The Bills defense last season stole the show, and a couple of games along the way. The work of a newly pieced defensive backfield brought three new stars to light in Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer and Tre'Davious White.
But where the Bills seemed to have lacked last season was when it came to defending the run. In most of the categories that go along with a team's run defense, the 2017 Bills rank in the bottom half of the league. Last year's run defense allowed the fourth most yards per game, the most touchdowns, the second most 20+ yard runs and tied for fourth most 40+ yard runs.
But it is a new year for the Bills defense, and the leadership group in the locker room is setting standards high for this season. And if you ask Lorenzo Alexander, the run defense was better than the stat line showed. The three-game losing streak from Week 9 to Week 11 caused the low ranking.
"That three-game stint is what probably, really knocked us down," said Alexander. "[We need to] try and eliminate games like that to where they don't build up. Maybe you have one in the season versus having three or four. That's really our goal, and it should be easier this year because we don't have everybody learning a new scheme; we have a good core group of guys that'll help bring the new guys in, get them indoctrinated to the culture that Sean is building here and the team is building, as well as the scheme."
Check out photos of the Bills defensive line.
The Bills did bring in players to help improve the run defense this season and that starts with the interior defenders. Kyle Williams is back in Buffalo for another year, and he'll have some help in newcomer Star Lotulelei in holding the line.
"If you've been in the league long enough you have crossover games you see guys play on film," said Williams. "I've got a lot of respect for Star. I'm getting to know him a little more personally and what he's all about. But having watched him and the good defenses they've had in Carolina and the job he's done I'm excited to play with him and get to know him a little bit better."
Harrison Phillips will also be an option for the Bills, but more likely in a backup role. At Stanford he specialized in halting the run game.
On the edge the Bills have some familiar faces, but there were some additions too.
The Bills have Jerry Hughes as a defensive end and Alexander at the OLB spot, both who have proven to be successful as edge setters. But now, the Bills can look to a player like Shaq Lawson to possibly cause some issues for running backs.
"My attitude has changed. I come in every day like my job is on the line," said Lawson. "Just the way I approach things and handle things now, I come in like I'm fighting for a job. Just take one day at a time."
If someone ball carrier does get to the second level, the Bills have a new weapon standing 6-5 in the center of the field. Tremaine Edmunds is big, strong and fast.
"Well in my opinion, I'm an athletic guy. I'm a versatile player," said Edmunds. "I can move around. So… just kind of going sideline to sideline, just finding ways to get to the ball."
He has a very simple approach to his game, but the range the Bills rookie MLB can cover adds a whole new level to what running schemes will have to take on when the Bills fly into town.
"There's going to be some rookie mistakes along the way, but his ability to gather information and then transfer it to the field has been very similar with what we saw with Tre'Davious," said defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier of Edmunds. "You don't have some of the concerns that you ordinarily would have with most rookies because of that. They're ability to be able to process information and then be able to handle it in game situations or practice situations at this point it's pretty impressive."
The Bills run defense looks as though it has improved since last season on paper. But how high can the team leap come this season? For Alexander, there is no doubt that the Bills run defense will be improved.
"I think we were solid last year, it was just those three games," said Alexander. "For us it's about consistency. You bring in guys like Star, Tenny (Palepoi), Trent (Murphy). You add a guy like Harrison to that front and obviously Kyle coming back and you bring in a guy like Tremaine, and our run defense is all about just being consistently in our gaps. I think having that first year under our belt is going to help us fight out of a funk a little quicker."
That should translate into a run defense ranking in the top half of the league, and perhaps even flirt with a top 10 standing.