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'We rush four as one' | Why the Bills defensive line unit believes they're off to their hottest start

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Buffalo's defensive line is off to their best start statistically in the Sean McDermott era. The group leads the NFL through five games with 21 sacks and is pressuring the QB at one of the highest rates in the league.

If you look at their talent along the line with players like Von Miller, Ed Oliver, Leonard Floyd and Greg Rousseau, it makes sense why they're turning heads. But the reason why it's happening is more than just those names, it's because the group as a whole has learned how to operate as one.

"We just have a complete unit," edge rusher Von Miller said. "It's not about two or three pass rushers. It's a complete unit."

"I think it just comes from the offseason and what we've been building for the last couple of years here," defensive tackle Ed Oliver said of why he thinks the group is playing so well.

Much of the defensive line has played together for multiple seasons at this point, and Eric Washington is in his fourth season as Buffalo's defensive line coach. Thanks to the year over year cohesion, the group feels like they're at a point where they're understanding each other and the defensive system better than ever.

Washington also credits new players, like edge rusher Leonard Floyd, who have picked up the defense quickly and had an impact since Week 1.

"That's something that has come along a lot faster than I anticipated," Washington said of the unit working as one. "Leonard's an exceptional talent, but getting him integrated and working with Ed, working with DaQuan and working with the other defense ends, that's something that usually takes a minute. And it's happened really, really quickly."

Floyd said once he figured out the defense, he felt like it was a perfect match.

"It's an attack minded type of defense," Floyd said with a smile. "A guy like me loves to attack and get after the quarterback, so it matches up pretty well."

"Most of us have also been together for so long that we understand each other, and we all have the same goal," defensive end Kingsley Jonathan said. "So that has helped how each other rushes within the scheme of what Coach E (Washington) wants us to focus on and the details that he wants us to implement."

Another reason why the group believes they're affecting the quarterback frequently is because of the mantra that Coach Washington has put in place.

"One of the mantras that we have is, 'We Rush,'" Washington said. "So, if a person finds himself in a one-on-one situation or passing situation, we expect them to generate pressure and hit and sack the quarterback. We address everybody the same way in that regard. We try and get as much rush as we can out of the individual, which obviously will help the group.

"We don't have designated pass rushers. We expect everybody to be impactful in terms of our rush."

Several players think this is the best system they've played in because it's one that allows them to play to their strengths and doesn't pigeonhole them into being labeled as just a nose tackle or a three-technique.

"He definitely doesn't put us inside of a box and lets us be us," Oliver said. "That's kind of what they do throughout the facility. They let guys be themselves, so that's definitely been a key factor."

"He just lets you go and rush," Jonathan said. "One vs. one, just beat your man however you want to rush within the scheme of what we do as a four-man rush. You have to balance each other out. You can't just have somebody doing whatever they want, we have to work together to balance the rush. So we rush four as one."

The defensive linemen know they have a better chance of pressuring the quarterback when they rush together as one.

"It's fun because good things happen when you rush together," defensive end A.J. Epenesa said. "It's guys covering up other guys. Not being a selfish rusher is the best way to put it. It shows our maturity and discipline we when we're able to get where we need to be and then cover up our teammates as well."

"You can't bank on one person just like a lot of teams bank on that one player, you got to bank on all of us and we're gonna be getting after it," defensive tackle Tim Settle said. "We're looking to pin our ears back and have some freedom to just get after it with one another."

Understanding how each player rushes isn't something that happens overnight. It takes spending time together, building meaningful relationships and leadership. In his fifth season, Oliver is taking a step forward in the role of being a leader.

"Ed's taken on some leadership," Washington said. "He's realizing that he can have a huge voice and that starts with how you perform. He's really taken that to heart."

"He's a motivator in his play and that's the type of leadership style he brings," Epenesa said. "He really brings that juice with his energy and with the way he conducts himself walking around, and then on the field it makes it that much better."

When it comes to the chemistry inside of the room, the position group believes they have some of the most elite personalities on the team, which helps them on the field.

"We spend a lot of time hanging out with each other, joking with each other, going to dinners and things like that," Jonathan said. "We laugh with each other and just understand each other's personality…it's being part of a brotherhood and just being all as one, four as one. That's the mentality we keep on and off the field. We always stick together."

"It's fun room, there's never a dull moment," Washington said of his players. "And when it's time to go to work, they focus. But when we have a minute or a break, there's certainly some levity in the room and that personality helps us in critical times because they're in a position to kind of lift each other up and we need that right now with DaQuan (Jones) being down temporarily. That personality is really an asset for us in times like this."

From the defensive ends to the defensive tackles, the guys know another asset that helps with the next man up mentality needed to fill the void left by Jones is the faith their coach has in them. Several players expressed they've never had a coach show as much trust and belief in them as Coach Washington does.

"Hands down he's the best coach I've ever had as far as making sure we're comfortable," Settle shared. "He counts on us and treats us like family, and we feel that. When you play for a coach like that, that's when you get your best production. And we all play for him because he coaches for us. 

"So, I feel like it's complementary in that area, but he's the best in the business. He always sets the ceiling high for us and we always try to meet it for him."

With 12 games left in the regular season, the group that leads the NFL in sacks believes they're just scratching the surface.

"There ain't no telling," Oliver said of what his position group is capable of. "We just keep it going and try to go into every game hungry and humble and hope we keep getting the same results."

Scroll to see photos from the Buffalo Bills Week 6 Stadium practice as the team prepares to take on the New York Giants.

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