After a disastrous 2016 season for Buffalo’s defense, the Bills are looking to turn the corner this year. The front seven looked impressive in the preseason after switching from Rex Ryan’s 3-4 to a 4-3, and it was able to create pressure on opposing quarterbacks. They’ll need to rely on that in the regular season, considering they’re fielding a completely revamped secondary that still has many question marks. Communication, better discipline, and cleaner tackling are also areas Buffalo’s defense hopes they’ve fixed, but nobody will fully know until the pads go on for real. Here’s a look at each area of the Bills’ defense heading into week 1 against the Jets.
Defensive ends: Shaq Lawson and Jerry Hughes are going to be a handful this season. Both thrived off the edge in the 4-3 defense this preseason, and they have to love having the ability to showcase their moves in this new scheme. I’d expect Hughes to once again be one of the league leaders in sacks, and a healthy Lawson will benefit him even more.
The Bills also discovered gold in backup Eddie Yarbrough, who probably had the strongest summer of anyone who wasn’t a starter.
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) August 12, 2017
Also, don’t count out veteran Ryan Davis. Even if he might have been on the roster bubble, Davis has 11.5 career sacks and showed the ability to get into the backfield against the run this preseason.
Defensive tackles: When healthy, this can be one of Buffalo’s strongest units. Unfortunately for the Bills, both Marcell Dareus and Jerel Worthy are already banged up heading into week 1. The depth at this position was significantly boosted by the signing of Cedric Thortnon, who has 45 career NFL starts under his belt and 131 tackles. In what will most likely be Kyle Williams’s last season, the team is hoping that both he and Dareus can return to the one-two punch that they’ve had in seasons past.
Linebackers: There’s a lot of different layers that mix into this group for the 2017 season, but the Bills will roll out Ramon Humber, Lorenzo Alexander, and Preston Brown as its three starters heading into the season. The biggest surprise still remains Humber, who was strictly a special teams contributor last season, but who has adjusted well to his expanded role so far. Brown continues to be a tackling machine, and has looked leaner and quicker on the field this summer. After the three starters it’s a couple of rookies and Deon Lacey who round out the group. This unit has three fundamentally sound tacklers, who also have the knack to make the occasional big play.
Safeties: Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde were brought in over the offseason to significantly upgrade the safety spot. After training camp and the preseason, it’s looking like former general manager Doug Whaley did just that. Poyer has especially impressed, and the Bills already know what they’ll be getting from the versatile Hyde.
All three LBs take away QB options, QB checks it down and here comes Poyer!!! pic.twitter.com/cA4tdVh68G
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) August 28, 2017
Veteran special teams contributor Colt Anderson and second-year player Trae Elston provide depth at this position. Elston impressed in the preseason and is probably the hardest-hitting player at the position on Buffalo’s roster.
Cornerbacks: After the trade of Kevon Seymour last week, the Bills officially retained no cornerbacks from last season. E.J. Gaines wasted no time showing off for his new coaches after the Sammy Watkins trade, beating out a trio of players for the starting role opposite Tre’Davious White. Gaines has looked good for the Rams over the past two seasons, defending 21 passes and starting in 25 games.
Hell of a play by Gaines as he had no S help. I imagine this was quarters coverage vs 2×2 but the safeties are sleeping. Nice rush by Davis pic.twitter.com/z9XkwTOupS
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) August 20, 2017
White will still have to work off the rookie kinks once the regular season starts, but he hasn’t shown much of a learning curve yet.
The Bills also have some nice veteran depth at this position, as Shareece Wright and Leonard Johnson have combined to play 12 seasons in the league. Johnson takes over as the slot corner in 2017 and will try to build off of the strong season he had with Carolina last year. Overall, I think this unit will fare better than most are projecting, but the Bills are also slated to go up against some of the highest-powered offenses in the league.