In 2020, the Buffalo Bills played 91 percent of their defensive snaps in a nickel defense. Essentially, that made the nickel the base, as the Bills went with two linebackers and five defensive backs more often than any other team in the league.
This underscores the notion that the NFL is now more than ever a passing league, and the Bills showed that they were ready to defend the pass by matching their personnel accordingly. It also helps that the Bills have two linebackers who are equally adept at stopping the run as they are at thwarting passing plays.
In today’s edition of “90 players in 90 days,” we focus on one of Buffalo’s top two linebackers—a player who spent much of 2020 nursing injuries.
Name: Matt Milano
Height/Weight: 6’ 223 lbs
Age: 27 (28 on 7/28/2022)
Experience/Draft: 5; selected by Buffalo in the fifth round (No. 163 overall) of the 2017 NFL Draft
College: Boston College
Acquired: Fifth-round draft choice
Financial situation (per Spotrac): Milano signed a four-year contract extension worth a total of $41.5 million last season. For the 2021 season, Milano’s salary cap hit is the sixth-highest on the team, coming in at $7,812,500. With a dead-cap number of $20 million, he’s not going anywhere.
2020 Recap: Milano made some big plays in Buffalo’s Week 1 win over the New York Jets, notching an interception and a pass breakup. Unfortunately, he also injured his hamstring early in the contest. He sat out Buffalo’s Week 2 win over the Miami Dolphins, but he was able to return in Week 3. Milano injured a pectoral muscle in Week 4, causing him to miss two games. He returned to play in a limited fashion for two more weeks before the team placed him on injured reserve to rest the injury. Milano returned in Week 13, playing a limited role for much of the end of the regular season. He started every playoff game and played nearly every snap in the postseason. Milano managed to play ten regular-season games, starting five, and he accounted for 45 tackles, four tackles-for-loss (TFLs), 3.5 sacks, nine quarterback hits, three pass breakups, and one interception. In the playoffs, Milano tied with Tremaine Edmunds for the team lead in tackles, notching 25 over the course of three games. That total trailed only Lavonte David and Devin White in the entire league. Milano added a TFL, two quarterback hits, and three pass breakups in the postseason.
Positional outlook: Milano and Edmunds are both signed through the 2022 season, so they’ll reprise their roles as the top two linebackers provided they both remain healthy. A.J. Klein is also signed through the 2022 season, and he’ll serve as the third linebacker. Tyler Matakevich, Andre Smith, Tyrell Adams, Tyrel Dodson, Joe Giles-Harris, Marquel Lee, and Mike Bell round out the group.
2021 Offseason: Milano is healthy and he has participated in all offseason activities to date. He left practice on August 9 with a mouth injury.
2021 Season outlook: Barring injury, Milano is in line to start and play a significant number of snaps for the Bills once again this season. According to the Football Outsiders article linked in this piece’s intro, Buffalo had the No. 6-ranked defense in the league with Milano healthy in the final month-and-a-half of the season; the team finished No. 16 in points allowed and No. 14 in yards allowed overall. Milano is obviously an integral part of what the Bills do, so his continued presence and good health can only propel a strong unit to greater heights.