In their last two seasons away from the Bills (2020 and 2021), Jordan Phillips and Shaq Lawson totaled 10 sacks.
In their last 27 games with the Bills (2019 and 11 games of 2022), Lawson and Phillips have 19 combined sacks.
Why does it work so much better in Buffalo?
“They let me be me,” Phillips says.
That sounds pretty easy. Defensive line coach Eric Washington must have an all-time cushy job just letting all his guys do whatever they want. It, of course, is not that simple.
The reasons begin with Buffalo’s one-gap defensive system. Defensive linemen in Buffalo aren’t responsible for occupying blockers and opening doors for linebackers as many teams require. They get to be the attack.
“Our defensive line is featured,” Washington says. “We ask them to go and hunt negative plays, big plays, sacks. And it really, really fits with what they would rather do.”
The D-line still has assignments and discipline, but hunting linemen are always happy linemen. Washington points out that his position group wants to be part of the reason why the team wins, while still doing their job.
The Bills also give their D-Linemen freedom to hunt all those plays their own way.
“They give me a lot of control, in a way,” Phillips says. “That just comes from their confidence and their trust in me.”
“(Washington) knows what I bring to the table. He knows what all these guys bring to the table,” Ed Oliver says. “He just tries to take that and hone around that without making you somebody that you’re not.”
That doesn’t happen on every team.
“You’d be surprised how much control coaches have on players as far as how they play up front. A lot of people play this game in fear of, ‘If I go out there and do this or the coaches don’t like it, I’m out the game’,” DaQuan Jones says. “They kinda eliminate that here so you can go out and play freely. It takes your game to whole other level.”
“I’m not a pretty rusher,” Phillips says. “And that’s what (other teams) want to see. Pretty sacks. That’s not who I am. I’m gonna run through you. I’m gonna throw a couple curveballs at you, but I’m very effective at what I do.”
Washington has to coach all his defensive linemen how to win 1-on-1. Even though edge players are typically the pass rushing stars, interior players in Buffalo get coached with the same sense of urgency as the edge rushers. Since the Bills don’t blitz a lot and constantly rotate their linemen, it’s something they have to do.
“If you’re trying to generate pressure with four, then you better make sure you’re informing every individual because you’re going to need them,” Washington says. “As soon as the protections start to really, really overcompensate for a person like Von Miller, then another person is one on one. They gotta believe you believe that they can get the job done.”
The Bills on the defensive line all raved about Washington and the job he is doing. He’s glad they enjoy the process and thinks they are men of high character.
“I don’t think they give themselves enough credit, but I’m glad they appreciate the effort I’m putting in to make sure they’re ready to go,” Washington says.
Phillips and Lawson may appreciate it most of all.