Before I acknowledge the very real turnaround the Bills defense had in the second half, the first half shook me to my bones. At one point during the third quarter, I was made aware that before the Raiders' first punt, that it had been seven consecutive quarters since the Bills had last forced a punt.

Last week, it was the Los Angeles Rams' run game that gashed the Bills between the tackles and their pair of top-tier wide receivers. In the first half against the Raiders, it was simply an inability to get off the field and stop the short passing game of quarterback Derek Carr.

While hosting Bills Game Day this morning with co-host Jeremy White, I was not ready to sound the alarms yet. At the half, I got as close to sounding that alarm as I’ve ever gotten before the Bills appeared to turn a corner. After giving up scores on the Raiders' first four possessions, the Bills forced a punt, caused a fumble, stopped the Raiders on fourth down, and forced another fumble before giving up a touchdown in garbage time.

It was certainly a welcoming sign for a defense ranked toward the bottom in nearly every statistical category. There’s not doubt, however, that McDermott and Leslie Frazier won’t settle for the poor tackling moving forward, and I expect them to continue taking steps as the season moves on.

It’s likely that the most satisfying part of this 4-0 start is how the offense has been able to prop up the defense as they work through some things. In years past, a start like we’ve seen through four weeks by the defense would have put this Bills team in a serious hole. One I don’t think sees them sitting on top of the AFC East.

Ultimately, in order to truly be mentioned in the same way the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens are, as a Super Bowl contender, the defense is going to have to play much closer to the unit we saw in 2018 and 2019 and less like the one we’ve seen through the first quarter of 2020.

The Chiefs play underrated team defense and the Ravens have one of the best defensive lines in football to go along with their MVP-caliber quarterbacks. The Bills are getting MVP-level play from Josh Allen, but they’re not getting the defensive performances necessary to not just keep up with the best of the in the AFC.

They’ll get their shot against the champs in a couple of weeks to truly test where they stand. Until then, it’s safe to enjoy the best start from this team since the George W. Bush administration.

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