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NFL Draft

Keys To Bills Defense Bouncing Back vs Chiefs

  • The Draft Network
  • October 14, 2020
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Stingy defense has become the standard for the Buffalo Bills under Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier, but that identity is slipping away in the early portions of 2020. After boasting a top-three defense in each of the last two seasons, the 2020 version of the Bills’ defense has been a major disappointment. 

Despite a 4-1 record, the Bills defense looks like a shell of its previous self. The unit is on pace to allow 454 points, which would tie the team record for points allowed in a season back in 1984. Compared to last year’s unit, Buffalo is allowing 73 more yards and 12 more points per game while ranking 30th in third-down efficiency. Injuries have been an issue for the defense but the problems for the unit extend much further than the availability of players.

After a 43-16 shellacking to the Tennessee Titans, the Bills have a quick turnaround to its next opponent, Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. Fixing the defense in a short period of time is a tall order, but the same ingredients that have made Buffalo dominant on defense in recent years mostly still exist on the roster. What are the keys for the Bills’ defense to have a chance at slowing down the Chiefs offense? Let’s examine. 

Get Tre White Healthy, Change Slot Corners

The worst part of the Bills’ defense so far in 2020 has been stopping the pass. Opposing quarterbacks are completing 68.8% of their passes for a passer rating of 103.6 to this point in the year. Superstar cornerback Tre’Davious White played well in the first four games of the season but he was missed on Tuesday against Tennessee. His injury, combined with Levi Wallace recently landing on IR for an ankle injury, has forced Buffalo to shuffle the deck at cornerback. With both Wallace and White out, Josh Norman assumed the role of being Buffalo’s No. 1 corner and proved to be a liability for the defense, as Ryan Tannehill and AJ Brown abused him on Tuesday night. Cam Lewis was elevated from the practice squad and thrust into the starting lineup but actually fared well against Tennessee. 

While it’s unknown if White will be healthy enough to play against Kansas City on Monday, there has been no indication from the team that this is expected to be a long-term problem. Getting him back will be critical for Buffalo having a chance against the dynamic Chiefs passing attack. 

The biggest issue for the Bills’ pass defense has been the play of slot cornerback Taron Johnson. The Bills are a base nickel defense, which brings a slot corner onto the field for the overwhelming majority of the defensive snaps. Assuming White is healthy and Lewis isn’t needed to start at wide corner, he should get an opportunity to unseat Johnson as the team’s primary slot corner. 

Trust The Scheme

The most frustrating aspect of the Bills’ defensive regression is that there isn’t enough difference in personnel or coaching for it to make sense. Buffalo let Jordan Phillips and Shaq Lawson walk in free agency and brought in Mario Addison, Vernon Butler, Quinton Jefferson, and A.J. Epenesa because they believed that would be an upgrade. Star Lotulelei opting out of the season has proven problematic for the defense and the other missing piece from last year’s unit is Lorenzo Alexander. While Alexander’s leadership and versatility was an asset, his loss combined with the additions shouldn’t lead to this significant of a drop off in performance. 

Against Tennessee, the Bills uncharacteristically played more man coverage and it proved costly. Presumably, the reason for that was to assist with the Titans’ dynamic play-action passing game, but Buffalo doesn’t have the athletes in the secondary to play much man. As already noted, Norman was taken advantage of by Brown and the challenges only get tougher against Kansas City where speedsters Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman await. 

For Buffalo to contain Hardman, Hill, and all the other weapons the Chiefs’ offense features, getting back to zone coverage, bracketing routes, disguising coverage, and playing assignment-sound coverage will be critical. 

Get Organic Pass Rush

The Bills feature the most expensive defensive line in the NFL. Committing $51.2 million and 23.19% of the salary cap, no team in the NFL has more invested in the defensive line. Like everything else on the Bills’ defense, the pass rush has been disappointing. 

According to Pro Football Reference, Buffalo is only generating pressure on 16.2% of passing plays, which is last in the AFC and second worst in the entire NFL. What makes that even more disappointing is that the Bills are blitzing on 33.8% of the passing plays the defense faces. Buffalo is committing extra rushers and creating pressure packages and it simply is not working. The extra effort to get pressure on the passer leads to voids in coverage spacing and opposing quarterbacks are finding completions with ease. 

Simply put, the Bills’ pass rush has to step up. There is too much proven talent up front for this type of production to be the case. Blitzing isn’t working and it’s making life too easy for opposing passers. The Bills have to commit to dropping seven, rushing four, and for the pass rush to get home. 

Mahomes is facing pressure on 24.8% of his dropbacks this season, the 10th most in the NFL. His 54 total pressures faced is fifth most in the NFL. Kansas City has its own share of issues and injuries along the offensive line. If the Bills want to regain the momentum of the 4-0 start and turn the corner defensively, the defensive line rising to the occasion and meeting the expectations of the most expensive unit in the league is required.

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