NFL – Buffalo Bills’ Season Review – Part 3

27 Jan

Part 3 of our annual Bills’ season review looks at the defensive unit. How do you analyze a unit that finished on top of every major category in the NFL, but not only got torched by the Chiefs in the playoffs for the second straight year, but also looked very average and beatable against quality opponents like Tennessee, Indianapolis and Tampa Bay? Here’s our position-by-position analysis of this puzzling unit, also including the special teams:

Defensive Line

The Bills use a rotational plan up front like no other club does, and as a result they keep a large number of players on the roster on the defensive line. The group is a mixture of aging veterans, younger veterans and young diamonds in the rough who haven’t reached their full potential. At tackle, Ed Oliver had a breakout season and seems poised to only get better. The starter alongside him is Star Lotulelei, a high-priced vet whose availability has been questionable for at least 2 seasons now. He also will carry a salary cap number that nowhere near matches his low production, so he could be a cap casualty next season. Harrison Phillips had a good season in a contract year, possibly earning an extension as a rotational piece. Vernon Butler is another older player who hasn’t contributed much. At defensive end, there are a pair of aging players, Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison, who have had varying degrees of success in rushing the passer, and it may be time for Beane to decide it’s better to jettison players a year early than a year late with them. Young veteran Efe Obada flashed some play-making ability but was never consistent. The team needs to decide if there’s a higher ceiling with him or not. Justin Zimmer, an overachieving street free agent who has battled his way into significant playing time the last 2 years, wound up on injured reserve and is a free agent so his future is cloudy. The Bills really need to somehow add an impact pass rusher to their roster for 2022. They have 3 possibilities in their last 3 top draft picks – A.J. Epenesa, Greg Rousseau and Boogie Basham – who could emerge into that type of player but none of them have reached that level yet.



Buffalo only uses 2 linebackers on the field a majority of the time, and has a couple of good ones in Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano. The key word with them is, however, “good” but not necessarily great. Milano can be categorized as an overachiever. He was a fifth round draft pick and quickly developed into a quality starter who is good against the run and in coverage. If Edmunds’ ceiling is a dominant play-maker, he is a long way from getting there still. In some ways he signifies what the entire Bills’ defense does. The team’s unit ranked at the top in almost all statistical categories, yet was beaten badly in games against some quality opponents. Edmunds has actually been a Pro Bowler in his young career, but you are always left expecting more from him. A.J. Klein and Tyrel Dodson are quality backups, and have performed well when called upon to play. Also in the mix are Tyler Matakevich and Andre Smith, who are important special teams pieces.


Defensive Backs

This is a solid group that had a good season, even after losing starting cornerback  Tre’Davious White to a season-ending injury. At least that was the case until they met Kansas City. Levi Wallace and Dane Jackson played well down the stretch but struggled in the playoff loss. Taron Johnson, who is basically a starter, is one of the NFL’s elite slot corners. Cam Lewis and the versatile Siran Neal also provide important depth, but this might be a position that the Bills look to upgrade for 2022. Buffalo’s starting safeties, Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde, finally got some national recognition this season. They are stellar in all areas, although they struggled with tackling issues, along with the rest of the defense, against the Chiefs. Of course, the defensive meltdown in that playoff game could be blamed on an inexplicable soft, conservative scheme that had the players on their heels all game instead of attacking, but that’s just my opinion. There are 2 quality youngsters waiting in the wings as backups at safety in Jaquan Johnson and Damar Hamlin.


Special Teams

This is a bit of a mixed bag when analyzing the special teams units. Long snapper Reid Ferguson is always near perfect, the kick coverage teams were excellent and young placekicker Tyler Bass is another late round draft gem on Beane’s resume. The kickoff and punt return squads missed the consistency of Andre Roberts. They alternated Isaiah McKenzie and rookie Marquez Stevenson at the job with not very dynamic results, and even finished the year with Hyde fielding punts. Punting was a head-shaker all season. The expectation has to be that there will be plenty of competition brought in to challenge Matt Haack for that job in 2022.

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