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A.J. Epenesa, Boogie Basham play well in Greg Rousseau’s absence

Buffalo’s defensive end depth was tested against Minnesota; how did they do?

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Buffalo Bills Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Did it seem like half of the Buffalo Bills’ starting defense was out against the Minnesota Vikings? Come on now, that’d have been crazy. But just to humor your silly thought process, let’s see. Who was out? Tre’Davious White, Jordan Poyer, Micah Hyde, Kaiir Elam, Greg Rousseau, and Tremaine Edmunds for two-thirds of the game.

Okay, it really was half the starting defense. It sounds like the depth was really tested in this game. Might as well see how they all did—or a couple of them at least. I’ll stick to defensive ends A.J. Epenesa and Boogie Basham seeing some increased reps thanks to Rousseau being sidelined.

Boogie Basham handled

We’ll start off with the closest thing to a lowlight I’ll toss out there today. Overall, I think Basham had a good day, but I will say he was a bit inconsistent. When he wasn’t as strong, it was usually due to technique or anticipation flaws. Here, he’s steered pretty cleanly into the muck partially as a result of giving up his side and losing any hope at leverage. It’s possible he wanted to cut inside and attempt to shoot the gap, but when he hits the line, he’s in no position to work his way through.

Basham collapsing the pocket

Head-on collisions worked out pretty well for Basham, and I’ll add that nobody should question the man’s effort. I like the long arm to dictate space here, as well as Basham maintaining a low stance to keep leverage. The pocket at 2.5 seconds isn’t a resounding success for the defense, but it is a success.

Basham sacks Kirk Cousins

This is one of Basham’s best reps of the day, as he successfully grabs and lifts the left arm of tackle Blake Brandel. The leverage advantage from this is pretty clear to see. Basham is able to use this to work around Brandel and take down Kirk Cousins.

A.J. Epenesa takes away a throwing lane

If Basham had a good day, then Epenesa had a fantastic one. This is the first offensive play for the Vikings, and Epenesa keeps himself clean, times his jump and swat perfectly, and knocks down the ball.

Epenesa sets the edge

Solid play design and mostly good execution by the Vikings creates a huge running lane inside Epenesa—until he slows down, does a compact swim, and dives inside, that is. After all that, Epenesa is able to square up and deliver a thump.

Rushing through multiple blockers

What I like about this play is Epenesa’s concentration. Look at his head. His eyes are on the prize the entire time. Epenesa has to work through three players at various points and uses different hand-fighting techniques to keep churning ahead.

“But Skare, isn’t it easy to come up with a highlight reel for a player if you have enough snaps to work from?” Absolutely. We’ve covered three highlights so far, but this sampling all took place on the Vikings’ first drive of the game.

Epenesa swats another pass attempt

This clip does all the heavy lifting. Another well-timed jump and deflection.

Epenesa displaying excellent technique

Last, but not least, I wanted to highlight what I think is Epenesa’s main strength. Which is, um... not his strength. It’s technique. I didn’t see Epenesa overpowering his competition on a regular basis. While this looks like a win with power, it’s really all about his hand placement and body positioning. Both are excellent here, and the push he gets is obvious.

In summary

Both players had an efficient day. Basham had a sack, a quarterback hit, a tackle for a loss, and a couple solo tackles while playing only about a third of the game. Epenesa had a sack, a tackle for a loss, a quarterback hit, and three solo tackles. He also added in the two defended passes, as seen above.

For Basham, it’s harder to get a read on him with the ups and downs, but there are some good tools to work from. With Epenesa, I’ve routinely praised his technical abilities and football intelligence over the years, and nothing changed my mind this game.

The depth at defensive end seems to be a much smaller drop-off in talent than we see at other positions. I don’t know if I’d expect a stellar performance every week, but it’s clear that Epenesa and Basham can do just fine in a pinch.