It was only a matter of time.
Given the proficiency with which he had played throughout the first chunk of the 2021 NFL season, Ed Oliver soon notching his first sack of the campaign was not just a possibility, but an inevitability.
And this inevitability became a reality in the second quarter of the Buffalo Bills’ Thanksgiving Day smattering of the New Orleans Saints, as Oliver, after weeks of having potential sack after potential sack taken off the board, took veteran signal-caller Trevor Siemian to the ground to record his first sack of the season.
In what can only be described as a cruel, but fitting, twist, this sack – at least half of it – was ultimately taken away from Oliver, as well. The takedown was scored as a split sack between Oliver and defensive end Efe Obada, leaving the third-year defensive tackle with at least a partial goose egg remaining in the sack category on the season.
“We’re going to have to turn that in,” Oliver joked after the game. “My first one ain’t coming in half, no, no, no.
“No, but that’s cool, though. I ain’t tripping.”
It’s become a bit of a running theme throughout the 2021 season: despite being a menace for the opposition’s offensive line, Oliver’s production isn’t really showing up in the box score. A quick look at the stat sheet from Buffalo’s Week 12 win shows that Oliver recorded four total tackles and half of a sack; a solid stat line, sure, but nothing jaw-dropping.
It’s after watching the game and looking at more detailed statistics that one begins to realize Oliver’s true impact. According to Pro Football Focus, Oliver recorded a season-high six total pressures in Thursday’s win, triple that of Brandin Bryant, Mario Addison, and Jerry Hughes, who all tied for second on the day in pressures with two each.
He also led the team in quarterback hurries with three, his most impressive perhaps coming on a third-and-ten midway through the second quarter. He used his unique blend of speed and power to blow past Saints’ center Erik McCoy, showing up in Siemian’s face within a matter of seconds and forcing him to throw a floater to nobody over the middle of the field.
On the stat sheet, that’s a quarterback hit, one of his team-leading two on the day. In actuality, it’s a tone-setter, a “how are we supposed to stop this guy?” play that not only deflates the opposition, but also gets the defense off the field.
These plays, the ones that don’t necessarily show up in the box score but undoubtedly have an impact on the game, have come in bunches for Oliver this season. Through 12 games, he’s second on the team in total pressures with 26 (PFF). He leads the team in quarterback hits with nine.
That’s why Oliver was a bit relieved to record his first sack on Thursday. Though he wasn’t necessarily sweating it, the former first-round pick was happy to see his hard work finally show up in the box score.
“It felt great,” he said following the win. “They took so many away from me, I thought they were going to take that one away because I hit him kind of low. I said, ‘welp, oh well, there goes another one.’ Just to get one on the board is, like, a big monkey off my back.
“To tell the truth, last week, when I got one and it didn’t count, I was just like, ‘man, forget it, I’m not going to worry about them.’ Lo and behold, I got another one this week. This one counted.”
It’s not just as a pass-rusher that Oliver has flashed this season; he’s also shown prowess as a run defender. Buffalo’s defense has been largely stout against the run this season, led, in part, by Oliver, who’s currently fifth on the team in run stops with 17, according to PFF.
His strong play against the run continued on Thursday, as he notched a team-high four run stops. The Saints, who were without Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram in the contest, struggled to do much of anything on the ground against the Bills’ defense, finishing the game with a rushing net of 44 yards.
Despite the favorable circumstances, Oliver is still pleased with the defense’s performance against the run.
After all, they still had to go out there and shut it down.
“You can say they’re down, but it’s the NFL,” he said. “Everybody gets paid to be here. It doesn’t matter if Kamara was down or not there, anybody can run the defense. You have to take it upon yourself to knock it out.”
Though stellar outings are becoming a more common occurrence from Oliver, even this one was a bit special. It was a faux homecoming for the 23-year-old, who grew up in Houston but was born in Louisiana. Oliver’s family was in attendance at Caesars Superdome to watch what was potentially Oliver’s best game of the season, a game he’ll see little of the game check from.
“I have a lot of family in Louisiana, a lot of family in Texas,” he said. “I get in front of my folks, it’s like, man, I didn’t pay for all of these tickets and y’all to come here [to play poorly]. I’ve got to go hard, unless I’m wasting money, really.
“[I bought] forty. Forty tickets. I basically played for free. My mom and them were in a box, so I played for free.”
If the strong outings continue from Oliver, his bank account will likely be more than compensated sooner rather than later.