The Buffalo Bills are entering the second season with Head Coach Sean McDermott and General Manager Brandon Beane calling the shots. After snapping their 18-year playoff drought, expectations for the Bills’ 2018 season will be vastly different than what they’ve been in recent years. Buffalo’s defense played a huge part in the team’s postseason run, thanks to a revamped secondary that had a knack for creating turnovers. However, the front seven struggled mightily against the run, and the pass rush was non-existent outside of Jerry Hughes.
The Bills notched just 27 sacks and allowed 1,994 rushing yards and a league-high 22 rushing touchdowns. During the offseason, Buffalo made a conscious effort to bolster their defensive front, signing defensive tackle Star Lotulelei to a $50 million deal and edge rusher Trent Murphy to a three-year, $21 million contract. The Bills used a third-round draft pick on Stanford defensive tackle Harrison Phillips, a stout run defender that had incredible production through his collegiate career.
The influx of talent added to what was one of the NFL’s worst-performing position groups in 2017 should allow veteran defensive end Jerry Hughes to bounce back from his worst statistical season since 2012. Hughes tallied 44 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and just four sacks with one forced fumble in 2017. In his previous four seasons, the 6-foot-2, 254-pounder recorded 31 sacks.
While Hughes didn’t have the sack production that he previously enjoyed, he still played at a high level. He was disruptive, givin opposing tackles fits thanks to his combination of speed and power, and was strong against the run.
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) May 25, 2018
Despite tallying only four sacks, Hughes generated 45 quarterback pressures and 11 hits – but he simply didn’t have the surrounding help to allow him to get home consistently. His 45 pressures were down from the 52, 59 and 61 that he generated in the three seasons prior.
PFF graded Hughes as the 22nd-ranked pass rusher among defensive ends, finishing among the top-20 in hurries. He had the third-highest grade against the run.
Buffalo’s young defenders such as Tre’Davious White and rookie linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, along with the two big free agent additions, will likely be the recipients of most media attention heading into training camp. Eyes are also on Shaq Lawson, who was selected in the first round of the 2016 NFL draft, and who is expected to finally develop into the player he was at Clemson.
It’s easy to look at the young, up-and-coming talent and get excited, but replicating the 25 turnovers forced in 2017 will be a difficult task, meaning the entire defense must improve markedly from last year. To Hughes, his goals are larger than statistics and as one of the longest-tenured veterans on the team, he’s looking to set an example and be a leader.
Jerry Hughes’ goals larger than stats
“For us, it’s always been about hoisting that Super Bowl trophy,” said Hughes. “So, we all understand when you come into this building it’s all about winning the day. What can we do to get better? We really focus hard on that. Take that to the next step with us being in the second year in this defensive scheme, being able to really go over our problem areas, being able to see that on film, seeing how we can improve, as far as pass-rush technique, run stop ability, and you know, really just hone in on that. And then, we get in the weight room and start improving in those areas as well.
Buffalo’s offense isn’t expected to be incredibly productive this year, meaning that the defense will need to get off the field and keep points off the board. The entire defense is littered with fresh, young talent, but Jerry Hughes shouldn’t be overlooked. He is a player that should not only benefit from the talent around him, but also facilitate big-time, game-changing plays due to his natural talent and ability to disrupt the quarterback.
Be sure to enjoy Buffalo’s new faces, as they symbolize a bright future for the Bills’ franchise. But don’t sleep on Jerry Hughes, because he’s due for a big-time year and has the supporting cast to rack up sacks in the way that he did upon joining the team in 2013.