Head coach Sean McDermott’s philosophy has always been to generate pressure with the front four and let your linebackers and secondary drop into coverage. That’s how to defeat a passing game and affect the quarterback. As head coach of the Buffalo Bills he’s continued that philosophy and the team has used multiple assets to try and achieve that goal (though mostly with modest success).
Buffalo’s 2021 first-round pick, Gregory Rousseau, represents the third straight year the Bills used their top selection on a defensive lineman. They doubled down with Carlos Basham Jr. in the second round. In 2019, it was second-round defensive end A.J. Epenesa and 2018 saw top-ten pick Ed Oliver, the 3-tech defensive tackle. After the top selections, 2019 seventh-round DE Daryl Johnson and 2018 third-round pick DT Harrison Phillips haven’t set the world on fire and it’s make-or-break time for the latter heading into a contract year. A third-round pick typically classifies as a premium asset, even if it was the back end of the round.
In free agency, the Bills have been even more aggressive. In 2021, it was Efe Obada who received a heavily guaranteed contract for a depth defensive end. In 2020, they added DE Mario Addison, DL Quinton Jefferson, and DT Vernon Butler while being rumored to be associated with several more linemen. Even back in 2019, it was Eli Harold who signed but Buffalo was associated with at least four pass rushers. Part of the first moves for general manager Brandon Beane in 2018 was shoring up the defensive line, bringing in DT Star Lotulelei and DE Trent Murphy on large contracts.
And all that doesn’t even count Jerry Hughes, their best player on the defensive line, who signed a two-year deal in 2019 after finishing a five-year contract with the club.
All the investment in the position makes sense, but they still haven’t proven to be capable of acquiring and developing talent there. Even with all the names we listed above, their pass rush has been sub-par since McDermott arrived. The Bills knew it, so we expected a pass rush addition this offseason.
“Second step is filling in some missing pieces,” said director of player personnel Dan Morgan in an interview earlier this month. “Without divulging too much information on where we might go in the draft, but you find out... what hurt us last year, in the big games what were we missing, why did we lose that game.”
The Bills lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game because they couldn’t stop KC’s passing offense. After watching the Chiefs get manhandled up front by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Super Bowl, it seems pretty clear the front four and the pass rush would be the answer to this question. They couldn’t do enough with the pass rush in the games they lost or struggled to win in 2020, and then in the playoffs, the lack of pass rush hurt them in their big games.