On Sunday, the Buffalo Bills return from their bye week with a home clash against the Jacksonville Jaguars. It’s a battle between two 3-7 teams, something that probably comes as unexpected to most NFL fans for differing reasons.
Three wins for the Bills 10 games into the season is a surprise to the upside in the minds of most. When the Baltimore Ravens pasted Buffalo 47-3 in the season opener, talk of an 0-16 team in the league for the second straight year ran rampant. But the Bills nipped that possibility in the bud with a dominating performance against the Minnesota Vikings two weeks later.
For Jacksonville, three wins at this point is a vast underperformance relative to expectations. With a fairly intact nucleus returning after the club’s narrow loss to the New England Patriots in last year’s AFC Championship game, excitement abounded regarding their ability to contend for a Super Bowl once more. That clearly hasn’t happened.
The Buffalo Bills Defense Leading by Example in 2018
Yes, the Jags are probably feeling some buyer’s remorse after giving Blake Bortles a large payday in the off-season. Leonard Fournette‘s nagging hamstring injury has compounded their issues on offense. But even on the other side of the ball, Jacksonville has taken a bit of a step back this season.
The stats bear this out. Last year, the Jags defense gave up just 169.9 passing yards and conceded 16.8 points per game. In 2018, that number is up to 210.2 and 21.9, respectively. A year ago, only the Baltimore Ravens finished with more than their 21 interceptions during the regular season. They currently have a mere eight right now which puts them on pace for around 13 for the year.
Their opponent on Sunday comes into the game with their fair share of defensive exploits. The Bills are the league’s best team when it comes to defending the pass, conceding a league-low 202.4 pass yards per game. That’s a scary prospect given Bortles’ struggles this year. They’re also one of nine teams averaging fewer than 100 yards given up on the ground on a per game basis.
The Future Is Bright
This unit that general manager Brandon Beane built and head coach Sean McDermott is coaching up should have Bills fans excited. This high performing group is a youthful bunch. Six of the team’s regular contributors on defense are under the age of 25 and those young guns have certainly made an impact all over the field.
Kiko Alonso and Darron Lee are the only linebackers in the league with more interceptions than second-year man Matt Milano. Bobby Wagner, considered the NFL’s best middle linebacker, is the only player at the position with more pass breakups than rookie Tremaine Edmunds. And two other first-year players, interior defender Harrison Phillips and cornerback Taron Johnson, are getting high marks from the analytics establishment. They have the highest Pro Football Focus grade among Bills players at their position.
All four of the team’s primary defensive backs have an interception. In addition to Johnson, safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer as well as second-year corner Tre’Davious White have come away with picks in 2018. White’s ebullient, infectious enthusiasm for the game makes him a galvanizing presence in the locker room. He’s even become perhaps the resurgent Buffalo Sabres’ biggest fan on the team.
This is a group that’s letting their numbers on the field do the talking. Of course, it’s hard to engage in smack talk when seven of your ten games up to this point are losses. But much of it is out of their control with the Bills a hot mess on the other side of the ball. That said, they turned in their best performance of the season against the Jets. And it remains to be seen if they can engineer more of the same against what remains a formidable Jags defense.
The Jalen Ramsey Effect
Among the players continuing to impress for Jacksonville is Jalen Ramsey. The third-year corner out of Florida State certainly made headlines with his mouth rather than his play on the field during the preseason. In an interview with GQ Magazine, he sounded off on a multitude of NFL quarterbacks. It included Bills rookie Josh Allen when he said, simply put: “He’s trash.”
Given where the Jags currently stand, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that Ramsey’s comments as a whole are coming back to haunt him. But that’s really not the case. He is backing up the rhetoric with his on-field exploits. Only six NFL players have more than his three interceptions so far. And his PFF player grade is top-20 among the league’s corners.
Allen is over his elbow sprain and that sets up the two meeting for the first time this Sunday. It presents a massive opportunity for Allen to silence his most vociferous critic whose opinion went public before he even played a down in the league. Add in the potential for Buffalo’s bevy of defensive playmakers to bring out “Bad Bortles” and you have the perfect recipe for this team making its haters eat their words.