It’s no secret that the Buffalo Bills have been looking to get a bit more out of their defense in recent weeks. To that end they’ve made some tweaks here and there to try and find the best lineups and strategy. One of the more fluid situations is rookie A.J. Epenesa, who has seen fluctuations in playing time as the Bills try to sort it out. A couple of splash plays against the New York Jets had him stand out. Especially when he was only in for nine total. Let’s see how his day went by looking at every single play he participated in.
A.J. Epenesa’s first play probably could have gone better. He doesn’t realize the block is coming from his side and he’s taken out of the play quickly and easily. As a note, eight of Epenesa’s nine snaps came in the first quarter. He had a single snap in the third. These plays are all in chronological order if you want to backtrack the play-by-play.
This is better but still not good. I don’t fault him for moving left, but I do think he was being pushed more than I’d like and he doesn’t see Dean Marlowe coming across. Neither does A.J. Klein for the record as Marlowe becomes the first player in NFL history to collide with two teammates named “A.J.” on the same play. That fact is probably true.
A good chunk of Epenesa’s power and leverage woes appear to be stance related and he’s better here. He still gets shoved around a bit as he turns his body. At the end of the play he’s more falling than deliberately joining in on the tackle fun.
This is the sack he shared with Trent Murphy and while they both deserve credit for the play, it’s also true that perhaps the Jets could have done a little more to stop either player. Like...anything at all. The Jets’ offensive line is truly offensive on this play. Again, give Epenesa credit but this wasn’t his best play of the day. What I mean is that while it’s an impact play, it doesn’t highlight any skill effectively.
Please note, nine snaps is hardly a great sample size. However, combining the evidence from all nine, plus my impressions of watching college tape on Epenesa (here) leads me to the conclusion he struggles with his power game. He doesn’t get good push here. While it is against a double team, he has room to gain a head of steam and there’s no ambiguity about which side of this won.
Here’s more evidence that his power game needs work. At the end of the play he’s once again shoved out of the way. However, on the way there he shows off the one facet of his game that still has me excited about his ceiling. A.J. Epenesa reflexively pops up Mekhi Becton’s left arm, freeing himself from the block quite cleanly. The reaction time and technique would be something I’d point out for a veteran, let alone a rookie. Hand fighting is all about timing and reflexes, which, in my opinion, are harder to improve than things like stance and leverage.
Once again Epenesa is overpowered. This time by one hand. He recovers well enough and tracks the play nicely but you also have to note that Becton looks away from Epenesa at a critical moment. If Becton had kept his eyes forward there’s a good chance he can stop Epenesa a second time.
Here’s A.J. Epenesa’s best play in my opinion. He’s (yet again) rocked by a shove but he (yet again) reflexively uses a subtle finesse technique. While lurching from the initial contact, Epenesa still manages to rip with his left arm and slip through the gap by “shrinking” courtesy of turning his body.
And here’s Epenesa’s second best. The swat from the right hand to clear Becton’s hands is...
Well it’s pretty damn good. It allows him to get around rapidly and is nearly able to make a huge play. If Darnold hadn’t gotten this one out fast it’s likely a disaster for the Jets.
It’s only nine snaps so the following very judgmental things apply only to this game, mind you, but A.J. Epenesa had a so-so day. His splash-play sack was more a failure by the Jets than anything amazing from Epenesa. Overall, I think there’s still a ways to go when it comes to leverage and power. On the other hand (pun intended), he flashes high-level reflexes and hand fighting.
For now I’ll stick with my impressions of Epenesa based on reviewed college film. He makes the hard stuff look easy and the easy stuff look hard. If I had to choose the thing to have to work on with a raw player, he’s on the right side of it. For that reason I think it’s fair to be excited to give him his chance in the league.