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How Sustainable is Defense? A non-numbers cruncher attempt at number crunching.

Photo by Bill Wippert

In 2019, Sean McDermott saw the culmination of  two years of successful roster turnover, quality drafting, leading to a top tier, NFL defense. The offense is still lagging behind, and is why the Bills blew their best chance to win a playoff game last January. Despite the lack offense, the Bills only lost one game year by more than one possession. The Bills defence kept the Bills in almost every game they played, including giving Lamar Jackson his worst game of the year in Orchard Park. 

To the casual fan, the thought would be, “well if the offense just gets a little better, than this team should be REALLY good.” And I have had that thought to. But the number crunchers and analytic gurus of twitter seem set on one thing, defense isn’t sustainable.  Is this true? Is time in the defensive spotlight fleeting? 

The Experiment

Here is the thing, this isn’t super scientific. I simply wanted to see  the changes in top overall defense and overall offense from year to year using https://www.footballdb.com/index.html. Overall defense and offense will simply be measured using yards allowed, yards gained, ect ect. I took the top 5 offenses and defense at the start of the 2014 and 2015 season and calculated the average change over the course of 4 and 5 seasons. 

Takeaways:

  1. Quarterback play really is everything. New Orleans and Pittsburgh are constantly  ten teams. New Orleans and Pittsburgh have also had the same quarterback playing in back to back to back years (minus some injuries.) Look at a team like Arizona and Indianapolis who’s offensive play drops off will the departure of Carson Palmer and Andrew Luck. 
  2. Defensive deterioration is unavoidable. I don’t have the breakdown on each team on a year to year basis and why the top 5 defenses from 2015 dropped off some much compared to 2014 teams, but I would be willing to bet it had to do with money. Prior to the 2015 season, Seattle gave Russell Wilson a contract extension, meaning less money to give to the likes of Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, and Frank Clark. 

What it means for Buffalo

The point of this exercise was to look into a possible crystal ball for the future of this Bills team. Is defense sustainable?  Well, it’s complicated, but no. But offense isn’t guaranteed to be consistent either. There are a million different factors that go into each side of the ball to say one side is any more consistent than the other.

With all the being said, I compare Bills like I look at the Legion of Boom Seahawks. A roster loaded defensive talent and a strong offense built on quality drafts around a rookie QB contact. The Bills will soon run into the same problem as those Seahawks, money. As Tre White, Matt Milano, Dion Dawkins, and eventually Josh Allen’s contracts come up, there will be players the Bills will have let walk. If Beane continues his stretch of strong drafts, the Bills can hopefully backfill the spots as the occupational starter walks for more money. The key for consistent success of this team will be fielding a competitive offense and Josh developing into top flight quarterback year after year.

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