Through seven games, the Bills have allowed 5.95 yards per carry -- which is the worst in NFL history through that amount of contests. They're on pace to give up the third-most rushing yards (2,830) of any team in a 16-game season ('78 Bills and '80 Saints were worse). They're on pace to give up the second-most rushing touchdowns (30) of any team in a 16-game season (behind only the winless '08 Lions).
From that viewpoint, things aren't looking great in that area of the Bills defense. Even with all the numbers stacked against the Bills, middle linebacker Kelvin Sheppard feels that he and his teammates are close to putting a stop to the recent swing of bad games.
"It's the people that look at numbers that really don't know football to be honest," the second-year player said. "People that really know football, then you turn the film on. Just go turn it on. You watch us, we play lights out on defense play in and play out and then we give up an 80-yard run. It's very rare that a team can line up and move the ball on us 80 yards in a drive. I mean it happened, it's happened. It happened against San Francisco. It's happened. We're not just this immovable object. We're playing defense, it's just the consistency and on the consistent basis that we do [need to] play."
"You can play good on ten plays and then on the eleventh play you let [Chris Johnson] break an 80-yard run. The previous ten, no one sees that. The outside, no one sees that. They just see, you give up an 80-yarder. Then you go back, you play good six plays and on the seventh play, you give up a 50-yarder. Then you go back, you play good on eight plays and on the ninth play, you give up a 60-yarder. I mean those are just X-plays -- what we call them, what everyone else knows as big plays -- that we have to try to avoid."
It's a task easier said than done. Keeping the 'X-plays' from being the Achilles heel of the Bills' run defense is the priority, and head coach Chan Gailey has an idea of how to go about fixing it.
"People getting in the right place at the right time. That is how you stop the run," he remarked. "The big runs that have come against us have been somebody did not get in the right gap. Somebody did not play in the right technique. If we can just get all of that down where it is supposed to be, I think we have chance to stop the run when we need to."
"Just everybody playing as one," said Sheppard similarly. "Everybody not trying to overdo something -- jumping out of your gaps and making plays and things like that -- because it's not needed. We have 11 guys that we put on the field and all 11 knows what to do and can handle the job. So I think that's one reason we gave up a lot of those big runs."
Despite giving up the amount of big plays and yardage on the ground that the Bills have over the course of the season, the morale in the linebacker room has not wavered.
"We're very confident, to be honest with you," said the starting middle linebacker. "If a team really had come out and lined up, ran it down our throats, you see linebackers getting ran through, guys getting ran over, missing tackles left and right then yeah, I would sit here and tell you 'To be honest, we have a huge problem. Something needs to change -- personnel -- or something needs to change...'
"But that's not the case here and I can honestly say that. The film doesn't lie, you can turn the film on. It's the big runs. It's those back-breaking plays that when we're playing good, we get a sack and then we give a 16-yard pass and then, like I said, give up an 80-yard run. It's just those big plays we have to avoid and that goes back to guys just doing their job and just trying not to do too much."
As the pangs of angst and frustration within the fan base continues to pile up with every big run surrendered, the Bills know they just have to stay within themselves and stick to their responsibilities. If they do that, those within the organization believe they can get back to how they performed versus the run against Cleveland, early on against the New York Jets and up until the Kansas City Chiefs contest was well in hand.
"You have to be consistent every time and I think that is the term that we are talking with our players about and making a big deal about," Gailey said. "Be able to create consistency play after play and being accountable to each other."
"Right, and not trying to be Superman because you hear all the outside criticism of 'Oh, you guys, it's the run defense,'" Sheppard added. "But, we know what's going on. The guys sitting in that meeting room knows exactly what's going on and the people that need to step it up."
The Bills will have a chance to correct the errors of the past few weeks against one of the most daunting rushing attacks in the league. They'll be up against Arian Foster and the Houston Texans on Sunday, who rank sixth in the NFL in rushing yards per game.