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Camp Countdown 2020 | 3 reasons why Buffalo's defensive line should excel in 2020


In 2019, Buffalo's defensive line was an important part of their success as the number three defense in the league. They posted at top 10 ranking in run defense as well as sack percentage, which was critical in helping the unit rank fourth against the pass. Their third-down defense was also in the top 10 (7th) and their points allowed ranked second only to New England's top ranked unit.

So how much room is there for improvement along Buffalo's defensive front? Not a lot, but there are reasons to believe Frazier's men on the front line will be able to take another step toward excellence in 2020.


Talent is deeper

It is true that two of Buffalo's more productive defensive linemen, Shaq Lawson and Jordan Phillips, are no longer on the roster after they signed with Miami and Arizona in free agency respectively. But the Bills front office not only made efforts to replace those two talents. They took it a step further with the volume of defensive linemen they added to the roster.

Mario Addison, Vernon Butler, Quinton Jefferson were all added in free agency and then Buffalo took Iowa DE AJ Epenesa with their top draft choice.

Add in the return of DT Harrison Phillips and DE Mike Love from injured reserve and the talent level runs very deep.

"We believe in winning up front, that's where the game starts. It's won up front," said head coach Sean McDermott. "We spent a lot of time talking about trying to find players that can help us. We want to be able to give ourselves options and have the best four on the D-line, but with quality backups as well to be able to continually bring fastballs, play at a high intensity level up front."

That talent is also very versatile, especially in the cases of Jefferson and Epenesa, who can play both on the edge and kick inside depending on different down and distance situations.

Run 'D' should be even better

Buffalo's two leaders in tackles for loss last season were the aforementioned Lawson and Phillips, who combined for 26 takedowns behind the line of scrimmage. But the Bills should have no trouble replacing that production with the volume of players they'll have to deploy.

First, it should be noted that Trent Murphy (9), Jerry Hughes (6) and Ed Oliver (5) were all not far behind in the tackles for loss category last season. Add in a premium run defender in Quinton Jefferson, who can play end and defensive tackle, a longer and superior run defender to that of Lawson in Epenesa and the return from injury of Harrison Phillips on the interior and one could argue that Buffalo's run defense could have even more success than they did in 2019.

That's not even factoring in the lane-clogging abilities of Star Lotulelei and new DT Vernon Butler to tie up a pair of linemen to allow Buffalo's linebackers to fill gaps and make plays on the ball carriers.

Further aiding Buffalo's run defense is their scheduled opponents for 2020. Granted, division opponents like Miami and New York worked to fortify their offensive lines this offseason to improve their run game production, but the Bills defense will face just four top 10 rushing attacks from last season.

In more than half of their games (9) Buffalo will face a rushing attack that ranked 20th or worse in 2019 including four of the five worst run games in the league last year.

Scroll through to get a look at Buffalo's roster in numerical order as it currently stands. After making the playoffs in 2019, the Bills had some roster turnover with free agency and the NFL Draft prior to the 2020 season.

Pass rush can attack in waves

Buffalo's pass rush the last couple of seasons has been productive in applying pressure, getting hits and forcing hurried throws from opposing quarterbacks, but getting QBs on the ground and ending plays in the offensive backfield had proven elusive until last season under coach McDermott.

Over the last three seasons, the Bills have gone from 31st in sack percentage, to 15th to 10th in 2019. The 2020 edition looks like they could be even more productive.

Again, the production of Phillips (9.5 sacks) and Lawson (6.5) who finished first and second in sacks will need to be replaced, but Mario Addison's four consecutive seasons of nine sacks or more is a good jumping off point.

His consistency gives strong indication that Jerry Hughes will have a true pass rushing threat to line up opposite him and reduce the number of double teams he'll see on passing downs.

As far as stats-wise and the last couple years I've been very consistent because I got more opportunities," said Addison. "So every chance I got, I tried to outdo myself. And I also learned that it doesn't matter what you did last year. It's about what you can do now. So the main thing I do every season is take a look at last season, good or bad, and learn from it and go forward with the new season."

Top draft choice, AJ Epenesa, hasn't performed at the NFL level yet, but it's hard to overlook his consistent pass rush production as well with back-to-back seasons of 10.5 and 11.5 sacks at Iowa.

And knowing how Buffalo's vets bring young players along and tutor them will only serve in helping Epenesa make an impact sooner rather than later.

"When you have more experienced guys it makes it easy for you," said Addison. "I'm a leader. Before anything, even if we had young guys I would mold those guys into experienced players right away. That's what they're here to do. They're here to produce. So, having guys like Jerry (Hughes) and other guys that can do exactly the same thing that I can do and then it'll take a load off me."

Other young players like Darryl Johnson and Mike Love only represent further pass rushing depth that could give coach Frazier multiple options to turn to on obvious passing downs.

"We're going to merge this thing together and we're going to tear them up man," said Addison. "We're going to tear them up out there baby!"

Suffice to say that Buffalo's depth of talent up front should serve the defense well from a competition standpoint in training camp and from a production standpoint when they reach the regular season.

"I can't wait until we get on the field and get a chance to see the guys move around and execute some of the things we're talking about in these Zoom meetings, and feel good about it on paper," said Frazier of the new additions. "I think Brandon [Beane] did a good job in helping us. Now we need to get on the field and try to come together as a unit. We have a new D-Line coach in Eric Washington and his assistant, Jacques Cesaire. Eric is an outstanding coach. He's going to do a great job for us. I'm very happy that he's going to be leading that group. But we need to be able to get on the field to bring it all together."

Camp Countdown, presented by Connors & Ferris, will examine some of the more pressing questions facing the team on the field, and players who could make a difference as the team makes its final preparations for the 2020 regular season. We also focus on a few different areas that impact the team off the field. We'll examine these issues one at a time until training camp begins. Here now is the latest daily installment as we carefully seek some of the answers the Buffalo Bills have to come up with between July 29th and the opener on Sept. 13th.

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