2. Pass rush provides a pounding
The solid play of Buffalo’s defense in Week 1 was overshadowed by the team’s loss to the Steelers. But their consistent play was not only successfully carried into Week 2 it was upgraded.
The Bills pass rush was relentless from the beginning of the game as defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier was aggressive with blitz calls on early downs as Taron Johnson and Micah Hyde posted sacks on two of the first three plays from scrimmage.
Buffalo’s performance at the line of scrimmage was one of their most dominant in a while. The defensive front consistently rocked the Dolphins offensive line back on their heels and their pass rush knifed into the backfield with regularity. They not only logged six sacks, but 11 quarterback hits.
“Yeah, it looked like when given the opportunity, they were affecting the quarterback early, and I liked that,” said head coach Sean McDermott. “Just in terms of what they were doing I thought Leslie called an aggressive game and did a nice job letting those guys go too with a four-man rush once a while. I always say the rush and the coverage have to work together and I thought the back end was doing their part also.”
Five different Bills players logged sacks in the game with Rousseau notching the first pair of his career to pace the group.
“We knew we had to come out and start fast and that’s what we did,” Rousseau said. “Momentum in football is a huge part of the game and when your unit’s coming up big you just feed off each other. A.J. (Epenesa) makes a play, Jerry (Hughes) makes a play, and it makes you more excited and now you want to go get one. It’s really a snowball effect.”
“He was active,” said McDermott of their top draft choice. “Sometimes they come in bunches right, like turnovers, but again it’s got to work together, the coverage has to help the rush, they have to work together. I thought we did that and then I thought we did a good job of just rolling fresh bodies in there also when we can get them in some passing situations. So, anytime you can get to a quarterback like they did that’s a good sign.”
Most notable about the pass rush was how it knocked Miami starting QB Tua Tagovailoa out of the game. A.J. Epenesa came off the left end on a 4th-and-2 and blasted Tagovailoa as he released the pass. Epenesa made sure not to drop his body weight on the Dolphins QB as they both went to the ground, but Tagovailoa was very slow to get up. A short time later he was carted to the locker room with a rib injury and replaced by Jacoby Brissett in the lineup after attempting just four passes in the game.
That play on Tagovailoa was one of four fourth-down stops by Buffalo’s defense as they forced a turnover on downs on each and every decision to go for it.
After Epenesa delivered the hit that forced Tagovailoa’s incompletion, Dane Jackson stuffed Miami RB Malcolm Brown a yard short on a 4th-and-2 at the Bills 16-yard line and Taron Johnson forced an incompletion on a hard hit on a 4th-and-2 pass to Preston Williams. The last failed fourth down conversion was due to a dropped pass by Miami.
Brissett was under seemingly endless pressure as well as Buffalo’s blitzes and defensive linemen consistently won battles, hurried throws and harassed him in the pocket. Matt Milano was an equally disruptive force on blitzes as he often flushed Brissett from the pocket into other pressure or into unproductive plays. He had a sack and a fumble recovery at the Bills five-yard line for a valuable takeaway in the red zone.
The back seven of Buffalo’s defense was just as effective. Micah Hyde had a third down stop on the Dolphins first possession of the second half to force a punt and Levi Wallace had an interception.
“We wanted to go out there with some energy,” said Hyde. “We were focused all week. It was just great preparation. Went out there and just had a blast. We emphasized having fun, and winning’s fun. Our defense played well. Just great execution by us.”