The Rams are 2-0 after two under-20 points allowed defensive efforts and a top-five offense by efficiency. Los Angeles ranks third in points allowed and first in net yards per pass attempt in the first one-eighth of the season and they enter Week 3 relatively healthy. New starters Micah Kiser, Jordan Fuller, Darious Williams and Leonard Floyd have taken well to their roles so far and their efforts have helped the Rams start 2-0 within the conference, halfway to a sweep of the NFC East.
The Bills are 2-0 after putting 58 on the Jets and Dolphins, opening with an all-important perfect record within their own division. Buffalo turning its fortunes around is less surprising than the way in which they’ve done it, ranking first in passing yards and third in net yards per pass attempt behind the power and grace of quarterback Josh Allen. The Bills added Stefon Diggs in the offseason and as Buffalo’s first true number one threat in his prime since Eric Moulds in the early 2000s (other good receivers have come and gone but usually before or after they’ve had the chunk of their success), Diggs has caught 16 passes for 239 yards.
Which up to this point hasn’t stopped John Brown and Cole Beasley from being on pace for 1,000-yard seasons also.
Defensively, the two teams have a similar setup in at least one regard: LA’s two best players, maybe anywhere on the roster, are at defensive tackle and cornerback. Likewise, Buffalo’s defense orbits around a young all-pro cornerback and the Bills are hoping that recent top-10 pick Ed Oliver joins Tre’Davious White among the league’s elite on that side of the ball. Oliver may not come close to being the presence that Donald is but Buffalo has more verified talent around their defensive tackle in the front-seven than the Rams do with theirs.
Defensive ends Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison are approaching “mid-30s” but appear no less capable of making plays than they would have a few years ago. Trent Murphy, 29, could be one of the more underrated edge players in the NFL; Murphy had nine sacks and 25 QB hits with Washington in 2016, was suspended for violating the league’s PED policy and tore his ACL in 2017, slowly worked his way back in 2018 with the Bills and then quietly posted five sacks, one interception, two batted passes, two forced fumbles and nine tackles for a loss last season.
And Murphy is only the number three option at edge.
At inside linebacker, Tremaine Edmunds gets the attention as a former first round pick with two brothers and his father being able to claim themselves as future or past NFL players. That and the fact that he had 115 tackles, 10 TFL, one interception and 1.5 sacks last season, making the Pro Bowl. But PFF had Matt Milano ranked even higher than Edmunds after he posted 101 tackles, 7 TFL, nine passes defensed, one forced fumble and 1.5 sacks of his own.
The Bills added veteran linebacker A.J. Klein in the offseason after posting 69 tackles, 2.5 sacks and an interception with the Saints last year. Edmunds is dealing with an injury and if he can’t go, could be replaced by former UDFA Tyrel Dodson.
After losing defensive tackle Jordan Phillips in free agency, the team signed Vernon Butler, a former first round pick of the Panthers who had six sacks, eight QB hits and three forced fumbles in 2019, and Quinton Jefferson, a former fifth round pick of Seattle who quietly posted 6.5 sacks and 25 QB hits over the last two seasons.
Behind the linebackers is a third Bills player who posted at least 100 tackles and a sack last season: safety Jordan Poyer, who has averaged 101 tackles, four interceptions, seven passes defensed, one forced fumble and almost two sacks per season since signing with Buffalo in 2017. PFF named him the team’s most underrated player last year.
As to who PFF thought was the best player on the defense in 2019, that would be Micah Hyde, the safety next to Poyer. Murphy was second, White was third.
Buffalo head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane have done an impressive job of building this defense with veterans: Poyer, Hyde, Murphy, Klein, Addison, Butler and Jefferson all represents signing by this front office and none of those signings would be considered “first wave” acquisitions. They’d all be for players who may have been overlooked and otherwise not flashy.
Meanwhile through the draft: White, Edmunds, Oliver, defensive tackle Harrison Phillips and defensive end A.J. Epenesa, a second rounder out of Iowa who made his debut last week with 17 snaps.
The Bills ranked second in points allowed last season.
The only area on defense where Buffalo appears to be taking some risk is at cornerback. Other than White, the Bills are working with Levi Wallace, a 6’, 180 pound corner who went undrafted out of Alabama in 2018 and started all 16 games last season, and nickel Taron Johnson, a fourth rounder in 2018 with seven starts a year ago. Both have injuries in either the recent past or presently.
Offensively, Buffalo ranks last in rushing EPA but hasn’t needed their run game to get going up to this point thanks to the success of their passing game. Whether or not they’re capable of getting it going with backs Devin Singletary and Zack Moss, two recent third round picks, is unknown. The Bills ranked 23rd in scoring last season but had season-highs of 37, 31 and 28 points.
Already in two games this season, Buffalo has scored 31 and 27 points.
By many accounts, the Bills are the best 2020 team that the Rams will have faced this season after beating the Cowboys and Eagles. By all accounts, Los Angeles is Buffalo’s toughest opponent after beating the Dolphins and Jets. The Rams are hoping for Jalen Ramsey, Darious Williams, John Johnson and Jordan Fuller to star in the secondary against the Bills’ long list of receiving weapons. And Buffalo will task Tre’Davious White, Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer with leading the defensive backs against Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Tyler Higbee.
Will the Rams be 3-0? Or do the Bills defend their Buffalo?
How confident are you that the Rams will beat the Bills on Sunday?
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