Once again expectations are high for Bills defense heading into 2020


Buffalo Bills middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds (49) celebrates after intercepting a pass by Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) during the first half of an NFL football game in Orchard Park, N.Y., Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – With Josh Allen expected to take another step in his development, the improvements made to the offense, the additions to the defensive line and the overall continuity with the team, expectations are high for the Bills in 2020. At both the local and national level, many reporters are picking the Bills to win the AFC East this year.

I think how the offense plays will determine if that happens this season because we’ve already seen what the defense can do. It once again looks to be another top unit in the league after finishing as a top three defense the past two years (third in 2019 and second in 2018.)

That continuity I mentioned will also come in handy with the defense not just because consistency is key in the NFL but especially during this virtual offseason.

“Fortunately for us we’ve been together as a staff now for the last three years going into our fourth season. And having an addition and veteran guy like Eric [Washington] is a plus for us on defense. The majority of our defensive players are coming back so you feel like you’re a little bit ahead of the curve but when we come out of this virtual period it will be a matter of our players taking advantage of every single day that we have because we’ve got so much ground to cover on the field. Until you get on the field you really don’t know what you have so I think we’ve done a great job with the offseason program under the current circumstance but we need to get on the field. But there’s no question the fact that we’ve been together for the last three years is a plus for us as we go forward,” Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said on a zoom call with reporters.

Even with all of these high expectations, head coach Sean McDermott tries to downplay the hype so it doesn’t lead to guys overlooking opponents.

“Yeah, games aren’t won on paper. I mean that’s true, games aren’t won on paper, that’s the mindset we’ve embraced since we showed up here. If games are won on paper we would have been. We would have probably won two or three games the first year. That’s probably what we were projected to win and, and a handful of games the next year and just over handful of games last year, so I think that in it of itself is a great lesson for our football team,” Bills head coach Sean McDermott said on a zoom call with reporters.

The Bills finished last season second in points allowed (16.2), third in total defense (298.3 yards per game) and fourth in passing yards allowed (195.2), just to name a few stats on that unit’s impressive resume. Bringing back most of those guys from last season is key but also having them continue to develop and take the next step in 2020. One of those players that comes to mind is Tremaine Edmunds who Frazier says has shown even more leadership qualities these past few months.

“Just seeing Tremanine’s development in this virtual offseason, just the way he has been kind of bringing players together and talking with them, calling them and reaching out to them. And the same thing with Jordan Poyer, the same thing with Jerry Hughes, reaching out to their teammates to try and develop that unity that we’re missing right now because we’re not around one another so those guys really come to mind, guys that are reaching out across their position lines and trying to keep the young guys as well as the veterans try and stay connected,” Frazier said.

Not only does his leadership continue to grow, but his play on the field.

“When you look at the fact that he’s just going into his third season, you know just turning 22, so young, so much promise ahead of him and he’s achieved so much already. I mean to already be recognized as one of our leaders on our team and on our defense we’re very, very fortunate to have him. He’s the epitome of what you would want one of your star players to be, one of your leaders to be and a guy you don’t have to worry about late at night, you know he’s gonna be where he’s supposed to be, you know he’s gonna do what he’s supposed to do when it comes to football,” Frazier explained.

And then there’s Tre’Davious White, who continues to show why he’s one of the best cornerbacks in the league. He finished tied for the most interceptions in the league with six last season and now going into year five in the NFL, the bar has been set even higher.

“Well one of the expectations is that he leads the league this time in interceptions. All those ball drills we do with him,” Frazier laughed.

“But no just to see his growth I mean the people on this call know how much we rely on Tre’Davious to help our defense play well. There’s nobody that works any harder than he does, he puts the time in in the classroom and he busts his tail in the meeting room then he goes out and practices like it’s a game so I’m not surprised that he’s grown as a player the way he has and looking forward to 2020 as he continues to mature. I just expect him to be even better in 2020,” Frazier said.

The defensive line also added some new pieces and versatility as well signing guys like Mario Addison and Quinton Jefferson in free agency and drafting A.J. Epenesa out of Iowa with their first pick. Plus Harrison Phillips is expected to be ready for training camp after missing most of 2019 recovering from a torn ACL.

One potential set back for the Bills defensive line is if Ed Oliver missing any games to start the season after he was arrested in Houston on charges of driving while intoxicated and unlawfully carrying a weapon in May.

 “Yeah, we’ve spoken with Ed. It’s a situation we take seriously, like all situations under that umbrella. We have spoken with Ed and where we are now is allowing the legal process to run it’s course, so I’m going to leave it at that,” McDermott said.

But overall, the feeling seems positive for the Buffalo Bills heading into 2020. The defense has already gained respect throughout the league over the past few years and that isn’t changing now while the team as a whole doesn’t have to worry about being the “underdogs” or having a chip on their shoulder. Maybe some guys still might but there certainly aren’t as many doubters facing this team as we’ve seen in the past.

“It shows a sign of respect in terms of expectations. When people and expectations rise it’s a sign of respect that people have for what we’ve done and how we do things. That said, we embrace it. It’s not going away. So we embrace it and, and, and we move forward and with them. At the same time, staying the course and knowing that we’ve got to earn it. You guys know we talk a lot about that here in Buffalo, you know wins in the NFL don’t come on paper. Wins in the NFL don’t come in the offseason. Wins in the NFL are a result of earning the right to win. And that starts in the offseason, and it continues through the preseason and training camp and then it goes into Sunday afternoons and Monday nights. So, you know, that’s, that’s something that we certainly respect and, and there’s a lot of work in front of us at this point,” McDermott explained.

Wins in the NFL don’t come in the offseason. And to think it was just four years ago that Rex Ryan declared the Bills “won the offseason.” This team has come a long way since then.

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