clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Bills defense struggling through injury issues

The Bills have faced a lot of adversity in their 7-3 start, and defensively, that adversity has come in the form of an onslaught of injuries

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Buffalo Bills Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Allen and the vaunted Buffalo Bills offense have been going through a rough stretch since Halloween. That has coincided with the team’s 1-2 record in November, and despite some extenuating circumstances—Allen’s sprained elbow, and a combination of illness and lake effect snow that robbed two of three practices in a week come to mind—the unit’s propensity for turnovers and failed red zone trips made criticism well-earned.

Buffalo’s defense, however, has been dealing with adversity for the entire season. Most of their struggles have been a direct result of untimely injuries; Bills starting defenders have missed a combined 22 games so far this season, and that number jumps to 32 if you count cornerback Tre’Davious White as a starting defender (which you should, even though he hasn’t played since last Thanksgiving). Here’s a breakdown of the number of whole games missed by Bills defenders due to injury; pay particularly close attention to the secondary.

Bills defensive line—8 games missed due to injury

  • DT Ed Oliver (ankle)—3 games missed
  • DE Greg Rousseau (ankle)—2 games missed
  • DT Jordan Phillips (hamstring)—2 games missed
  • DT Tim Settle (calf)—1 game missed

Oliver’s strong play of late underscores just how big of a loss he was early in the season. Rousseau has missed the last two games with a high ankle sprain, and is likely a long shot to play in Week 12; he ranks second on the team in sacks this season with five. Phillips and Settle are significant rotational pieces at defensive tackle.

A.J. Epenesa, the third-year pro who has replaced Rousseau in the starting lineup (and who ranks third on the team with 3.5 sacks this season), left Sunday’s win over Cleveland with an ankle injury of his own. He may very well end up on this list, as well.

Bills linebackers—3 games missed due to injury

  • LB Tremaine Edmunds (groin, hamstring)—2 games missed
  • LB Matt Milano (oblique)—1 game missed

Edmunds and Milano are as important to Buffalo’s defensive success as anyone, and in recent weeks, it’s been difficult to find the two long-time teammates in the lineup together for meaningful stretches. Milano sat out in Week 9, and then Edmunds was injured in Week 10, missing Week 11. He may not be able to get healthy in time to return on a short work week, either.

Bills secondary—27 games missed due to injury

  • CB Tre’Davious White (knee)—10 games missed
  • S Micah Hyde (neck)—8 games missed
  • S Jordan Poyer (elbow)—4 games missed
  • CB Kaiir Elam (ankle)—2 games missed
  • CB Christian Benford (hand)—2 games missed
  • CB Dane Jackson (neck)—1 game missed

White, Hyde, and Poyer have all been All-Pro players at various points, and together formed the nucleus of the NFL’s most consistent pass defense over the past half-decade. Their respective absences have been felt in a major way—and doubly so when replacement players like Elam, Benford, and Jackson have also had to miss time. Hyde is out for the year, White is still “not ready to play” per head coach Sean McDermott, and Elam, like Rousseau and Epenesa, faces the challenge of trying to come back from an ankle injury on a short work week.

That’s a lot of missed time to digest, from a who’s-who of key Bills defenders. It has shown; the Bills have, at various points, sprung significant leaks in both their pass and run defense. It’s been several weeks since both units performed admirably in the same game. Buffalo’s defense has been verbally abused, in turn, for its inability to stop the run, finish quality pass rushes with sacks, and defend contested catches. They’ve given up 300 passing yards in a game four times already this season; they did that once in 2021, just five times in the entirety of 2020, and only once in 2019, by comparison.

And yet, despite the injuries, the intermittent deficiencies defending the run and the pass, and the difficult spots the struggling, turnover-happy offense has put them in in recent weeks, Buffalo will enter Week 12 having allowed, at worst, the fifth-fewest points in the league. They are surrendering a mere 17.4 points per game, and while that figure has ballooned to 25.3 points over the past three games, they’ve also made some key plays in three winnable games.

All of this is to say: Buffalo’s banged-up, undermanned defense is not immune to criticism, and they’ll need to improve their play quickly—particularly agains the pass—if the Bills are going to continue to turn their season around and push for a championship. But they’ve done a lot well while working through a slew of massive injuries, and the group deserves a bit of respect for that, as well.