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Pro Football Focus: Bills lead league in past two seasons on pass rush

Pro Football Focus Senior Analyst Billy Moy will be contributing to all season long. 

There are plenty of positive takeaways from the Buffalo Bills' pummeling of the Minnesota Vikings – Josh Allen was wholly impressive, Tremaine Edmunds had what was easily his best game as a pro, Tre’Davious White and the secondary looked great – but in this week’s PFF breakdown, we’re going to focus on what may have been the most impressive facet of the Bills’ Week 3 win: the dominance of the pass rush.

The Bills' defense tallied a whopping 40 individual pressures against Minnesota.

According to our numbers, that hasn’t been done by a defense in a game since the Denver Broncos racked up 41 individual pressures against the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50. Buffalo’s defense, after combining for just 27 individual pressures in the first two weeks accomplished something that hadn’t been done in more than two full seasons.

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins dropped back to pass 60 times against the Bills, and he faced pressure on 32 of those dropbacks. Buffalo’s pass rush reached home and sacked Cousins on four of those dropbacks (two of which were strip sacks that set up Buffalo scores in the first quarter). Even when the sacks failed to land, the impact that pressure had on Cousins’ ability to throw the ball was clear.

When the Bills pressured him, Cousins was able to complete just 18-of-28 pass attempts for a total of 112 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He and the Vikings passing attack were able to average just 4.0 yards per pass attempt on plays where Buffalo got home with pressure and Cousins didn’t have a single big-time throw while under pressure (big-time throws are PFF's highest-graded throws on a per-pass basis) to go with a 69.3 passer rating and just a 35.1 PFF passing grade.

When Cousins wasn’t pressured, he completed 22-of-27 attempts (with one scramble as well) for 184 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. The average yards per pass attempt went up to 6.8 and Cousins had one of our big-time throws to go with a 95.1 passer rating and a 67.5 PFF passing grade.

Bills quarterback Josh Allen scores a touchdown on a quarterback sneak in the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

So who was it causing all that disruption in Minnesota’s backfield?

Eleven players recorded at least one pressure for the Bills in Week 3, with nine players tallying multiple pressures and Jerry Hughes leading the way.

Hughes was outstanding against the Vikings. The Bills veteran earned an elite 92.4 pass-rushing grade in Minnesota after tallying 13 total pressures on 40 pass rush attempts. He tallied 10 hurries, two hits and a sack (which resulted in Cousins’ second fumble of the first quarter), tying Geno Atkins with a 33.3 pressure percentage, the highest recorded percentage this week among the 146 defensive players who rushed the quarterback at least 15 times.

The former TCU star spent much of the game (37 out of 45 snaps) lined up in his classic position outside of the left tackle with his hand on the ground (a spot he’s lined up in on 77.8 percent of his snaps this season) making Riley Reiff’s day miserable. Using a variety of power and outside moves, Hughes racked up nine of his 13 pressures against Reiff, making his presence felt immediately with pressures on each of Minnesota’s first two offensive plays. He also tallied two pressures when matched up against tight end Kyle Rudolph, one when he was lined up on the left side of the line against rookie right tackle Brian O’Neill. He also recorded one clean-up pressure.

Not to be completely outdone, Lorenzo Alexander set a career high with nine pressures (his previous high was six, most recently done in last season’s Week 4 win against the Atlanta Falcons). Alexander racked up those pressures on 31 pass rush attempts. All nine of his pressures were hurries.

Following their lead:

  • Trent Murphy had three pressures (two hurries and a sack), including a strip sack to halt Minnesota’s opening offensive drive after three plays.
  • Kyle Williams had three pressures (two hurries and a sack) from the defensive interior.
  • Tremaine Edmunds, Matt Milano, Eddie Yarbrough, Nate Orchard and Star Lotulelei each recorded two pressures (with one of Milano’s being a sack).
  • Taron Johnson and Harrison Phillips each had one (both hurries).

The Bills dominated the Vikings all over the field in Week 3, and its clear that all started up front.

Bills Position Grades: Alexander, Milano joined Hughes' rush party

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