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Defensive line gets A-plus grade as Bills surpass last year's sack total

The Buffalo Bills already have surpassed their sack total of last season with four more sacks against Dallas on Thursday.

Buffalo has 15 sacks in the past three weeks and now has 37 for the season. The Bills are on pace for 49 sacks. Last year the Bills had 36 in 16 games and ranked 15th in sacks per pass attempt. They entered this week seventh in the NFL in that category.

The four sacks of Dak Prescott was impressive because Dallas had allowed the fewest sacks in the league, 12 in 11 games. The defensive line heads this week’s position-by-position Bills review, based on video review and on a scale of 0 to 5:

Defensive line (4.5): Ed Oliver put his combination of power and quickness on display. He drove All-Pro guard Zach Martin into the lap of running back Tony Pollard for a no gain and bulled Martin for a bat-down. Then he out-quicked Xavier Su’a-Filo for a strip sack. Star Lotulelei read a screen pass for an INT and played stout. Jerry Hughes missed a few tackles but had five hurries. Jordan Phillips and Shaq Lawson upped their sack totals to 7.5 and 5.5, respectively.

Leslie Frazier continues to attack. The Bills blitzed (rushed five or more) on 17 of 56 drop-backs. Dallas averaged just 5.05 yards on those plays, with an interception and two sacks. That makes three of the last four games with blitzing at a rate of more than 30%. Frazier is usually at about 20%.

Linebackers (4.0): Frazier is making full use of the explosive closing speed of Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano. They each rushed the QB seven times on blitzes or zone dogs. Milano’s hit on the QB forced the intercepted screen pass. Milano is on a tear. He had two other hurries and two pass breakups. Edmunds missed a tackle on a 30-yard run but played tough in the middle. Lorenzo Alexander whipped Jason Witten at the point of attack in setting the edge on a 4-yard tackle for loss.

Defensive backs (4.0): It was another fine game for Tre’Davious White against the talented, physical Amari Cooper. White had two illegal-contact penalties and gave up a 19-yard catch. But White had a third-down pass breakup on a comebacker for Cooper, defended a fade for Cooper down the sideline, had a breakup on a slant and had tight coverage on a fourth-down sack. Kevin Johnson and Levi Wallace gave up a few cushion-underneath catches, but most were on blitz plays when they had to protect in zone coverage. Johnson had a pass breakup on a deep ball for Michael Gallup and leveraged Gallup out of bounds on another deep incompletion. He also broke up a hitch for Gallup. Good day. Wallace tackled well. Safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer had their typical brilliant assignment-sound performances.

Quarterback (4.5): The blossoming of Josh Allen continues. His 79.2% rate and his 120.7 passer rating both were career highs. The 29-yard dart on the run to Cole Beasley on a third-and-10 play from his own end zone was one of his finest passes of the year. The TD strike to Beasley also was on the move. Ditto for a 20-yard strike to Robert Foster in the fourth quarter. Allen stood in a tightening pocket on several other third-down completions. Allen’s 16 rushing TDs in his first 23 games are second most by a QB ever behind only Cam Newton (17).

Running backs (3.5): Devin Singletary averaged a healthy 4.5 yards against a good run defense and continues to show toughness. His best run might have been a 2-yard gain on which Sean Lee met him 5 yards in the backfield, but the rookie one-arm-shivered him out of the way. Singletary showed burst to the edge on a 16-yard run from his own 6.

Receivers (3.5): Beasley was a nightmare for Dallas slot cornerback Jourdan Lewis. Quick separation is one of a quarterback’s best friends. Beasley now has a TD catch in five of the last seven games. John Brown had only three catches but threw a perfect spiral on the run to Singletary and blocked up Xavier Woods downfield on Allen’s TD run. Dawson Knox had a good blocking day. He pinned Jaylon Smith on a 26-yard run and cut Lee on an end around. He also stiff-armed Darian Thompson to the ground after a catch. Andre Roberts played just one snap on offense but it was a good one (the reverse-option TD play).

Offensive line (4.0): It was a tough assignment for tackles Dion Dawkins and Cody Ford against two fine edge rushers, Robert Quinn and Demarcus Lawrence. The Bills’ OTs passed the test. Dawkins solo blocked up Quinn on eight positive pass plays and yielded only two pressures. Quinn beat Dawkins to cause one sack. Ford also beaten on the same sack by Lawrence and gave up three other pressures. Ford got caught leaning forward on those plays. But most of the time he kept a solid base and was able to steer Lawrence wide. The Bills’ middle three handled Dallas’ stunts well. The 26-yard run was a textbook gap-scheme play with Mitch Morse and Quinton Spain leading. Morse showed his mobility on a cut block of Smith for a 16-yard gain. On the other side, Lee was outstanding in anticipating the Bills’ run schemes. He had 12 tackles.

Special teams (2.5): Stephen Hauschka’s struggles are a worry. He had a 50-yard miss, a missed extra point and the doink-make off the right post. On all three, he looked like a golfer who was getting “stuck” on his right side and not fully releasing through the shot (or kick). Credit him for making the 41- and 26-yarders in the second half. But he has some issues. Meanwhile, Corey Bojorquez boomed a much-needed 58-yard punt with a 4.83 hang time early. He continues to impress. And Star Lotulelei’s pinky knocked a Dallas field goal try off-line.

Here are the position-by-position grade averages through three-quarters of the regular season:

Quarterback: 2.9.

Running back: 3.2

Receivers: 2.9

Offensive line: 3.16

Defensive line: 3.5

Linebackers: 3.58

Defensive backs: 3.875

Special teams: 2.79

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