DENVER --In some ways, the Bills' elite defense was as advertised in containing the Broncos' offense.
During Denver's 24-17 win, the Broncos were held to season lows in total yardage (306), net passing yardage (173) and committed a season-high three turnovers. But the Broncos also ran just 49 plays -- their fewest in a game since the Week 2 win over the Chiefs -- and on a per-play basis, Denver's offense was considerably more efficient, averaging 6.24 yards per play -- the median of the Broncos' per-play averages this year.
Most importantly, the Broncos removed the key weapons from the Bills' arsenal. By calling a higher percentage of run plays than all but one game of the last three seasons, the Broncos' kept the Bills' pass rush at bay. In 20 pass plays, the Bills did not sack quarterback Peyton Manning -- and did not even touch him once.
The Bills' offense relies on the explosive play, and the defense took that away, leading to one checkdown after another. That allowed Buffalo to rack up a 6:58 advantage in time of possession and run 77 plays to the Broncos' 49, but the Broncos averaged 0.85 more yards per play, a figure padded by 188 yards on 30 fourth-quarter plays.
"We gave up a lot of yards today, but a lot of those were garbage," said cornerback Chris Harris Jr., "but we ended up coming out with a lot of turnovers, and if we're giving up a lot of yards, we want to come back with a lot of turnovers, so that's what we did today."
The victory equation for the Broncos has changed in recent weeks, but the results remain to their liking, allowing the Broncos to maintain their grip on first place in the AFC West.
Here's how the Three Keys to Sunday's game turned out:
1. CONTAIN THE BILLS' FRONT FOUR.
If the Broncos had not made a concerted effort to emphasize the run in recent weeks, they would not have been able to neutralize Buffalo's defensive line as they did. And while the Bills' front four made plenty of plays against the run -- particularly in the first half, when Denver's running backs combined for a 3.31-yard average on 13 carries -- they were unable to do any damage in the pass rush, with no sacks or hits of Manning.
There will be other times when the Broncos emphasize the pass, but against this defensive line, which was slightly stronger against the pass than the run, the Broncos made the call to drive them off the ball and set up the play-action for some deep shots to keep the defense honest.
"I think it just varies based on opponents," Head Coach John Fox said. "We've got the ability to go pedal to the medal. We've got the ability to run the ball, which I think is necessary as you meet different types of opponents in different conditions."
- PROTECT THE FOOTBALL.**
The Broncos failed at this, committing a season-high three turnovers, two of which came off Peyton Manning interceptions. But the Bills' inability to protect the football -- and the mistakes they made immediately after their interceptions -- kept these from damaging the Broncos.
Buffalo cost itself 66 yards of field position because of penalties on their two interception returns, turning drive-start positions in Denver territory -- at the Broncos 20 and 38 -- into their 40- and 26-yard-lines. A three-and-out followed the first interception, and a Harris interception in the Broncos' red zone followed the second.
3. LIMIT BUFFALO'S EXPLOSIVE PASSES.
The season-long connection between explosive plays and success continued for the Bills. The Broncos' defense limited them to just one gain of longer than 25 yards: a 35-yard Orton-to-Watkins connection with 5:33 left in the third quarter that proved meaningless after Harris intercepted Orton at the Denver 2-yard-line on the next play.
Buffalo averaged 3.3 25-plus plays in their seven wins, and just 1.5 in their six defeats. Although the Bills were able to control the pace of the game with short underneath passes that allowed Orton to rack up a career-high 38 completions, the Bills averaged 35.6 percent fewer yards per pass play (5.6) than the Broncos (8.7).
Do you have a question for Andrew Mason? Ask it here and you might be in this week's Mailbag!