The NFL is not a place for moral victories, and the Bills are 1-3 since their bye, but, unlike the first half of the season, the defense does not deserve the bulk of the blame. Dave Wannstedt’s unit, which began the season much-maligned, and deservedly so, has shown vast improvement.
In the first seven games of the season, the Bills allowed 32.4 points per game, 176.9 rushing yards at a staggering rate of 5.95 yards per carry. In the four games since, Buffalo has allowed 23 points per game, only 95.5 rushing yards at an admirable 3.35 yards per carry.
Veteran WLB Nick Barnett spoke with PFW on Thursday about how things have gotten better over the last month.
“Everybody coming together and doing their part and knowing exactly what they’re doing,” he explained. “(We are) playing with more confidence within the scheme instead of trying to figure out what to do and second-guessing. Guys are now getting used to playing different techniques, playing the two, three, me playing 'Will' linebacker. We’re getting it all together and getting our confidence where it needs to be.”
Barnett leads the team with 77 tackles and has two sacks, five tackles for loss and two forced fumbles this season at his new position.
The 10-year veteran is on a defense that has a mix of veterans, like himself, George Wilson, Kyle Williams and Mario Williams, and lots of youth, with several starters who are rookies or second-year pros. Barnett explained how the defensive locker room stayed confident in a season that has fallen short of expectations.
“Guys in this locker room are good at knowing that everything is not perfect. This is the NFL, any given Sunday you can be victorious or smashed by 50 points,” he said. “Our talent level has helped us from being frustrated because we know what we can be.”
Barnett said that the defense knew it had the talent to compete but it wasn't doing so for a full 60 minutes, as things would fall apart after halftime.
“We’d make a lot of mistakes in the second half. We weren’t playing consistent football and we couldn’t get a complete game together. (Wannstedt) would show us the positive of what we were doing and that we had to just put it all together.”
The Bills have a favorable schedule down the stretch to make a run at .500, and Barnett said the defense needs to keep playing like it has, but also mentioned creating more turnovers would be key — the Bills are 24th in the NFL with 16 takeaways. Overlal, Barnett says the defense needs to "go the way we're going right now" to have a strong finish.
“I’ve been in positions where we’ve lost the first three games of the season and made the playoffs,” Barnett said. “Even now, there’s still an opportunity to get there. Ultimately, that’s where we want to go, but we have to take it one game at a time, but there’s still an opportunity to go out there to get what we want and do what we love to do.”