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All-22 year in review: Buffalo Bills DE Jerry Hughes

My annual highlight special

Here it is! My annual “I love Jerry Hughes” article guised as “analysis.” At least this time I didn’t ask Twitter for random plays to prove that any sample will likely pan some gold when it comes to Hughes. Let’s check in on the veteran defensive end.


Play 1

The first block looks like it’s meant to chip Hughes and direct him just enough to where the offensive tackle can clean up and get Hughes moving toward the back of the end zone. Hughes shows off his veteran status by recognizing that. As soon as the chip is gone you can see his lower body adjusting to cut back and ruin the blocking plans. A good punch to the shoulder is there to boot and Hughes gets a pressure.

Play 2

I don’t think this play needs much analysis. That’s a well-placed shoulder. One thing I’ll add since I should likely take up a bit more space before the next play is that nothing I’ve seen during the McDermott era of the Buffalo Bills suggests they give a rat’s rear about sack numbers. Schemes tend to focus on pressures and this play is a good illustration of why. Hughes didn’t hit home, but he’s a major reason this was an incomplete pass.

Play 3

It’s easy to see a play like this and conclude there’s a problem. For this play specifically, that’s actually accurate. Try not to globalize plays like this for edge rushers, as slipping is not all that uncommon. When you’re trying to play sideways-limbo to get around another human being this happens. On Hughes himself, I don’t think there’s anything out of whack on this slip. And his recovery is on point. He’s showing the same motor and quickness that I’ve come to expect.

Play 4

I’d like to contrast this play with the next one. I’ve historically given Hughes incredibly high marks for raw strength on a pound-for-pound basis. This shove seems to suggest he’s still right there. I would consider this a technique victory. Hughes gets excellent leverage early that allows him to start driving his man back. When he runs out of room, the final shove becomes pretty impressive.

Play 5

This play is a more straightforward shoving match and it’s a draw. That’s not horrible by any means as Isaiah Wynn outweighs Hughes by about 50 lbs. It is a step back for Hughes though.

Play 6

The main thing I want to point out is how fast/smooth that spin move is—both physically and in terms of reaction time. Hughes spins partially to avoid contact and turns it right into his pass rush move.


Summary

I know a lot of fans are down on Jerry Hughes and like to cite the lack of sacks. With only two on the year that is a valid concern to be fair. With 26 pressures, Hughes put forward his second-best season in that metric since it’s been tracked (2018, so pretty recently). And he did that with a pretty steep decline in playing time. Hughes only played 52% of the time—the lowest percentage of his career.

Those stats are a bit of a double-edged sword though. Less snaps while maintaining similar production in key areas could be seen as a great thing as it means higher efficiency. It could mean Buffalo knew to limit his playing time to keep him fresh, aka they know he’s not getting any younger.

Hughes is still surprisingly fast. His array of techniques and veteran smarts are still valuable assets. He does seem to be starting to physically decline as evidenced by what I believe is a lesser ability to impose his will. That could mean speed/agility will be next. I think this is probably the first time I’ve said this about Jerry Hughes. I’d be glad to see him back in Buffalo but only for the right price.

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