One would be hard-pressed to find anything negative to say about the Buffalo Bills’ defense following the team’s 35-0 win over the Miami Dolphins.
Simply put, the unit was stellar.
Consistent pressure. Sticky coverage. An aggressiveness that ultimately resulted in six sacks, 11 quarterback hits, and zero points allowed.
Miami possessed the ball for the majority of the game – running 70 plays in its 31 minutes of possession – but picked up only 216 net yards. They just couldn’t get anything going.
Buffalo’s defense had both Miami quarterbacks – Tua Tagovailoa and Jacoby Brissett, who replaced Tagovailoa after his first-quarter injury – under constant duress, notching sacks on two out of the Dolphins’ first three plays.
The Bills’ first two sacks came from defensive backs, with defensive coordinator Leslie Fraizer sending Taron Johnson and Micah Hyde off the edge early. They were both seemingly unguarded, setting the tone for what would end up being a strong day for Buffalo’s pass rush.
“[Frazier] was dialing it up, man,” Hyde told reporters after the game. “There were a few times where we came off the field and I was just dapping [Frazier] up because of the excellent calls. Mixing it up, sending guys. We were able to get a lot of pressure on first and second down, and also on third down, the guys up front were eating.
“Just an excellent job by [Frazier]. When we had that communication throughout the week of what calls we were going to make, whether that’s first down, second down, third down, and we all have a good understanding, from the coaches to the players, this is how we come out and execute. This is how we play well.”
The ways in which Frazier created pressure became increasingly unorthodox throughout the game, with perhaps the biggest benefactor of this being linebacker Matt Milano. Frazier sent Milano on numerous blitzes throughout the game, doing this while simultaneously dropping a defensive end into coverage, resulting in unique four-man rushes that Miami’s offensive line had not prepared for.
Milano took advantage of these opportunities, finishing the game with one sack and two quarterback hits while occasionally flashing in coverage.
Rookie defensive end Greg Rousseau is one player who was asked to drop into coverage on these types of plays, with his first career sack actually coming on a play in which he dropped off the line. After evading Milano in the backfield, Brissett stepped up directly into Rousseau’s range. The former Miami Hurricane, playing in his collegiate stadium, made no mistakes, stepping up to tally his first sack as a Bill in the first quarter.
Rousseau would notch another sack in the first quarter, ultimately finishing the game with five tackles.
Head coach Sean McDermott praised Rousseau, and more broadly, the entire defense, after the game, saying that a consistent pass rush stems from strong play in coverage.
“What did he have, two? Rousseau? Again, active,” McDermott said. “Sometimes they come in bunches, like turnovers. Again, it has to work together, the coverage has to help the rush. They have to work together, and I thought we did that.
“I thought we did a good job of just rolling fresh bodies in there, also, when we could get them in some passing situations. Anytime you can get to a quarterback like they did today, and get six, that’s a good sign.”
Rousseau’s teammates were even excited about his strong outing, with Hyde praising him and the entire defensive line after the dominant win.
“Happy for Greg,” Hyde said. “We’ve got some big guys up front that can get after the quarterback. Anytime we get up by a couple of scores and force them to one-dimensional football, passing the football, those guys up front are going to eat. Good for Greg, happy to see those boys up there eating.”
The consistent pressure generated by Buffalo’s defense allowed the team to force turnovers, something it failed to do last week. The Bills finished off its thumping of the Dolphins with three takeaways, one of which was on special teams. The defense also forced four turnover-on-downs, coming up with four fourth-down stops in short-yardage situations throughout the game.
The aggressiveness of the defense resulted in turnovers, something that Hyde feels was the difference-maker in Sunday’s contest.
“Takeaways are a big part of the game,” Hyde said. “You win the turnover battle, you’re most likely going to win the football game. We wanted to come out here this week and do just that. I’m not sure how many takeaways we had, but there were a lot of fourth-down stops and just defense getting off the field. That’s what we preach, and that’s what we weren’t able to do last week in the second half. We were men on a mission this week, wanted to come down here and get a win.”
The turnover differential, while still positive, was not as wide as McDermott would like. Buffalo’s offense gave the ball away twice, something that McDermott wants to mitigate moving forward.
“That’s an important part of the game, winning the turnover battle,” McDermott said. “We still put the ball on the ground too many times, and that’s going to come back to haunt us if we don’t get that corrected fast.”
The Bills’ brass put emphasis on improving the pass-rush in the offseason, and that emphasis is already starting to pay dividends. Between the talent across the unit and the aggressive, unique play-calling, it looks as though Buffalo’s defense can generate pressure at will, something that will only benefit the team moving forward.
“What did we have, six sacks?,” McDermott said. “Looked like, when given the opportunity, they were affecting the quarterback early. I liked that, just in terms of what they were doing. I thought Leslie called an aggressive game and did a nice job of letting those guys go too with a four-man rush once in a while.
“As I always say, the rush and the coverage have to work together, and I thought the backend was doing their part, also.”