The larcenous, opportunistic defense that carried the Bills to the playoffs last season made its 2018 debut in Minneapolis Sunday.
The Bills forced three Minnesota Vikings turnovers and didn’t have any giveaways in their 27-6 upset. Buffalo had forced just one turnover the first two weeks.
The Bills were 8-2 last year in games that they won the turnover battle and were 0-6 in games they lost it.
Here’s a closer look at the plays that shaped the game, starting with the takeaways:
1. Still winning at 35, Part I. Lorenzo Alexander created the opportunity for the Bills’ first takeaway on the Vikings’ third play from scrimmage. The Bills’ 35-year-old linebacker-slash-rushman collapsed the pocket by bull-rushing guard Mike Remmers into the face of quarterback Kirk Cousins.
Cousins stepped forward but then Trent Murphy caught the QB from behind and punched the ball out. Alexander recovered at the Minnesota 15 just 9:21 into the game.
It was a typical extra-effort play by Murphy, who got credit for a sack. He was shoved to the ground while trying a speed move past right tackle Rashod Hill. But he instantly bounced back up and chased down Cousins. Murphy is not an edge-bender. But he is relentless.
2. Man on fire. Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes has started the season on fire. The ninth-year veteran had a sack, three hurries and three hits on the quarterback the first two weeks. He looked as fast as ever screaming off the edge in U.S. Bank Stadium.
Left tackle Riley Reiff was no match for him on a third-and-8 situation on Minnesota’s second possession. Reiff simply couldn’t kick-step fast enough at the snap of the ball. Hughes covered too much ground with his first two steps, as he dipped his left shoulder down and under the blocker. He stripped Cousins, and Matt Milano recovered at the Minnesota 25.
The News had Hughes for an unofficial four hurries, in addition to his sack.
3. Still winning at 35, Part II. Kyle Williams arguably still is the best all-around athlete on the team. If you held an all-sports Bills competition (especially if baseball, golf and swimming were involved) Williams would win. The 35-year-old defensive tackle showed off a shimmy-shake to end the Vikings’ fourth drive with an 8-yard sack. Williams juked Remmers, beating the guard to the inside for the takedown. Hughes blew by Reiff again, forcing Cousins to step up.
4. Athleticism prevails. Josh Allen is 6-foot-5 and 237 pounds. He beat 6-5, 255-pound linebacker Anthony Barr to the pylon for the Bills’ first touchdown, a 10-yard run. The Vikings looked like they were in two-deep, man-under coverage. The Bills’ two receivers wound up clearing out the path. Ray-Ray McCloud ran a post, and Jason Croom ran a fade.
Maybe the Vikings should have had a spy on Allen. They resorted to that tactic in the second half.
5. Fake, fake, TD. Credit Brian Daboll with a pretty play design that tricked a rookie cornerback on the Bills’ second touchdown.
On a second-and-11 from the Vikings’ 26, Allen faked a handoff to Ivory up the middle. Then he faked a screen pass to the right flat to Marcus Murphy, who had run a jet-sweep action from the left.
Meanwhile, the Bills were running a post-wheel combination to the right. Zay Jones cleared out with a post route. Croom ran a wheel route up the sideline from the right slot.
Croom’s first two steps looked like he was about to block for the screen pass. That fooled rookie Mike Hughes, who bit toward Murphy. Croom was wide open for a 26-yard score.
6. High hurdler. Allen got great hang time on his leap over Barr for a 10-yard scramble in the second quarter.
7. Extending the play. Allen’s mobility created a 55-yard pass to Chris Ivory, which set up the Bills’ third TD. It was a play-action pass, with a fake to Ivory, who then leaked out of the backfield over the short middle.
The Vikings rushed five, but the Bills had six pass protectors. Tight end Charles Clay picked up a stunting defensive tackle Jalyn Holmes, then ran to the right flat.
Allen was flushed out of the pocket by speedy defensive end Danielle Hunter. But because Allen extended the play, linebacker Eric Kendricks lost track of Ivory. Kendricks chased Clay to the sideline, where cornerback Mackensie Alexander also was covering. Two Vikings covered Clay. Ivory ran behind Kendricks and was wide open. He caught the ball at the 50 and ran to the Vikings’ 6.
8. Good read by Allen. The Bills managed their final field goal in the second quarter despite incurring two penalties on the drive. The key play was a 12-yard pass from Allen to Kelvin Benjamin to convert a third-and-6 situation. The Vikings blitzed six men, but Allen quickly knew where to go with the ball and threw to the receiver’s back shoulder. Good to see.