Bills know they must fix run defense after being ravaged by Eagles

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- If you hit a door with a blunt object enough times, you'll eventually break through it.

The Buffalo Bills' interior defensive line was, metaphorically, a closed door against the run in its first six games of the season, allowing 3.43 yards per carry against runs toward the left or right guards or up the middle. That average went up with Buffalo's 31-13 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.

The Eagles sent running backs Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders into the heart of Buffalo's defensive line 11 times in the first half for 36 yards, but it took them only two plays in the second half to bust that proverbial door wide open.

After a 2-yard run from Howard to start the half, Sanders burst up the middle for a 65-yard touchdown that took a considerable amount of life out of the home crowd at New Era Field. From there, the Eagles attacked the interior 19 more times for 102 yards, including 16 interior rushes for 79 yards in the fourth quarter.

"I'm concerned any time a team can run the ball like that on our football team," Bills coach Sean McDermott said Sunday. "It's concerning."

The Eagles averaged 5.37 yards per carry after Sanders' touchdown and 4.94 yards in the fourth quarter -- well above the Bills' season averages. Philadelphia's 205 interior rushing yards account for more than one-third of the 565 Buffalo has allowed in seven games this season.

Philadelphia's 218 rushing yards might seem like an anomaly, but Sunday marked the fifth time in 39 games under McDermott that Buffalo allowed 200 or more rushing yards. That ties the Miami Dolphins for the second-most such occurrences in the NFL in that span, per ESPN Stats & Information. The Bengals lead the league with nine such games.

There's an opportunity to get right in the coming weeks. Buffalo's upcoming opponents -- Washington, Cleveland, Miami and Denver -- rank 23rd, 16th, 32nd and 15th in rushing offense, respectively.

But the recipe for moving the ball against the Bills is out there. Regardless of a team's rankings, each of them possesses an NFL-caliber coaching staff capable of making adjustments. On Sunday, Buffalo faces a Washington team (1 p.m. ET, Fox) coached by a longtime offensive line coach, Bill Callahan, who has made it his mission to establish the run since taking over as interim coach.

"People are going to look at that tape and say 'OK, that's the formula right there,'" Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. "We've got to stand up. We've got to get it fixed and improve in that area and get to the point where [opponents] can't be balanced on offense ... it'll follow you if you don't."

Frazier said the Bills' staff watched film of Sunday's game and made the "necessary corrections." That process began with identifying where the wheels came off: the inability to play their brand of attacking football.

When a team doesn't tackle well or control its gap assignments, Frazier said it'll usually struggle against the run, as was the case in the previous four games in which Buffalo allowed 200 rushing yards.

"The biggest thing was just our ability to play downhill as a group and shed our blocks -- the same age-old adage when it comes to stopping the run," he said. "Being downhill with your backers, getting your defensive line to get off the blocks and tackle, that's the key to playing good run defense, and we didn't always do that.

"We want to be an attack-oriented defense, with our defensive line attacking the line of scrimmage and our linebackers attacking the line of scrimmage as well. That's part of who we are. That's part of our identity. In order to stop the run, that's usually what needs to happen."

Frazier said Sunday's performance will hopefully pay dividends for the Bills as they try to learn from an uncharacteristic stumble.

Ultimately, as disappointing as the loss was to the players and staff, it was just one game.

"You take a look at it, you find out what the problem is, and if you've got the right people, you can get it turned around," Frazier said. "I think we do ... You can't allow one game in your season to dictate the rest of your season."