After opting out of the 2020 NFL season, Star Lotulelei was set for a triumphant return to the Buffalo Bills as their space-eating man in the middle on defense. He certainly returned. But was it triumphant? I’ve been one of the more ardent Lotulelei supporters over the years, so let’s see if his 2021 season keeps the hype train rolling.
I’ve done a few pieces on Star Lotulelei over the years and, despite my fandom, I wouldn’t say this type of play should be expected. Lotulelei uses a violent rip move to cut into the backfield and bring down Derrick Henry for a loss. I’m not suggesting these plays have become common, but they were MORE common this season. Despite only appearing in 11 games, Lotuelei had his highest numbers in sacks (3), QB hits (3), and tackles for loss (4).
Lotulelei stumbles, but still manages to get a good push. On the paused frame, I’m pointing out how far back Ben Jones’s (#60) feet have gone backwards.
The Bills have no qualms mixing up their line and we’ve seen some wild things with defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Leslie Frazier and head coach Sean McDermott running the defense. Despite that, I was a bit taken aback at just how often they asked Lotulelei to act as a pass rusher. This play in particular stood out, with the big man effectively playing defensive end. Overall, he does a good job keeping clean and pushing Ryan Tannehill to the sideline. Also, check out how fast Tre’Davious White is.
Star Lotulelei doesn’t always shine though. Here it looks like he’s asked to attack, but Jones turns Lotulelei rather than letting him push straight through. The result is a decent running lane.
This was interesting to see. Teams used to focus on Lotulelei when it came to double teams. It seems the Bills have been semi-successful at forcing “pick your poison” type decisions. Ed Oliver gets doubled, which is not a rare thing these days. That allows Lotulelei to make some progress on his man.
A lot of things go right on this play. Lotulelei isn’t ceding any ground. He’s flowing the right way. He’s even gaining ground on the block to occupy the gap. It’s possible Lotulelei’s one arm is enough against some running backs, but clearly it wasn’t very effective on Henry.
Here’s a more familiar double team for Lotulelei that frees up Harrison Phillips to gain some ground on his opponent. That forces an incompletion from Patrick Mahomes. Star Lotulelei isn’t doing much that’s special here, except for allowing Phillips to do his thing.
Another great thing about someone managing a double team is that on running plays it clogs one lane, and makes the back have to go around a wall for the other two possible lanes. Unfortunately Matt Milano bites on the inside move, only to get beat to the outside.
I know it sounds illogical, but Lotulelei was asked to attack quite a bit on passing plays. This near sack is a bit reminiscent of Kyle Williams.
Unlike a lot of our early players’ days, Star Lotulelei is not an impending free agent. The question then is less “should they try to re-sign” and more “what can we hope next season looks like.” The Bills can cut/trade Lotulelei and retirement is always an option as well. That said, as of the time I’m writing this paragraph Lotulelei is in the plan for 2022.
Overall I think the year off did Lotulelei some good. He seemed to have been revitalized. The Bills added some new wrinkles, asking to attack more and becoming even more versatile on the defensive line. The Bills have also been working hard to develop Ed Oliver and Harrison Phillips for the interior. Depending on the numbers (players and money), things could be a bit hazy on who sticks around. That said, if Lotulelei is back in the fold next season that shouldn’t be a disappointment when it comes to his work on the field.
- All-22 Review of Star Lotulelei’s 2021 season
- All-22 Review of Harrison Phillips’s 2021 season
- Salary cap ramifications of cutting Star Lotulelei
- Contract projection for Harrison Phillips
- In-house replacement options for free agent Harrison Phillips
- Veteran free agents who could help at 1-tech
- 2022 NFL Draft options at 1-tech
- Opinion: I like Harrison Phillips, but let’s upgrade the position
- Poll: Vote on your favorite 1-tech option for the 2022 offseason