Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has demanded it from the offseason workouts and throughout training camp and the preseason. The players have obviously been listening.
Tampa Bay quarterback Byron Leftwich was sacked only twice on Sunday, but he endured a long afternoon of punishment from the Bills' defense, which brought pressure from every direction in a 33-20 victory.
Fewell said before the regular season that he wanted to see more pressure from his four-man rushes. But that didn't mean he was going to abandon the blitz.
In fact, Fewell opened up his entire playbook and overwhelmed the Buccaneers with a barrage of blitz packages that forced Leftwich into a pair of interceptions. When he wasn't rushing throws he was picking himself up off the Ralph Wilson Stadium turf.
Unofficially, the Bills blitzed a whopping 32 times in the 52 times Leftwich dropped back to pass. The Bills sent five men 19 times and six or more 13 times. Many of the blitzes were so well-timed and the Bucs' offensive line was apparently so confused that defenders were often untouched en route to the quarterback.
Leftwich was pounded so much that he actually shoved Kawika Mitchell after being leveled by the Bills linebacker. Maybe it was because Leftwich was tired of wearing Mitchell's No. 55 jersey. Mitchell was involved in 17 of the blitzes.
"We threw a lot of things at them and had success bringing different pressures," defensive tackle Kyle Williams said. "Coach Fewell is always talking about the need to get pressure on the quarterback because it leads to turnovers. Fortunately, we were able to do both."
The two interceptions the Bills' defense forced were the result of pressure up the middle.
Williams was being double teamed, but center Sean Mahan inexplicably disengaged and left Jeremy Zuttah one on one with Williams. As he fought off the left guard's block, Williams fell into Leftwich's right leg, causing Leftwich to make a bad throw while falling to the turf. The ball sailed over running back Cadillac Williams' head and into the hands of free safety Donte Whitner, who took it 76 yards for a touchdown.
"That right there is team defense," Whitner said. "The guys get pressure up front and we make plays in the back end."
In a clever scheme, Fewell moved Williams from his right defensive tackle spot and had him standing up between defensive tackle Spencer Johnson and defensive end Aaron Maybin on the left side. Linebacker Keith Ellison stood in the spot vacated by Williams. But Ellison dropped into coverage and Mitchell blitzed up the middle and was in Leftwich's face, leading to a low throw that bounced off receiver Sammy Stroughter's hands and was picked off by strong safety Bryan Scott.
Leftwich got hit in the mouth -- literally -- on back-to-back plays (both incompletions) in the third quarter by the pass rush.
Whitner's blitz off Tampa Bay's right side on second-and-13 caused some confusion in the blocking scheme. Instead of taking Whitner, Bucs right tackle Jeremy Trueblood slid outside to block Maybin, apparently thinking running back Derrick Ward would step inside and engage Whitner. But since Maybin had already gotten past Trueblood, Ward went towards Maybin. That left Whitner with a clear shot on Leftwich, whose hurried throw sailed out of bounds.
On the following play, cornerback Ashton Youboty was unblocked as he blitzed off the right edge of Tampa Bay's line. Youboty didn't make the sack, but he tripped up Leftwich and Williams knocked Leftwich down as he made an errant underhanded throw.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Bills blitzed Mitchell and Marcus Buggs up the middle and Mitchell came free because running back Earnest Graham didn't pick him up. Mitchell drilled Leftwich, forcing a wild throw out of bounds.
In the final seconds of the game, the Bills continued to bring the heat. They lined up two down linemen and two others -- defensive end Ryan Denney and tackle Spencer Johnson -- in a stand-up position and Ellison on the line of scrimmage. Ellison blitzed untouched up the middle, but over ran Leftwich, who tried to run but was caught by Denney for a sack.
Ellison did get a sack two plays later on a six-man rush, but it was nullified by an offsides penalty on Johnson. But it didn't matter because the Bills had already made their point, which was the best pass defense is a great pressure on the quarterback.
We'll see if the Bills can keep it up. They'd better. Up next is quarterback Drew Brees and the high-powered New Orleans Saints passing attack.