Bills' defense falters when failing to force turnovers
By JOHN WAWROW
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) Micah Hyde doesn't have any concerns over how many yards Buffalo's defense is surrendering this season. So long as they're forcing turnovers, the Bills will be fine.
What the starting safety did have trouble explaining is what happens when the Bills can't create takeaways.
"I guess, I don't really have an answer as to how we win without getting turnovers," Hyde said. "I guess it comes down to the offense also not giving up the ball. From there, it's probably just field position. But it's tough."
A bend-but-don't-break style of defense has played a key role in helping the Bills (5-3) match their best start during a 17-year playoff drought - the longest active streak in North America's four major professional sports.
The Bills, who host New Orleans (6-2) on Sunday, rank second in the NFL in having forced 17 turnovers (11 interceptions and six fumbles), two of which have been returned for touchdowns. The takeaways have helped the defense overcome a downward trend in which it has allowed an average of 381 yards offense over its past six games.
Concerns, however, are being raised whether the Bills can consistently sustain such an opportunistic model for victory that's been so reliant on opponents turning over the ball.
"You can win with that model. It's been proven," coordinator Leslie Frazier said. "And for whatever reason, if we come up short, we have to find other ways to affect the game."
That has yet to be the case.
Buffalo has forced at least two takeaways in each of its five victories. By comparison, the Bills failed to generate a turnover in two of three defeats, including a 34-21 loss to the New York Jets on Nov. 2.
Not only did Buffalo lose the turnover battle by coughing up three fumbles against New York, the Bills' defense was trampled in allowing a season-worst 194 yards rushing in a game the Jets built a 34-7 lead by scoring 27 consecutive points.
Also alarming were the number of tackles the Bills missed in giving up three 20-plus-yard runs, including Bilal Powell's 51-yard gain late in the third quarter.
Linebacker Lorenzo Alexander chalked up a portion of the sloppiness to Buffalo playing on just three days' rest.
"They outplayed us, were more physical. We didn't tackle well, didn't create turnovers. So we had everything kind of stack up against us," he said. "And the way our team is built, we're not going to win a lot of games when that happens."
Alexander expects the defense to bounce back with the benefit of a 10-day break.
Buffalo, 4-0 at home, can't afford a similar collapse against the Saints, who rank second in the NFL, averaging 392.5 yards of offense.
"The energy, that wasn't us," linebacker Preston Brown said. "We've got to get back to what we've been doing best, get them off the field, hold them to three (points) or get takeaways."
The defense is showing signs of wilting. The Bills have already allowed 300-yards passing three times, one more than all of last season.
Red zone defense is also becoming an issue. In their first five games, the Bills limited opponents to scoring five touchdowns on 15 drives inside Buffalo's 20. Over the past three, Buffalo has allowed seven touchdowns on nine red-zone possessions.
Coach Sean McDermott is more concerned about the points Buffalo is allowing than yards.
"Yardage doesn't win games. Points are what win games," he said.
"We've had some good days doing that. We've had some days where we've given up yards that have led to points," McDermott said. "We've got to continue to grow, continue to build and get better."
NOTES: Starting TE Charles Clay (right knee) and CB E.J. Gaines (hamstring) practiced on a limited basis and have a chance to play Sunday. Clay has missed three games. ... LT Cordy Glenn did not practice due to soreness in his left foot and ankle, which previously bothered him this offseason. ... WR Zay Jones (ankle) did not practice after being hurt against the Jets.
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Updated November 8, 2017