ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Kyle Williams would prefer seeing far more consistency before declaring the Buffalo Bills’ defense being much improved over last season.
“We played decent Week 1. Bad Week 2. Better last week,” the veteran defensive tackle said. “You can’t have missing weeks in there.”
The dud Williams referred to was a 37-31 loss to the New York Jets in Week 2, when Buffalo allowed 493 yards and four touchdowns.
On the bright side, the defense opened the season allowing 308 yards in a 13-7 loss at Baltimore. And the Bills bounced back from their loss to the Jets by forcing five takeaways and getting five sacks in a 33-18 win over Arizona last weekend.
This is no time for the up-and-down trend to continue with Buffalo (1-2) facing a key early season matchup at AFC East rival New England (3-0) on Sunday.
If the Bills are going to back up coach Rex Ryan’s offseason vow that his prized defense will overcome its struggles last season, there’s no more opportune time than against a Patriots opponent dealing with questions at quarterback .
Tom Brady, who has a 25-3 record against Buffalo, is out serving the fourth and final game of his “Deflategate” suspension.
Backup Jimmy Garoppolo has a sprained shoulder and rookie third-stringer Jacoby Brissett hurt the thumb on his throwing hand. Though both practiced this week, there remains a possibility of receiver Julian Edelman — who last played quarterback at Kent State in 2008 — taking snaps behind center.
Rather than concerning himself with the uncertainty of which quarterback will play, Ryan is confident in his defense’s ability to contain the Patriots because Buffalo won’t be facing Brady.
“I’ll say that’s a true statement,” Ryan said. “These guys are good, but I don’t know if they’ll rank quite up there with Tom Brady.”
Aside from the loss to the Jets, the Bills’ defense has shown promising signs of being better than the high-priced unit which underachieved during Ryan’s first season.
Buffalo finished 19th in yards allowed — the worst finish by a Ryan-coached defense in his 11 seasons as coach or coordinator. And it managed 21 sacks, a franchise-low for a 16-game season, and a season after the Bills led the league with 54.
The Bills already have 10 sacks this season, the most through the first three weeks of a season since Buffalo had 11 in 2006, and they’re tied for fifth with seven takeaways (four interceptions and three fumbles).
The production is occurring despite Buffalo missing several key players.
Star defensive tackle Marcell Dareus is serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Buffalo’s top two draft picks and projected starters, linebackers Shaq Lawson (shoulder surgery) and Reggie Ragland (left knee), are sidelined. And don’t forget the Bills cut their top pass-rushing threat, Mario Williams, in March.
Ryan disputes the notion his defense is doing more with less.
“I like the talent that we have here,” he said.
Ryan will acknowledge the unit is playing with more cohesion.
Safety Aaron Williams agrees.
“The biggest thing is communication,” Williams said. “We’re all on the same page.”
That’s a difference from last season when the defense, at times, didn’t appear to be reading the same book.
Led by Mario Williams, several players publicly questioned whether they fit Ryan’s system. Ryan also acknowledged he made the mistake of attempting to combine his philosophies with those of Jim Schwartz, Buffalo’s defensive coordinator the previous season.
“I think we’re playing smarter and that could be a combination of a lot of things,” Ryan said. “And that’s why I think we’ll be a better defense this year.”