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Despite not facing a No. 1 QB, Bills' defense still sees preseason benefit

DETROIT — Those who coach and play defense for the Buffalo Bills would like you to believe it isn't all that big of a deal that the starters have yet to face an opponent's No. 1 quarterback in a game this summer.

That was Jacoby Brissett, not Andrew Luck, guiding the Indianapolis Colts in the Aug. 8 preseason opener at New Era Field.

That was Kyle Allen, not Cam Newton, behind center for the Carolina Panthers last week at Bank of America Stadium.

Now there's a chance Matthew Stafford, who sat out the first two weeks of the preseason, won't play for the Detroit Lions when they face the Bills Friday night at Ford Field.

That's just fine with Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. It isn't that he fears the elevated level of competition. He just doesn't believe it changes what he and the rest of the defense are looking to accomplish while preparing for the real thing.

"It will be good to see their ones, but even if we don’t it’s more about … improving on the fundamentals on what we do," Frazier told reporters earlier in the week. "Are we getting better at our techniques leading up to the regular season? Because if we’re holding to the tenets of our defense — running to the ball, forcing takeaways, tackling well, taking good angles and really just being a fundamentally sound defense — that will bode well for us as we go forward.

"So, whether they play their ones or not, if we see those things on tape that will be really good for us. If they do play their ones, that will be great as well."

The Bills' No. 1 defense has been impressive in both outings. It has been physically dominant up front and effective at making plays. Tackle Ed Oliver, the Bills' first-round draft pick, has made his presence felt and is showing greater comfort with the scheme as well as with his new teammates.

The backups have looked pretty good as well. Safety Dean Marlowe had an interception against the Colts, while cornerback Kevin Johnson returned another 70 yards for a touchdown against Carolina.

"I feel like we've been flying around and doing the stuff that we do on the practice field," cornerback Tre'Davious White said. "We're actually taking it into a game. So I feel like it gives us total confidence in the things that we're doing in practice to know that it's showing up on the game film and I feel like it's making guys believe in what the coaches are preaching. I feel like, if we continue to do those things, we'll be fine throughout the season."

Since his arrival two years ago, coach Sean McDermott has preached the importance of having sound practice habits and carrying them into games. It has been even more of a focal point this year, especially with a defense returning virtually all but one starter and having one more year of experience in the same system.

Tackle Jordan Phillips, who had been starting before Oliver predictably supplanted him in the spot next to Star Lotulelei, believes the defense has room to make major strides against the Lions.

"We're just scratching the surface on what we can do," Phillips said. "We're out there playing hard, we're playing physical. But it's still just not enough. We've got a lot of little stuff we can clean up, too, and that's going to take us to the next step."

Of course, having Stafford play even for a quarter would likely provide a good test for the Bills' first-unit D.

The secondary arguably is as talented as any in the NFL, but going against at least one elite quarterback would be an opportunity to show just how tight it really is entering the season.

"It's a good thing to go against guys like that early in the season to gauge and give us a measuring stick to where we're at and where we need to be," White said. "It'll be a good challenge for us and it's something that we're looking forward to, for sure."

"I'm sure, in the secondary, that they're licking their chops to get after (Stafford)," said Phillips. "But we've played against starting O-lines this whole time and that's what I'm focused on. It doesn't really matter to me who's back there. I've still got a job to do and I'm going to do that job well."

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