1 – What can the Bills expect from the next stretch of opposing quarterbacks?
The strength of Buffalo’s 2018 regular season schedule has been well documented.
The first quarter of the Bills’ schedule was one of the league’s toughest. Buffalo faced off against the Ravens, Chargers, Vikings, and Packers in the first four weeks of the season. The four teams hold a combined record of 8-6-2 after Week 4.
Buffalo took on three elite quarterbacks in the first four weeks of the regular season. Philip Rivers, Kirk Cousins, and Aaron Rodgers are looked at as some of the best signal callers in the league, and rightfully so. Rivers and Cousins currently rank near the top of the league in passer rating, both averaging a rating of over 100. Rodgers is 13th in the league among starters in that statistic, averaging a passer rating of 97.4. The three quarterbacks have combined for 28 touchdown passes in 2018.
Going up against elite quarterbacks on three consecutive occasions is never an easy task. In the next three games, Buffalo will take on three quarterbacks in the early stages of their careers. They’ll host the Tennessee Titans in Week 4, a team led by Marcus Mariota – who has been battling injuries through the early part of the season. They’ll embark on a tour of the AFC South in Weeks 5 and 6, taking on the Texans and Colts on the road. Both Houston and Indianapolis sit at 1-3 after Week 4.
While Mariota, Deshaun Watson, and Andrew Luck are incredibly talented quarterbacks, they’ve struggled a bit out of the gate in 2018. All three of the signal callers currently sit in the bottom half of the league in passer rating. They’ve combined for just 18 touchdown passes.
Even against strong opposition, the Bills’ defense has played well of late. They’ll look to continue their stretch of strong form into the next trio of games.
2 – CB Taron Johnson earning Leslie Frazier’s trust
Once the third day of the NFL draft arrives, teams often stop drafting for need and turn their focus to players with solid intangibles. Teams typically take developmental prospects on day three of the draft, raw players who could develop into something special given the proper time and treatment. Rarely will you see a day three pick start for his team in his rookie season.
Taron Johnson isn’t like most day three picks.
Johnson, Buffalo’s fourth round pick in the 2018 draft, impressed the team’s coaching staff in training camp and the preseason. The versatile defensive back out of Weber State won the team’s nickel cornerback job, playing alongside Tre’Davious White and Phillip Gaines in Week 1.
After getting banged up in the Bills’ season opener, Johnson returned in Week 3, totaling six tackles. Johnson constructed the best outing of his professional career in Week 4, totaling five tackles and one sack against the Green Bay Packers. Johnson also recorded a forced fumble in the contest, the first of his career.
Defensive coordinator has been impressed with what he has seen from Johnson in a limited sample size, and he’s eager to watch his growth.
“Taron has, in the short time that he’s been playing, he’s shown that, each week, he’s getting better and better,” Frazier said. “So we feel like the more exposure we give him, the better he’s going to play. He just has to see different things. It’s one thing to work it in practice, watch it on tape, but to be able to get out in games and have a chance to execute. But he’s shown us that he’s more than capable of making plays in the slot position as a nickel, and the arrow’s up on him. The key for him is staying healthy. Seems like in every game, he’s going to miss a couple plays here or there. But the more he sees things, the better he gets, so that’s good for our defense.”
3 – CB Ryan Lewis earns positive Week 4 grade from Pro Football Focus
It looks like the Bills may have found a diamond in the rough at the cornerback position.
Ryan Lewis started the second game of his professional career in Week 4, and according to Pro Football Focus, he was Buffalo’s best defensive player in the contest. The outlet gave the second-year man out of Pitt an overall grade of 80.5, the highest grade of any Buffalo defender. Lewis was also the team’s most effective player in coverage by far, recording two pass breakups and earning a coverage grade of 70.5
Lewis was Buffalo’s leading tackler on Sunday, finishing the game with eight. He made a few impact plays in the game, as well, forcing two fumbles in addition to deflecting two passes.
Lewis’ play likely comes as a pleasant surprise to Buffalo’s coaching staff, who likely didn’t have any intentions of starting the 24-year-old this season. Injuries and an unexpected retirement forced Lewis into a starting role, but thus far, he’s proven that he’s more than worthy of the job.