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Analysis

Stout defensive front setting the table for Bills' defense

Jordan Phillips rightfully took the defensive spotlight in Sunday’s victory against the Tennessee Titans.

The rest of the Buffalo Bills’ defensive line also played a dominant game to help the team improve to 4-1.

The Bills got strong games from Jerry Hughes, Lorenzo Alexander and Ed Oliver – even though he did not have a hurry in pass rushing.

It all started with stoutness up front. The Titans’ offense is built upon the running of Derrick Henry, which sets up Tennessee’s play-action passing.

But the Titans couldn’t get anything going on first-down runs. Ten of their 15 first-down runs went for 3 yards or fewer. Henry averaged 3.9 yards a carry for the game. Last year, he averaged 4.9 a carry.

“We’ll put this loss on the offensive line,” Titans left tackle Taylor Lewan said. “We have to be better. There’s no other way to put it. We have to be better as an offensive line, and that includes myself.”

The Bills’ defense is looking even more stout than last year. Buffalo ranks eighth in the NFL against the run, allowing 88 yards a game. Last year the Bills allowed 115 a game.

“We knew they were a physical defense, and give them credit – it looks like they were more physical than us today,” Titans right tackle Jack Conklin said.

(Here is Oliver making a key stop on the Titans' last drive.)

Phillips finished with three sacks and was in on three stuffs of running plays. He played 26 snaps Sunday. He and Alexander have been getting a few more snaps in pass-rush situations since Harrison Phillips' season-ending knee injury in Week 3.

Bills receiver John Brown. (Harry Scull Jr./News file photo)

He had plenty of help from:

  • Oliver. The Bills’ rookie still is looking for his first NFL sack. But he is dispelling any concerns that his 287-pound body might be a liability against the run. On the Titans’ final drive, Oliver pushed back Rodger Saffold and worked down the line to force a 1-yard loss by Henry. Oliver drew a hold, held up against a double team on a third-quarter red-zone run, beat center Ben Jones to create a run stuff on another red-zone play in the third quarter and made two hustle tackles downfield to prevent bigger gains. Oliver isn’t making splash plays, but he’s doing a lot of dirty work.
  • Alexander. He had six tackles, a sack and three other pressures. His spin move whipped Saffold (one of the top guards in the NFL) for a sack.
  • Hughes. He continues to play unselfishly in setting the edge. Remember how Mario Williams used to chase sacks and resist giving up his body on wide runs in his final Bills season? Hughes doesn’t do that. In the fourth quarter, Hughes stayed home to set the edge on a minus-1 run, had a hurry, hustled to chase down a receiver screen and played stout on a 1-yard run loss on the final drive.

The Titans tried to play physical with the Bills. They used their two-tight-end personnel group on 17 plays, which is their standard approach. But they averaged just 3.7 yards a play out of that personnel group.

The Bills put Alexander on the field 10 times against that set as a linebacker in the 4-3 front. But seven other times, Dean Marlowe came in as the “big nickel” defensive back. Either way, the Bills shut the Titans down.

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