As the 2020 NFL season approaches, the spotlight has been off of the Buffalo Bills defense. Instead, the focus of the off-season has been on the acquisition of Stefon Diggs and the development of Josh Allen. And rightfully so. Diggs will impact Allen and Allen is arguably one of the most polarizing players in the NFL today. Therefore they get the headlines and the attention. However, the Buffalo Bills defense continues to be the strength of the team. And even though they may not grab the headlines as often, there’s plenty to watch for with this unit.
What To Watch for With the 2020 Buffalo Bills Defense
In under two weeks, the 2020 NFL regular season begins. A season in which the Buffalo Bills can become a legitimate team in the eyes of many. Their defense however, doesn’t have to worry about becoming legitimate. And that’s because they already are. The 2020 Buffalo Bills defense returns a heavy majority of players from 2019. A unit that was third in yards allowed per game. Second in points allowed per game. And top 10 in takeaways. The Buffalo Bills defense was very good in 2019 and played a major role in getting the Bills to the playoffs. As such, expectations are high in 2020 for the Buffalo Bills defense. But can they deliver again? Who or what can lift them up or bring them down?
Several weeks ago the Buffalo Bills cornerback depth was solid. Led by All-Pro Tre’Davious White, there wasn’t too much cause for concern. Since then, E.J. Gaines has opted out. And Josh Norman has gone down with a hamstring injury. As of this very moment, the Bills are looking at Levi Wallace as their number two corner. With unproven or youthful depth behind him.
If the 2020 Buffalo Bills defense had a weakness right now, it’s their cornerback depth. After Tre and Levi, you’re looking at rookie Dane Jackson. Or big nickel Siran Neal moving to the outside. Or nickel corner Taron Johnson moving to the outside. There’s also Cam Lewis and the recently signed Brian Allen. Neither of which have started an NFL game.
A completely healthy and returning Norman would help, but even that isn’t a guarantee. With his poor performance over the last several seasons and up and down performance this year in camp, he’s far from a sure thing. The cornerback grouping as a whole is something to watch for in 2020.
The Buffalo Bills defense was in nickel 77% of the time in 2019. That was third most in the NFL. The league average was 55.9%. When you’re in nickel that much, you need your linebackers to be able to cover. Matt Milano is fantastic in coverage.
Per PFF Matt Milano’s coverage rating is an 86.8 over the past two seasons. That’s fourth amongst all NFL linebackers. That’s very good. He also led the Bills in missed tackles with 16. That’s not very good.
Milano has the capabilities to be a star in today’s NFL and if he can solidify his tackling he will be. That makes him someone to watch for on the Buffalo Bills defense in 2020. But what also makes him someone to watch for is his contract situation.
Milano is an unrestricted free agent after the 2020 season. And his market value as a free agent would see him making $13 million per year according to Spotrac. Good for Milano. But potentially bad for the Buffalo Bills.
With the rumored salary cap reductions, the Bills will have less money to spend on Milano in 2021. Add in the new deal Tre’Davious White will receive, the new deal Dion Dawkins just received, and potential deals for Josh Allen and Tremaine Edmunds looming, and Milano’s future in Buffalo isn’t a done deal. So the better he plays in 2020 the better the Buffalo Bills defense will be. But the better he plays, the higher the chance he plays himself out of Buffalo.
The Defensive Line
The 2020 Buffalo Bills defensive line will look different than it’s 2019 iteration. And in a good way. Despite losing Shaq Lawson and Jordan Phillips to free agency, and Star Lotulelei opting out of the season, the Bills defensive line is stronger heading into 2020 than it was last year.
The additions of Quinton Jefferson, Mario Addison, Vernon Butler, and rookie A.J. Epenesa have made the Bills defensive line grouping deep and versatile. And have more than offset the losses of Lawson, Phillips, and Lotulelei. Add in the return of defensive tackle Harrison Phillips and incumbent front four starters Jerry Hughes and Ed Oliver, and what you have is a grouping built for today’s NFL.
The Bills blitzed on only 31.1% of snaps last year. That means 68.9% of the time they were rushing four or less and those four or less were responsible for generating pressure. That means your defensive line needs to have depth in order to maintain rotations and stay fresh. And it also means your defensive line needs to be versatile with multiple players being able to line up at multiple positions. Quinton Jefferson embodies that philosophy.
In 2019 Jefferson played 27% of his snaps at left end, 42% of his snaps at right end, and 31% of his snaps at defensive tackle. He is the definition of versatility and mismatch potential. He can line up in multiple looks and techniques along the front four and in 2019 he was fifth in the NFL in pass rush win rate amongst defensive tackles.
In 2020 the Bills defensive line rotation and productivity will be something to watch for.
Last Word on What to Watch for With the 2020 Buffalo Bills Defense
The 2020 Buffalo Bills defense expects to be a top tier grouping. They had success in 2019 and look to build upon that success this year. And in that potential success, will be storylines that last the whole year. What does the cornerback position look like for Buffalo Bills? Who holds down the number two corner position? Does Matt Milano take another leap in his game? And does that leap lead to a huge payday in 2021? Lastly, how good can the defensive line be? The Buffalo Bills are a team on the rise and their rise is made by possible by their defense. We’ll see how the stories unfold.
Embed from Getty Images