The success and ability of the Buffalo Bills defense flew under the radar in the 2018 season. Finishing second overall in the league in yards allowed per game and first in passing yards allowed per game, the Bills defense is a unit on the rise. A core piece of the defense and reason for that rise is linebacker Matt Milano. Last year saw Milano take massive strides forward in his game, finishing the season ranked 12th out of all linebackers in the NFL per Pro Football Focus. Now entering his third season, Milano looks to rise further and build upon his 2018.
Matt Milano’s Rise
A 2017 fifth-round pick by the Buffalo Bills, Milano showed flashes in his rookie year and made leaps in his second. As a former safety at Boston College, Milano possesses the traits and skills needed for a linebacker in coverage in today’s NFL. His coverage ability, along with his quickness and agility have helped him to progress with each game. Add into the mix that Bills head coach Sean McDermott has a penchant for developing defensive talent in his career, and Milano is poised for a breakout 2019.
Matt Milano Coverage Ability
Being able to defend the pass is more important than ever in today’s NFL. To begin with, the majority of teams now run offensive sets with three wide receivers in the formation. Also, the game has tight ends that can run like wide receivers and rules that favor the offense. As a result, almost everyone on an NFL defense needs to be able to cover, especially the linebackers. This is where Milano has succeeded the most so far in his career.
Milano’s experience at safety in college allowed him to develop coverage instincts and skills, while his first two seasons in the NFL allowed him to hone those instincts and skills. Last season Milano held quarterbacks to a 67.0 rating when throwing his way, third lowest for qualified linebackers. That’s tremendous for a former fifth-round pick playing in his second year. He can cover tight ends and running backs, and exceed in his zone coverage responsibilities. Having linebackers that can stay on the field in passing situations is a must for NFL teams today. The Bills have one in Matt Milano
Development and Progress
Matt Milano started five games his rookie season in 2017, with four of them coming the last four weeks of the season. He rode that momentum into the 2018 season and started all 13 games he was active for (he suffered a broken fibula week 14 vs the Jets). His success in coverage made him stand out, but he also made plays around the line of scrimmage as well.
Milano finished 2018 ranked 22nd in run stop percentage for qualified linebackers while also ranking 10th in average depth of tackle. His run stop percentage indicates he’s making tackles and play that are limiting the yards gained by the offense, and/or not resulting in first downs or touchdowns. His average depth of tackle score means he’s coming forward and making plays near the line of scrimmage and in the backfield. All together it points to the rise of Matt Milano as a complete and every-down linebacker for the Bills.
The Coach McDermott Effect
The role of hard work and effort from Milano himself cannot be understated in his growth in the NFL. However, neither can the role of Sean McDermott. The Bills head coach made his name as a secondary and linebackers coach with the Eagles, then as a defensive coordinator with the Eagles and Panthers as well. McDermott helped produce pro bowl defensive players in Philadelphia. Players such as Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, and Josh Norman all saw massive development and all-pro seasons under McDermott’s guidance in Carolina.
McDermott has a hands-on approach in his coaching style. When coupled with his defensive knowledge and experience, defensive players have flourished under him. So far it looks like Milano is responding well to McDermott and his coaching. McDermott’s system has set Milano up for success in his role on the field and his productivity shows that. Another year together should bring even more progress for Milano.
Last Word on Matt Milano
Matt Milano has quickly become a fan favorite in Buffalo. Going from being a fifth-round pick to playmaking starter will do that. His coverage ability is his biggest strength, but he’s begun to develop into a complete NFL linebacker. If his progression from year one to year two is any indication, he’ll continue to get better this year. Having a coach like Sean McDermott guiding him is a big help, and is something Milano is taking advantage of. Even though he’s coming off of an injury, 2019 could be a pro bowl or an all-pro season for him. Matt Milano has the tools to succeed in today’s NFL and his rise should continue.
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