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Who are the most productive pass rushers on the 2019 Buffalo Bills?

The answer may surprise you.

The Buffalo Bills’ defense is in the middle of another outstanding year, ranking tenth in yards per rushing attempt and third in net yards per passing attempt. The coaching staff constantly stresses the value of team defense, but certain individuals do shine from time to time. Case in point, Jordan Phillips and his dominant three-sack performance against the Tennessee Titans. That made me think: who exactly are Buffalo’s star pass rushers, and do they have a core they can build on for next season? To answer this question, I turned to Sports Info Solutions, which has a wealthy array of tabulated stats recorded from tape breakdowns.

SIS records pass-rushing stats for all defenders. They count the number of sacks, knockdowns, hits, and hurries, combining them all into a total pressure count. The data set also counts how many times a player attempted a pass rush (as far as the viewer could tell), which is useful to figure out, on a per-snap basis, who was most effective at disrupting the quarterback. I limited the list to players with at least 20 pass-rush attempts in order to ignore the worst small-sample outliers.

Going in, I had a guess as to who the top Bills would be, but the results were still a bit surprising.

Buffalo’s most productive pass rusher was Matt Milano. He’s only attempted 26 pass rushes, but turned them into five QB hits, three of them knockdowns. His 19.2% pressure rate leads the team, though with only a handful of attempts, he may not qualify overall.

Number two is actually rookie defensive end Darryl Johnson. On 43 pass-rush snaps, he has a sack plus six hurries, for a success rate of 16.3%. Among all down linemen, that rate ranks 11th.

The next highest ranked is no surprise: Lorenzo Alexander. Playing 77 pass-rush snaps from a combination of outside linebacker, hybrid defensive tackle, and defensive end, Alexander has two sacks, four additional hits, and five additional hurries, making up 11 pressures. 14.3% of the time, Alexander reaches the passer in some form.

Coming in fourth is Shaq Lawson. He’s turned 62 pass-rush attempts into a sack, a knockdown, a hit, and five additional pressures. His 12.9% success rate will play well in upcoming contract talks.

In fifth is Jordan Phillips, buoyed by his big day against Marcus Mariota. He’s rushed the passer 69 times, with eight total pressures, including his four sacks. He affects the passer 11.6% of the time.

If there’s a disappointment among the group, it would be Trent Murphy. On 127 pass-rush attempts, Murphy’s only managed seven hurries and a knockdown. His 6.3% rate would only put him ahead of Harrison Phillips and Star Lotulelei among front-seven defenders on the Bills.

The Bills’ secondary only features one player with more than five pass-rush attempts. Jordan Poyer’s blitzed just 14 times this year, but has a sack and a hurry that would give him a 14.3% success rate up with Alexander.

You’ll rarely see any pass rusher generate pressure more than 20% of the time, and ultimately pressure is a game of numbers more than anything else. If each player has a 15% chance of affecting the quarterback, and you send four ahead, you’re banking on a 60% chance that someone will disrupt the play. Not every pressure will lead to a sack, and not every player will create pressure by himself.

Buffalo doesn’t lead the league in sacks, and in fact they’re roughly league-average when you take games played into account. But their defense is stocked with people who can pressure the passer, and that helps contribute to their overall success as a unit.