Buffalo Bills 2021 season preview: Can the defense do enough for a title run?

Aug 28, 2021; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Buffalo Bills outside linebacker A.J. Klein (54) in action against the Green Bay Packers during the first half at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 28, 2021; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Buffalo Bills outside linebacker A.J. Klein (54) in action against the Green Bay Packers during the first half at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports /

In the final installment of the Buffalo Bills 2021 season preview ahead of Sunday’s opener versus the Pittsburgh Steelers, we take a look at the defense.

The old saying that “defense wins championships” has become a thing of the past in the pass-happy NFL. While it may not be prudent to pin your hopes on the defensive side of the ball in today’s league, it is important that a team is at least passable there.

The Buffalo Bills will be looking for a solid performance from their defense as they hope to make it back to the AFC Championship, and beyond. The team will no doubt be led by an electrifying offense, but someone needs to slow the Patrick Mahomes of the world too. The Bills 2021 season preview continues with a look at the team’s defense.

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The 2020 defense ranked 16th in the league in points allowed, giving up 375. They were 14th in the league in total yards allowed, including 13th versus the pass and 17th against the run. The team was 12th in defensive DVOA last season. As a reminder, DVOA is a Football Outsiders metric that measures a team’s efficiency by comparing success on every single play to a league average based on situation and opponent.

By traditional and advanced statistics, the Bills defense was somewhere between average and slightly above average in 2020. The team could not slow down Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC title game, losing 38-24. That is not the whole story of the game, of course, and keeping the Chiefs off the scoreboard is much easier said than done.

The team has shown that they are committed to employing as many resources as possible to slow down the league’s best offenses. General manager Brandon Beane knows that the Bills offense is poised to be spectacular, and hopes additions to the defense will balance out the team.

"“Continuity is probably the thing that’s gotten better and better, being able to keep so many guys that some of them we thought we were going to lose last year,” Beane said to reporters. “Offensively, I think we’ve kind of built it similar to how we did last season. And then defensively, the biggest difference is up front. We’ve really focused on retaining the back end, the back seven, and then strengthening this front four, and being able to rush in waves."

The idea of pressuring Mahomes, in particular, comes from anyone watching what the Bucs did to him in the Super Bowl last season. Last year was a massive success for Buffalo, but now the pressure is on to rise to even greater heights. It seems the offense can only ascend so much further in 2021. It is incumbent on the defense to go to the next level.

Bills 2021 season preview: Reinforcements on the line joining a strong group

The Bills draft strategy was clear early on – get rushers to harass Mahomes and other elite quarterbacks in the league. The team selected Gregory Rousseau out of the University of Miami with its first-round pick. The defensive end was the 30th overall selection and is expected to slide into the defensive line rotation immediately. Rousseau had a number of disruptive plays during the Bills pre-season and appears ready to wreak havoc on opposing offenses.

The Bills doubled down in the second round by selecting Carlos Basham out of Wake Forest. Another defensive end, “Boogie” may not be a contributor immediately but is seen as someone who could help as the season goes on. The team’s depth chart lists him behind a number of veterans.

Among those are returning ends Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison. At defensive tackle, the team is expecting to have Ed Oliver and Star Lotulelei start. Both are former first-round selections, giving Buffalo a ton of pedigree along the line. Former second-round pick A.J. Epenesa rounds out a suddenly deep position group for the Bills.

Bills 2021 season preview: Two Pro Bowlers return in the back seven

The linebacking group will be led by fourth-year player Tremaine Edmunds. The former first-round pick made the Pro Bowl in 2020 after piling up 117 tackles and two sacks. Matt Milano and Taron Johnson will join Edmunds in the starting lineup. There is some depth at linebacker with A.J. Klein figuring to be seeing a lot of snaps. He registered 75 tackles in 11 starts last year.

The secondary remains intact from 2020 when Tre’Davious White, Jordan Poyer, Levi Wallace, and Micah Hyde combined to start 57 games. White is widely considered one of the league’s best playmaking corners. The former LSU Tiger picked off three passes a year ago, en route to a Pro Bowl selection. White came in at number 95 on the NFL Network’s Top 100 players countdown.

Leslie Frazier will return for his fifth season as the Bills defensive coordinator. He does not need to produce a reproduction of the 1985 Bears to be successful. Buffalo will need to improve on defense to take the final step. With some returning stars, fresh pass-rushing options, and a lot of depth, the Bills defense may just do that.

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What do you think of the Bills 2021 season preview? Will the defense be able to take the team to the next level? Let us know in the comments below.