ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Important as Von Miller is to the Bills, Jordan Phillips disputes the notion of Buffalo’s defensive front being unable to cope without its top pass-rushing threat.
Phillips might agree that there were plenty of reasons for Buffalo’s sagging defensive production down the stretch last year — a banged-up secondary, weather-related scheduling distractions and the emotional strain of witnessing safety Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest on the field in Cincinnati — beyond Miller sustaining a season-ending injury in November.
At the same time, the veteran defensive tackle noted how sturdy and dominating the unit has been through three weeks of this season while still missing Miller.
“I think it’s a joke. Like, one person doesn’t make our D-line,” Phillips said Wednesday. “Von’s a Hall of Famer. He’s a great player. He makes us better. But we all have one beat of a drum, not just his drum.”
With Miller required to sit out at least one more week before he’s eligible to be activated off injured reserve, Phillips and the Bills (2-1) can prove just how well they stack up on Sunday, when Buffalo hosts the division rival Dolphins (3-0).
Miami features a dynamic, multi-look offense that leads the NFL in points, total yards and yards rushing and passing, and is coming off a 70-20 win over Denver. The Dolphins scored 10 touchdowns (five rushing, five passing) for the largest point total in the NFL in 57 years, and their 726 yards of offense fell 10 short of breaking the NFL record set by the Los Angeles Rams in 1951.
It’s an offensive scheme Bills coach Sean McDermott called “revolutionary,” and at one point he rolled his eyes in wonder when discussing how quickly quarterback Tua Tagovailoa gets the ball out to negate the pass rush.
“You watch that Denver game and …” McDermott said, stopping in mid-sentence before letting out a sigh.
That won’t stop McDermott from trying to counter the Dolphins with Buffalo’s defensive front, which he referred to as “the catalyst to us playing good defense.”
Minus Miller, the Bills have already proven effective against the run and pressuring quarterbacks.
In a 38-10 win over Las Vegas two weeks ago, the Bills held Josh Jacobs — the NFL’s leading rusher last year — to minus-2 yards on nine carries. Though Buffalo didn’t manage a sack, the Bills’ front disrupted Jimmy Garoppolo, who threw two interceptions and had several passes batted down.
Last week, the Bills forced five turnovers — including an interception that defensive end A.J. Epenesa returned for a touchdown — and had nine sacks while overwhelming Sam Howell and Washington 37-3.
The only major hiccup for the Bills’ defense this year was giving up an 83-yard run to Breece Hall in the season-opening loss to the New York Jets.
“A lot of confidence,” defensive end Greg Rousseau said. “I’m as confident in this group as I’ve been in my career. And it’s only going to get more scary when we got Von back. So we have to keep building.”
The third-year player acknowledged Miller getting injured in Week 12 last year gave the defensive front little time to regroup.
But with the unit mostly unchanged from last year — Buffalo added edge rusher Leonard Floyd in free agency — the Bills had plenty of time to get ready to play without Miller in the early part of the season.
“We’re tighter. It’s like, damn near we got telekinesis out there more so than last year,” Rousseau said.
McDermott recently mentioned Miller’s injury, and the media’s criticism of Buffalo’s defensive front without him, as playing a motivating role.
“I think they heard a lot about how they didn’t do X, Y and Z from you guys,” McDermott said, referring to reporters. “So you guys keep talking about that, and maybe that’ll motivate them even more. We’ll see.”
NOTES: The Bills listed five players as not practicing on Wednesday. The most notable is Floyd dealing with an ankle injury sustained on Sunday. Also held out were S Micah Hyde (hamstring), S Jordan Poyer (knee), DB Siran Neal (ankle) and backup OL Ryan Bates (ankle).