Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier interviewed for the Houston Texans head-coaching vacancy on Sunday, and ESPN Bills reporter Marcel Louis-Jacques had a suggestion on how he might have approached it.
Indeed, the Bills' 17-3 victory over the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional round of the 2020 NFL playoffs was a Frazier-directed masterpiece, with credit, of course, going to the players who executed it in such a high-stakes situation.
The second-seeded Bills will need more of the same in Sunday's AFC Championship Game against the top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium (6:40 p.m. ET, CBS).
Coach Sean McDermott referred to the Bills' defense as playing "1, 11 style football" -- which was his way of saying each player was operating off the same script. He also noted something else that has been critical in helping the franchise advance to the conference title game for the first time since the 1993 season.
"Our red zone defense the last couple weeks has been improving, which is good to see," he said.
To McDermott's point, the Bills ranked No. 28 of the NFL's 32 teams in red zone defense in the regular season (based on opponents' touchdown percentage). Opponents had 58 trips inside the 20-yard line, with 38 touchdowns (65.5%).
But the Bills have provided more resistance in the playoffs, where the margin for error is that much thinner, and one play can be the difference between advancing and a season ending abruptly.
The Ravens were 0-for-3 in the red zone on Saturday night, with the Bills' stingy defensive effort highlighted by cornerback Taron Johnson's game-changing 101-yard interception return for a touchdown.
And in the wild-card playoff game, the Colts were 2-of-5, with the Bills' ability to hold on fourth down late in the second quarter proving to be a turning point.
Now Buffalo faces arguably its biggest red zone challenge in the high-flying Chiefs (59 red zone trips, 36 TDs, 61%). And if last week is any indication, defensive end Jerry Hughes -- the longest tenured Bills player (since 2013) -- will once again be listening for any motivational fuel along with his defensive teammates leading into the matchup.
After registering two sacks Saturday to up his career postseason sack total to five -- joining Darryl Talley (6.5), Jeff Wright (9.0) and Bruce Smith (14.5) as the only players in franchise history to hit that mark in the playoffs -- Hughes said Bills defenders took it personally when they heard media-based chatter on television that the unit was a weakness.
"We take it as a challenge, and we accept it," he said. "We play like we have something to prove."
In that sense, one could say Frazier, 61, is coaching the same way.
Hired by the Bills as part of McDermott's initial staff in 2017, he is concluding his 22nd year in the NFL, having served as head coach of the Minnesota Vikings from the middle of the 2010 season until the end of the 2013 campaign.
The Vikings qualified for the postseason in 2012, with running back Adrian Peterson named NFL Most Valuable Player, but Frazier was fired at the end of the 2013 season after the team went 5-10-1. While some believed it would only be a matter of time until he received another head-coaching opportunity, it hasn't come. The Texans have been the only team to interview Frazier this year.
If the Bills' defense puts together more performances like it did Saturday, with continued improvement in the red zone, Frazier's stock should rise.
Bills safety Micah Hyde, when talking about Johnson's 101-yard interception return, noted "once you get into the playoffs, it's all about momentum." He later added: "We're trending in the right direction, continuing to play better."
Fellow safety Jordan Poyer pointed out the Bills' mindset in the red zone is "three-and-out or a takeaway," and while opponents might find themselves inside the 20-yard line, they should prepare for everything the Bills have to offer in those situations.
"We're a bend-but-don't break defense," he said. "We're going to keep fighting for every grain of grass."