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Buffalo Bills first quarter report card: defense

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Spoiler alert: This defense is really good

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Buffalo Bills Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Bills currently own a 3-1 record, and they are in sole possession of first place in the AFC East division. A huge part of their success as a team is the revival of the defense, which was excellent before Rex Ryan’s arrival in 2015, but a combination of scheme changes and a lack of execution caused it to sink considerably over the last two years.

Defensive Line: A-

The front-four has generated plenty of pressure all by itself thus far, which is a welcome sight for those who remember “the cold front” from 2014. The Bills have 11 sacks, and 7 of those have come from defensive linemen. Jerry Hughes leads the way with three sacks, while second-year man Shaq Lawson has 2. Kyle Williams and Eddie Yarbrough each have one apiece for a Bills’ d-line that has managed to look solid with little contributions from its highest-paid player, Marcell Dareus. If the big man can find either healthy legs or greater motivation in the coming weeks, look out, because this unit will only continue to improve.

Linebackers: A-

The much-maligned middle level of the defense has had its share of positive surprises, none of whom have performed better than veteran Ramon Humber. The nine-year veteran earned his first starting gig in the NFL this year, and he immediately responded, notching 27 solo tackles and 8 assisted tackles through the first 4 weeks of the season. Unfortunately, Humber injured his thumb in Sunday’s victory over the Atlanta Falcons, and he’ll miss time as a result. Rookie Matt Milano will take his place, and while he made some mistakes, he didn’t look totally out of place in an otherwise stellar unit. Middle linebacker Preston Brown has been solid, notching 10 solo tackles and an incredible 20 assisted tackles thus far. He is constantly around the ball, and although he isn’t close to Luke Kuechly’s level, he has done an admirable job playing the same role in head coach Sean McDermott’s defense. Rounding out the group is veteran Lorenzo Alexander, who has continued his success in a Bills’ uniform. He has 14 tackles, 4 assisted tackles, 2 sacks, and a forced fumble through four games. Add in his veteran leadership, class, and integrity, and the Bills are clearly very fortunate to have the Lorax around for another season.

Secondary: A+

How could it be anything else? The Bills have allowed 1 passing touchdown all season, and they have 6 interceptions. Micah Hyde has been excellent, as his 3 interceptions have all come at crucial times in victories over the New York Jets and Atlanta Falcons. Fellow safety Jordan Poyer has been incredible, notching 15 tackles, 10 assisted tackles, 2 sacks, 1 interception, and 5 passes defensed on the young season. Starting corners E.J. Gaines (1 interception, 5 passes defensed) and rookie Tre’Davious White (1 interception, 8 passes defensed) have combined to form a fantastic duo. For unit that some thought would be among the league’s worst, the early returns suggest the direct opposite.

Overall: A-

I’m a hard grader. Buffalo’s defense leads the league in points allowed at a paltry 54 through 4 games. They have the ninth-most sacks and the third-most interceptions in the league. However, there is certainly room for improvement, and as the season progresses and players gain even more comfort with the scheme, I expect that the stop unit will be even better than we’ve seen it so far.