Of all the early season storylines, Sean McDermott's defense leading the way to an AFC East lead at the quarter mark is riding far too low on the national radar.
Often when NFL teams make coaching changes, the franchise will seesaw defensive mind to offensive mind or vice versa. This offseason, however, the Buffalo Bills hired McDermott, a heretofore defense coordinator, to take over a team Rex Ryan managed.
The difference in performance has been stark.
Through four weeks, the Bills own the NFL's No. 1 scoring defense (13.5 points per game allowed), given up a league-low four touchdowns, are tied for fourth with seven takeaways, sit fifth in yards per play allowed (4.7), and eighth in yards allowed (306.0).
Last year, the Bills ranked 16th in points per game allowed (23.6), 19th in total yards per game (357.0), and 29th in rushing yards per game allowed (133.1).
Speaking on NFL Network's Good Morning Football on Thursday, Bills linebacker Preston Brown said the difference between 2016 and 2017 is a simplified D.
"We don't like to compare that much with last year, but we know it's a lot simpler," Brown said. "You can see it out there. Guys are having fun. With the 4-3 scheme, we're back to where we are my rookie year. Guys are having fun and just playing fast."
The tape speaks the truth. The Bills defense flies to the ball. Jerry Hughes leads a battering defensive front, with undrafted free agent Eddie Yarbrough flashing each week. The second level of Brown, Ramon Humber (who broke his hand this week) and Lorenzo Alexander swarm ball carriers. And the back end led by safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, along with first-round corner Tre'Davious White, is a perfect mesh for McDermott's zone-heavy scheme.
Brown's comments about McDermott simplifying the defense stand in contrast to the complaints last season that Ryan's defense was too complicated, as Marcell Dareus said in December. This year's defense looks much closer to the fourth-ranked D employed by DC Jim Schwartz in 2014 than anything we saw the past two years under Ryan.
McDermott has his defense playing loose, fast, and aggressive. If they can keep up their smothering pace, perhaps the longest playoff droughts in football will finally come to an end.