Back in 2015, Jerry Hughes played more than 90 percent of the Bills’ defensive snaps.
Since Sean McDermott arrived, that number has never exceeded two thirds of the snaps over the course of a season.
Rotating the defensive linemen is a big part of what McDermott does on defense. In a league where it seems everything is strategized down to the smallest degree, the D-Line rotation is just about keeping guys fresh.
“The key to our success is fresh legs, fresh bodies,” defensive line coach Bill Teerlinck says. “Similar to hockey where the lines rotate more than the normal public sees in a game, we try to do the same thing.”
Darryl Johnson has the smallest percentage of snaps on defense so far this year at 22.2%. It still means every active defensive linemen will be on the field for at least one of every four plays during a game.
Teerlinck says the Bills keep track of the number of plays for each guy during a game and which position they are taking each snap.
“The starters will go two series, then you’ll have your rotational guys come in that third series just to keep guys fresh, guys engaged in the game,” Lorenzo Alexander said.
Trent Murphy says the rotation makes sure the opposing offense continues to see different looks. It keeps them from getting into a rhythm.
McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier preach running to the ball. When you’re 300 pounds and do that 4-5 times in a row, it can take a toll. Players are told they should get out of the game if they get winded.
“Basically, we say ‘if you’re not fresh, you’re hurt’,” Murphy said.
However, there can be exceptions.
“If somebody gets hot, you try to, as a coach, recognize that and keep him in the game.” Alexander said.
Each defensive lineman has a role or a niche and Teerlinck says it’s on the coaches to figure that out.
More guys involved on gameday pays dividends on other days, too. Practices are stronger with eight guys who see regular play time and it also makes meetings more productive.
There is a limited amount of strategy that goes into the assignment of downs and positions for each linemen. It’s generally saved for third down.
“That’s when you tend to try to find your matchups,” Alexander said. “You may move your left end to playing the right tackle because that guard is not as strong or put Jerry (Hughes) on their weakest link.”
“It’s about 1 on 1’s, being able to win those 1 on 1’s and putting ourselves in situations to get 1 on 1’s,” Murphy said. “We study all week and it’s like, ‘Ok, your moves are better against this guy’. We’ll try to dictate those matchups.”
The Bills won a lot of matchups Sunday in Miami. Six of the eight active defensive linemen finished the game with one sack.
All the more reason to keep spreading the snaps around.