As we navigate the offseason, Buffalo Rumblings has been examining the roster with a common undertone of “should we keep him?” Today we have to make a departure for the case of Lorenzo Alexander. After announcing his retirement the question shifted to “what will we be missing?” Let’s take a look.
The Buffalo Bills love nickel defense but that doesn’t mean they don’t operate a 4-3 on a regular basis. Officially listed as a linebacker, Lorenzo Alexander was the starter for the “base” defensive package with Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano.
On this play, Adrian Peterson is looking to make this run a lot longer. In his way is Lorenzo Alexander against two-time Pro Bowl guard Brandon Scherff. Alexander gives up about 70 lbs to Scherff, who also has a head of steam before the impact. Alexander loses less than four yards and sheds the block with ease when he decides to. As a result of Alexander narrowing the lane, Edmunds has an easier job making the tackle.
One of the reasons Milano and Edmunds are part of the 100% club is because of their versatility. That’s a word to keep in mind for this article and in general when discussing the Bills’ defensive philosophy. This play in coverage for Alexander isn’t a fluke either. In 2019 he logged nine passes defended. That’s good for a second-place tie on the team. For those who are curious, of course Tre’Davious White led the team. He had 17.
Back on track; Tremaine Edmunds, Matt Milano, and Levi Wallace each had nine defended passes as well. Levi Wallace had about 300 more snaps than Alexander. Milano outpaced Alexander by about 400 and Edmunds was just about double Alexander’s 495 snaps. Since we’re talking efficiency, Lorenzo Alexander actually slightly outpaced Tre’Davious White in this measure. You read that right but it bears repeating.
On a per-snap basis, Lorenzo Alexander defended a pass more frequently than Tre’Davious White. Now obviously there are other variables at play, but I’m betting that’s not a sentence you expected to see.
Remember that word I asked you to remember? This play is pure chaos and I nearly feel sorry for Washington quarterback Dwayne Haskins. Lorenzo Alexander has replaced the second defensive tackle position while the back end is in nickel defense. Conceptually, you could call this a 3-3 defense if you’re going with Alexander’s labeled position of linebacker. Alternatively, I call it a speed package with Alexander playing a high-speed tackle position.
On this exact play, Alexander takes on a more traditional linebacker role. Dropping back to the line to gain, he knows he needs to stop this third-down play in front of him. He does. I’ll let the reader digest this play, as I could probably write a dissertation on this single snap.
This is the same idea, except Alexander is playing a more traditional tackle role. Lorenzo Alexander gets a good push against Ereck Flowers and keeps Haskins contained up the middle. When Haskins breaks free, look who is there to make sure there’s nothing there for him.
This didn’t occur as much in 2019 as it did in 2018 if my snap-count notes are to be believed, but here Alexander is playing defensive end. There were plenty of times he rushed from the linebacker spot. Sometimes outside the defensive end. Sometimes between linemen. Here he’s literally subbed in at end. Andy Dalton beat the pass rush of the Bills by throwing the ball quickly. Alexander still makes a play.
I’m a stat guy and there are plenty of numbers I could toss out. I’m also a psychology guy and truly believe that locker room culture is a huge facet in creating a strong team. Not every person with the Buffalo Bills is going to get this kind of sendoff. Alexander meant a lot to this team.
I’ve thrown out suggestions on replacing Lorenzo Alexander’s time on the field in the past (Shaq Lawson or Trent Murphy for the record). In this particular case though, it’s not as easy as throwing out a name. First the Bills must decide whether or not they want a traditional linebacker or try to replace the Swiss Army Knife* role that Lorenzo Alexander played.
Personally I’d be trying to keep the versatility that Alexander brought with him as much as possible. When opposing defenses saw 57 take the field it gave very little information to tip the defense’s hand. You had to wait to see him line up, and even then Lorenzo Alexander had options.