Bills defense primed for national recognition in 2019


The Buffalo Bills are entering the third year in the Sean McDermott era in Orchard Park, N.Y. and the defense has already made considerable strides in the new regime’s first two years. We saw the transformation of a talented, but undisciplined and under-performing group under Rex Ryan into a consistent and opportunistic one, which quietly became one of the top units in the NFL.

In 2017, despite conceding a lot of yardage to their opponents (5,682 yards, ranked 27th in the league) Buffalo’s defense enjoyed success with their bend-but-don’t-break approach. The 22.4 points allowed per game was just around the league average, but their 25 forced turnovers helped the team end their long playoff drought. 2018 came, and the unit made a huge jump, finishing the season as the No. 2 ranked defense in total yards allowed (4,706) and they were the only defense in the entire NFL that allowed fewer than 3,000 passing yards on the year (2,867). Football Outsiders ranked the Bills’ defense as the second- best in the league, trailing only the Chicago Bears, according to their DVOA rating, yet the reputation of Buffalo’s defense around the league still’s relatively small.

When many think about the best defensive teams in the NFL, it’s franchises like the Baltimore Ravens, Jacksonville Jaguars, Minnesota Vikings, and Chicago Bears, among others, that are mentioned continuously – with Buffalo being relegated to a second tier. Even with all the numbers mentioned above, the Bills had only one pro-bowler selected in 2018 – defensive tackle Kyle Williams – who was an alternate.

The disrespect is real – maybe because of a miserable 6-10 record (thanks to a historically bad offense) or a lack of success stopping teams in the red zone and the 23.4 points allowed per game (18th in the league) but that should all change in 2019.

With 10 of 11 starters returning for the 2019 NFL season, the third consecutive season that they’ll be playing in McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazer’s scheme, this should be the year that the entire NFL starts to pay more attention to this up and coming group. Second and third-year pros like cornerbacks Tre’Davious White, Levi Wallace, and Taron Johnson, linebackers Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds and defensive tackle Harrison Phillips, have all shown great promise and have been steadily developing. Some have star potential, and others should continue to be key contributors to the unit’s success.


Buffalo’s veterans, such as safety tandem Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, defensive end Jerry Hughes and linebacker Lorenzo Alexander haven’t yet shown any signs of slowing down and have legitimate chances to earn a spot on the Pro Bowl roster in 2019 if they keep playing at a high level. Defensive tackle Star Lotulelei is rock solid and his linemates Trent Murphy, Jordan Phillips and Shaq Lawson (now in a contract year) all have potential to step up their production.


General manager Brandon Beane used the offseason to make some clever moves on the defensive side of the ball. The signing of cornerbacks E.J. Gaines (Cleveland) and Kevin Johnson (Houston) gave the team the much-needed depth in the secondary. Gaines played very well as a starter in 2017 and came back as an option inside or out. Johnson, a former first-round pick, already showed in minicamp that he could be an excellent fit to the Bills zone-based cover schemes. Wallace finished the season strong, but now he has two very capable shadows battling behind him.

The biggest challenge of the coaching staff will replace the recently retired Bills’ all-time great Kyle Williams. Rookie first-round pick Ed Oliver was selected to fill his shoes but only time will tell how successful he can be at this role. How well he plays as a rookie will have a significant impact on the unit’s road to the top spot on the NFL defensive rankings.

In the franchise’s 15 wins in the last two seasons, the defense played a pivotal role. No one in Buffalo will be surprised by this group taking another step in the right direction in 2019 and finally enter the “top defense in the NFL” conversation. They belong there and have everything to continue to get better, which might directly contribute to the second Bills’ playoffs appearance in the last three years. If it happens, they won’t be ignored anymore.