Bills' D-line has flashed at times without Von Miller but still has work to do

Stephen A.: The Bills' Super Bowl window is closing (1:44)

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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills coach Sean McDermott reminds third-year defensive end Greg Rousseau to be “nasty.”

Rousseau, a 2021 first-round pick, is in his third season in Buffalo. He doubled his sack production from his rookie year (four) to his second season (eight). Now, he is the defensive end playing the most snaps through the first two games of the season (62.8%).

What does it mean to be “nasty?”

“Just playing more physical, playing physical at all times ...” Rousseau told ESPN. “[McDermott] is just saying, just all the time, making it like an all-time thing, so you're consistently wreaking havoc and causing problems ... obviously I'm a big dude, so I can be a handful when I'm playing fast, aggressive and all that.”

McDermott noted after the team’s win over the Raiders that Rousseau was doing what he has been asked.

“He’s playing more nasty and that's what you gotta do,” McDermott said. “He's always had the finesse part. Now, he's starting to bake in some nastiness to his game.”

Rousseau, 23, is one of the key pieces in a Bills defensive line that has had strong performances through the first two games but not a lot of sacks (3) without pass-rusher Von Miller, who will miss at least the first four games on the physically unable to perform list as he recovers from his right ACL injury.

As the Bills prepare to face the Washington Commanders (1 p.m. ET, CBS), a team tied for the second-most sacks allowed (10) and averaging 4.2 yards per rush (16th), the defensive line will have a significant opportunity to show what it can do and continue to improve.

The Bills started the season against the New York Jets, getting after their quarterbacks — Aaron Rodgers and then Zach Wilson -- successfully, finishing with the top pass rush win rate (70%) in Week 1. The Bills had three sacks in the game and had an 11.5% sack per dropback percentage.

Leonard Floyd played a key role in that performance, with the second-highest pass rush win rate (40%) in the league in Week 1. But Floyd is dealing with an ankle injury coming off the Raiders game. He was able to practice on a limited basis Thursday.

The flipside was the Bills giving up 172 rushing yards to the Jets, particularly running back Breece Hall, who broke off an 83-yarder.

But the run defense tightened up less than a week later against the Raiders (55 rushing yards).

“We kinda had a different game plan [against the Raiders]," Rousseau said, "We were more focused on the run game, if I'm being honest, like, because that's their whole team. So, we were really dialing like, run, run, run, run, run then, like kind of react to the pass.”

That included holding running back Josh Jacobs to minus-2 yards on nine carries -- the first time since the 1970 merger a reigning NFL rushing champion finished a game with negative rushing yardage, per Elias Sports. Certain Bills such as defensive end Shaq Lawson played more snaps against Las Vegas to help stop the run.

The Raiders got 34 of their 55 rushing yards on one carry by receiver Tre Tucker on the first drive of the game. But it was the only drive in which Las Vegas amassed over 50 yards. After that, the Raiders had only one drive go over five plays.

"One of the things that we talked about, you know, as we were warming up is just make sure you own the real estate that you're responsible for through the call," assistant head coach and defensive line coach Eric Washington said. "And the guys really did a great job with that.”

Some of the run defense's success has come from defensive tackle Ed Oliver, who signed a four-year, $68 million extension this offseason. He has a 44% run stop win rate (ranks 10th among interior linemen), the highest of his career, and eight tackles. Oliver had a tackle for loss on the very first play of the game against the Raiders.

Washington described the defensive line performance as a whole against the Raiders as "extremely impactful."

The pass rush didn’t flash against the Raiders: zero sacks, 29th-best pass rush win rate (27.8%) and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was pressured on just six snaps and finished with an average of 3.2 seconds to throw. The linemen, however, got their hands up with Rousseau tipping a pass that was intercepted by second-year linebacker Terrel Bernard. Fourth-year defensive end AJ Epenesa also broke up two passes.

While the Bills have 13 quarterback contacts (tied for fifth-fewest), the defense has allowed a total QBR of just 24.5, third-best in the league. But this could be the week their pass rush gets fully on track.

Against a Washington team that has shown a weakness in giving up sacks, taking advantage of that probably will be a big part of this week’s game plan.

“I think the rush and coverage= are working together, which it should,” McDermott said, “but I still feel like there's more in there, in terms of what we can do and how effective we can be, in both on the rush into things in the back end, as well.”