ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier did a double take to emphasize how impressed he was re-watching tape of a play highlighting the intuitive bond linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano have developed over five seasons.
The call was originally designed for Milano to pressure the line of scrimmage. Instead, a mere pre-snap glance between the two was all it took for Edmunds to take the lead on a play in which he stopped Jets running back Michael Carter for a 2-yard loss in a 20-12 win on Sunday.
“It’s an example of what you’re talking about, just a symmetry between the two of them,” Frazier said.
“We got done exactly what we wanted to get done, but it was an adjustment within the defense that would not have been made if they were, say, two young guys out there,” he added. “But because it’s Matt and Tremaine, they’ve been together for so long, they made it work. Like, wow. I mean, that’s the value of those two guys playing together.”
With Milano, a fifth-round pick in 2017, and Edmunds a first-round selection a year later, the two have been fixtures on a defense which has finished third or better in the NFL in yards allowed three times.
The AFC-leading Bills (10-3) enter a division showdown against Miami (8-5) on Saturday ranked ninth in yards allowed, during a season in which Buffalo has faced six offenses currently ranked in the top half of the NFL, including the top-ranked Kansas City Chiefs.
Their impact can be gauged in production, with Edmunds’ 71 tackles second on the team followed by Milano’s 67, as well as when they’re not on the field together.
Over the past three seasons, the Bills are a combined 25-7 when both are active for games, and 9-5 when one or both are sidelined.
What also stands out is how they complement one another with their respective strengths in defending the pass and run. At 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, Edmunds uses his size. At 6-feet and 223 pounds, Milano relies more on his speed.
Edmunds’ best game of this season was a career-best 16-tackle outing in a 27-17 win over Green Bay.
His presence as a run-stopper was on display in a 24-10 win over New England two weeks ago.
Returning after missing two games because of an injury, Edmunds finished with six tackles to help the Bills hold the Patriots to 60 rushing yards.
For Milano, his most complete game came in a 31-23 win over Cleveland. He finished with 12 tackles, three of them for losses including a sack, and recovered a fumble.
Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips was so impressed, he opened his postgame news conference by saying: “I want to start by saying, Matt Milano, defensive player of the year.”
Nothing's changed in Phillips' outlook weeks later.
“I love Matt just because I’ve seen the growth of him,” said Phillips, who returned to Buffalo this season after spending the 2018-19 seasons with the Bills. “As a later-round pick, there’s stuff you can and can’t do, right? And to see him where his confidence has risen to where he is now. He just says 'screw it, I’m going to be who I am. I’m going to do what I do and make plays.′ And that’s what he’s done.”
What impresses Phillips about Edmunds, is how the 24-year-old has established himself as the defense’s unquestioned leader.
“Whatever Tremaine says, goes,” Phillips said. “It’s hard to win without these two guys.”
It’s just as hard to get a few words out of them. Both rarely say much with Edmunds usually doing most of the talking.
“We both just came here with our working hats on with a mission to get better,” Edmunds said, of how the two began building their relationship.
As for Milano’s quiet nature, Edmunds said: “To each his own. But he’s a good leader and a lot of guys gravitate towards him.”
Milano has become superstitious when it comes to speaking to reporters. Too often, a lengthy interview has been followed by him getting hurt.
On Wednesday, Milano declined an interview request because he had a doctor’s meeting to check out a knee injury that’s limited him from practicing the past two weeks.
They don’t get paid for talking, though how long they remain a tandem in Buffalo is a question. Milano is signed through 2027, while Edmunds is completing the fifth and final year of his rookie contract on a team that is already tight against the salary cap.
Frazier hoped the two can stay together for the long term because they can be even better.
“They really are infants in some ways in their development,” Frazier said. “They’ve definitely matured and grown, and Tremaine’s been to Pro Bowls, and Matt’s going to go to Pro Bowls. But they are not at the peak of their performance.”
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