Jerry Hughes could not help but think more about the ones that got away than the ones he got as the 2018 NFL season ended.
“I felt like the year was OK,” Hughes said. “I felt I could have done more to help the team out. I certainly don’t want to leave plays out there. That’s just being the competitor in you. You don’t want to leave anything out there.”
Hughes finished the season with seven sacks, his most in the last four seasons, but below his 10-sack seasons of both 2013 and 2014.
However, his sack total doesn’t do justice to his effectiveness.
Hughes finished third among all NFL edge rushers with 74 quarterback pressures, according to Pro Football Focus, which counts pressures as the sum of sacks, hurries and hits on the QB.
The 30-year-old Hughes is the Bills’ lone true, edge-bending speed rusher, a threat who must be respected and accounted for by the offense. Take Hughes out of the Bills’ pass-rush mix, and all the other twist stunts, linebacker blitzes and power rushes coming from the other side don’t look nearly as threatening.
Hughes was happy to get a return on his effort in the season-finale against Miami, when he blew around tight end Nick O’Leary in the second quarter to take down Ryan Tannehill for a 9-yard sack.
“I’m supposed to win,” Hughes said of going against a tight end. “That’s my job. It was a lot of fun to get out there and get a sack.”
Hughes had four sacks last year, six in 2016 and five in 2015.
Keep in mind, the Bills faced the second fewest pass attempts in the NFL (30 a game) in 2018.
Hughes had pressure on 19.7 percent of his rushes, which led all edge rushers who had at least 200 defensive snaps, according to PFF.
Still, the ones that got away nagged Hughes.
He had four pressures in the Week 16 game at New England but no sacks, although he created a sack of Tom Brady by cleanly beating tackle Trent Brown around the edge. (Blitzing Jordan Poyer took Brady down). There’s a long list of near sacks for Hughes. He had Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota wrapped up but let him go to avoid a penalty. He had nine pressures (and 1.5 sacks) in terrorizing the Texans. He just missed Matt Stafford on a bull rush against Detroit. He had Blake Bortles all but down early in the Jacksonville game. And on and on.
Hughes took the Week 16 loss at New England hard because he felt the Bills could have beaten their arch rivals and he missed some opportunities. He even tweeted he was in a “deep hole of depression.” Hughes said after the Miami game it was simply a case of his passion spilling out after a tough loss.
“I was kind of down on myself last week missing sacks, missing opportunities, just because those opportunities could turn into big plays for our team, could turn around field position, so many different variables can turn a game,” Hughes said.
“I was talking to coach Aaron during the week and he gave me a lot of different tips,” Hughes said, referring to assistant defensive line coach Aaron Whitecotton. “Just focus on bringing the guy down don’t worry about the extracurricular getting the ball out. If it happens, it happens. That’s all part of the game. You can’t force a big play.”
“Him talking to me about that made me think about my Little League coach in baseball,” Hughes said. “He kind of echoed the same message. It’s funny how a coach’s message to you can resonate with you all the way from Little League to the pros. You can’t force a big play, so with that being said I’ve got to go out and keep playing.”
The end of the season caused a lot of reflection by Bills players on the impact Kyle Williams had made on the team. Hughes was no different and thinks Williams can inspire him to be better in 2019.
In fact, Williams' retirement makes Hughes the longest-tenured player on the Bills, at six seasons.
“Certainly, coming back looking at the film, I can probably see some areas where I can improve my game pass-rush-wise, run-wise and just study more film,” Hughes said. “That’s something that I’m taking from Kyle, the way he prepares and makes it so cerebral. I can start doing that. I’ll probably add that to my game more.”