Bills Defensive Injuries Mount, Posing Tough Road Ahead

Bills Defensive Injuries Mount, Posing Tough Road Ahead

Last week, the Buffalo Bills suffered a significant setback as they lost their star cornerback, Tre’Davious White, a linchpin of their defensive lineup, during their victory against the Miami Dolphins. 

However, the string of defensive injuries continued on Sunday, with linebacker Matt Milano sustaining what seem to be multiple lower body injuries and defensive tackle DaQuan Jones nursing a pectoral muscle injury.

Additionally, it’s important to note that three defensive players were sidelined during Sunday’s 25-20 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in London due to injuries. It included starting defensive end Greg Rousseau with a foot injury and starting cornerback Christian Benford with a shoulder injury.

After the game, Jordan Poyer said, “It was like midway through the first, second quarter, you kind of look out there, and some of the guys normally out there kind of gone. Milano, [Jones]”. 

Given these injuries, the big question is how the Bills’ formerly strong defense will perform for the rest of the season. Despite holding the top-ranked Dolphins’ offense to just 20 points last week, the 3-2 Bills now face a significant depth challenge.

Stefon Diggs, the wide receiver, said, “It’s tough to see guys get hurt, but flip side, I try to think about it, we do have depth, we do have a lot of guys that can play football at a very high level.” 

Further, he says, “So, when you go into that deep, the depth that we have, the deep edge that we do have, guys need to play well, guys need to step up, and it’s still a standard.”

Now, the question arises: Who will step up at each level of the defense?

The defensive front

The Bills needed more defensive ends against the Jaguars. With Rousseau and Shaq Lawson out, Coach McDermott had limited options, including Leonard Floyd, AJ Epenesa, and a returning Von Miller. They even had to elevate practice squad player Kendal Vickers, who played over half the snaps.

Epenesa stole the spotlight with a breakthrough performance, recording a career-best two sacks, including a strip sack, a fumble recovery, and three pass deflections—another career high.

Epenesa is gaining confidence in his contract year with four quarterback hits and five pressures. The Bills’ pass rush pressured Trevor Lawrence on 22 dropbacks and sacked him five times, tying his career high. With Von Miller’s playing time set to increase, the Bills look to strengthen their defense.

McDermott said, “Von was on a pitch count today, so we didn’t have him through the [whole] second half like we would hope down the road here.” further, he added, “But it was great to have him back on the field.”

Losing Jones long-term would be a significant setback; he’s a key contributor with 2.5 sacks and an impressive 26.9% pass-rush win rate among Bills’ lineman. Veterans Settle, Phillips, and possibly Vickers will shoulder added responsibilities in his absence.

Cornerback Challenges

With Tre’Davious White sidelined, the Bills’ top cornerback is Christian Benford. However, he was inactive for Sunday’s game due to a right shoulder injury against the Dolphins.

In Benford’s absence, the cornerback duties fell to Dane Jackson, a fourth-year player, and Kaiir Elam, a second-year cornerback who was the team’s first-round pick in 2022 but had been a healthy scratch for the first four games.

“I just want to win and do my part to help this team win,” Elam stated. Additionally, he says, “If we came away with a win and I didn’t make any plays, I mean, I would still be happy. But ultimately, I want to make an impact, and that’s what I’m struggling to do.”

As the nearest defender, Elam allowed six receptions on nine targets for 93 yards, yielding a passer rating of 100.7. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Jackson allowed three receptions on six targets, including a touchdown, resulting in a passer rating of 104.2.

“You’re playing, you’re expected to play and perform well,” McDermott emphasized. “Regardless of whether you’ve played or been active or inactive the week before, guys have done that over the years.”

Towards the end of the game, the Bills made a situational choice to bring in practice squad defensive back Ja’Marcus Ingram for Elam, but Ingram saw limited action with only eight defensive snaps.

Even with Benford’s return, the Bills will look to their young players to fill the void left by White. The ongoing development of these players will be crucial for the future success of the defense.

“Ultimately, it’s Elam’s job to go out there and perform,” Hyde stated. He added, “And it’s our job to get those guys lined up and give them the confidence to go out there and play well. So, I feel like Elam stepped in and did his job; obviously, could he have made some better plays? Yeah, I could’ve also. So, it’s a game we’ll all learn from and bounce back next week.”