It was a roller-coaster ride last Sunday as the Bills came from behind in an epic win over the division rival New York Jets. Despite a 16-0 deficit and a first half with four turnovers, the Bills found a way to win a crucial week one matchup.
One of the biggest storylines of this game was the dominant play of the Bills defense. It was arguably the best game Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier’s defense has played since they were hired in 2017. They held the Jets to just 223 total yards of offense, sacked Jets quarterback Sam Darnold four times, and had eight passes defended.
One player in particular played very well for the Bills defense; former first round pick Shaq Lawson. Lawson finished the game with four tackles, a sack, and a batted down pass. It’s a big year for Lawson as the fourth-year player out of Clemson is in a crucial contract year. It was clear that Lawson was very motivated coming into this season.
In an interview with the Buffalo News back in June, Lawson had this to say about not getting his fifth-year option, “No, I ain’t concerned. It’s motivation. I know what time it is. It’s do or die,” Lawson said. “I’ve been through a situation like this before. It’s just a small step. Me, I’m just gonna go out there and ball this year.” His play last week showed just that. This leads me to this week’s Thursday Thought: Shaq Lawson will have a breakout season.
The Talent for Shaq Lawson has always been there. A four-star recruit coming out of Central, South Carolina, Lawson committed to play at Clemson where he became a dominant force in the ACC. He finished his career with 123 tackles and 45.5 sacks. After three years at Clemson, Lawson turned pro, and would later be drafted by the Bills in the first round (19th overall).
Lawson’s professional career has been a disappointment thus far. Coming into this season Lawson had only 10 career sacks and had only played in 35 of a possible 48 games. However, this is about to change in 2019.
Lawson has shown flashes throughout the past three seasons in the NFL, in particular, he’s been a rock-solid run defender. For example, back in 2017 Lawson had the highest run stop percentage during week one according to Pro Football Focus. The player who came in second on this list, all-pro defensive end Everson Griffen.
Last season, Lawson continued to make some strides. According to Pro Football Focus, Lawson posted the highest tackling grade of any Bills players a season ago. His grade was higher than guys like Lorenzo Alexander and Harrison Phillips. He also recorded five passes deflected last season, which was significantly higher than the previous two seasons.
What that stat is a great indicator of is hustle. Lawson’s motor never stops. Even when he can’t get into the backfield to sack the quarterback, he’s still finding a way to affect the play. Lawson’s improvements last year landed him as Buffalo’s second highest graded defender at 72.4 according to Pro Football Focus.
Coming into a contract year, when Lawson is clearly motivated, and is playing on a defense that’s confident and flying all over the field to make plays, Lawson should have his best season yet.
Mitch Broder is a contributor for The Buffalo Fanatics. To contact him, email him at email@example.com or on Twitter @mitchell_broder