As the Buffalo Bills took the field against the Detroit Lions in the third week of the preseason, one of the more intriguing position groups to watch was defensive end. Barring a surprise trade the top three of Jerry Hughes, Trent Murphy, and Shaq Lawson are well established. The tendency to rotate players on the defensive line and the possibility of losing Lawson next season provides a significant role for a fourth player in the Buffalo defense. Let’s see which depth player(s) stood out.
Eddie Yarbrough and Sam Acho
We’re starting with the easy answers today. Neither Eddie Yarbrough nor Sam Acho look to be in contention for the fourth defensive end spot. Seeing a brief third-quarter appearance to spell our next two guys, Yarbrough and Acho mainly worked the fourth quarter. Between the two, Yarbrough saw a few more snaps than Acho and this likely ties into their pecking order.
Being relegated to the waning moments of a preseason game isn’t good news for either as cut downs loom, but it is good news for the Bills and their fans. Last season Eddie Yarbrough was the fourth man in the position group. And in my humble opinion, I felt he did pretty well behind Jerry Hughes on the right side. Everything in that still seems to hold up when it comes to Yarbrough. What this means is that Yarbrough sliding down the depth chart is a sign that defensive end as a whole is getting stronger.
Mike Love and Darryl Johnson
We’ll discuss Mike Love and Darryl Johnson as a pair as a result of the Bills placing them on the field at the same time (mostly, we’ll get to that). It’s nice and efficient too as GIFs capture them both at the same time. Like this...
When running straight forward, both Mike Love and Darryl Johnson are consistent about trying to get low for leverage. This is more important for the 6’6” Johnson who is tied with Jordan Phillips and Trent Murphy for tallest player on defense. Johnson beats Jesse James inside and his high motor is readily visible. He doesn’t make the tackle, but it’s an awkward cut back to say the least and he makes enough contact to impact the play. Had the run gone the other way, Love was beating his man on the outside. This was against the starting offense for the Lions.
This is similar to the play above and highlights that both players showed these traits off repeatedly. Love had a good first step and was a threat to get around the edge several times against Detroit. Johnson never gives up and found ways to slip between players and wiggle toward the ball.
Again, Love is able to dip around the outside—although too late to impact this running play. Darryl Johnson is up against second-year man Nick Bawden and the GIF speaks for itself. What’s also impressive is Johnson’s ability to snap back to the play.
Head on, Johnson shows good push. For this particular play he helps hold steady in a three-on-two situation. Because of the wall he makes with Kyle Peko (94) the running back has to bounce around a bit. Mike Love is allowed to run free and easily catches up to get a tackle for a loss.
Here we have the outside move from Mike Love finally paying off. The hit on David Fales creates an errant throw that falls harmlessly to the turf. The receiver could have been running against air and this still would have missed the mark.
Both Mike Love and Darryl Johnson saw time stretching from the first quarter to the fourth in what appeared to be a test of their game-day stamina. Maybe you noticed that Johnson is playing opposite Shaq Lawson in this GIF rather than Mike Love. This happened a few times in the game, giving Johnson a few more snaps than Love saw. Additionally, when Sam Acho came off the field in the fourth quarter he was replaced by Johnson.
For this particular play Johnson tries to work around the edge. Though he doesn’t get around for the sack, he moves around the block well enough to shift to his right to block a lane for Fales to cut to and then back to his left to make sure the scrambling quarterback had to take the longer path. The result is pretty clear.
Stop clicking on this, it’s a still image. There’s a lot of good stuff to be seen from Love and Johnson but let’s use this picture to pull back just a little bit. Both played quite well but it was night and day between this group and the starters. The push you see above is likely what you can count on for pass rush. Neither was fast enough all that often to hit home on their own. On the other hand, both provided enough to help close the door on an escape from Lawson, Murphy, or Hughes like we see in the play above.
In run support there’s plenty to like but, again, Johnson and Love shouldn’t be expected to take a starting role as of right now. Love was prone to getting caught up with the lineman in front of him and letting his back get turned to a run. Johnson loses his leverage while moving laterally and was physically removed from a few plays as a result.
Both players were given one snap apiece dropping back to cover a pass. Love was a little slow and seemed like a bit of a liability. Johnson, on the other hand, looked lost and could have given up a big play.
When the Bills took care of the Lions in Detroit it felt like Buffalo was making sure that Mike Love and Darryl Johnson were ready to move up the depth chart. Based on the time they were given and solid play throughout the night it seems safe to say they’ve both pulled ahead of Eddie Yarbrough and Sam Acho. The extra time that Johnson saw the field could be an indication he’ll take the coveted fourth spot.
If we’re looking to determine the final depth chart perhaps where each player lined up provides a clue. Jerry Hughes should be expected to lock down the right side. Trent Murphy seems attached to the left. Notably, Shaq Lawson lined up exclusively on the right side against Detroit which would be Hughes’s backup. Darryl Johnson saw time on the left side. If so that would presumably place him behind Murphy. Mike Love saw his time on the right. If the Lawson swap to the right side is the actual plan, Darryl Johnson seems all the more likely to have carved out a role on the team.