With two weeks left in the season, Shaquil Barrett’s leads the NFL in sacks with 16.5. His breakout season for the Buccaneers is just on another level (I tried to tell y’all). However, I do believe there is a player whose jump in sack production at least feels similar to Barrett’s situation: Bills defensive tackle Jordan Phillips.
Phillips is now in his fifth year in the league, and has managed to amass 9.5 sacks through 14 games this season. His total number of sacks in his previous four seasons combined? A grand total of 5.5.
In fact, the former 52nd pick in the 2015 draft had such an underwhelming start to his career in Miami that last October the Dolphins decided to waive him. Well, as I always say, one team’s trash always has the potential to be another team’s treasure. The Bills claimed him the very next day to give him a fresh start in Buffalo.
Phillips would go on to play in all 12 games left on the schedule. Now, last year he was aiight, but nothing like what he has shown this season.
Even though he has the most sacks of anybody listed at over 300 pounds this season, it just doesn’t seem like most people outside of the Bills’ fanbase are aware of him. I came to that conclusion before Phillips was snubbed by the Pro Bowl, but after the Bills held on to beat the Steelers on Sunday night.
And for that reason I went back and took a look at how Phillips has played all season so I could give you quick synopsis of his game and help everyone get familiar.
How a guy Phillips’ size transformed into a big-time pass rusher
It’s just not normal for a 6’6, 341-pounder to be doing what Phillips is doing. But there is a reason why Phillips has been so successful at getting to the quarterback this year even though he’s a giant of a man. He clearly employs the KISS approach to pass rushing.
Phillips might be built like a grizzly bear, but he’s also self-aware about his strengths and his limitations at that size. He’s not going to be trying a lot of elaborate spin moves or anything. On most passing plays, what you will find Phillips doing is running right down the middle of one of the guards and collapsing the pocket into the opposing quarterback’s lap.
For the most part, Phillips is content to see if your guards can hold up for four quarters of him bludgeoning them over and over and over again.
As we saw on Sunday, not many of them can.
To be clear, there isn’t anything wrong with a guy playing to his strengths. Diversity of pass-rush moves is cool if you have the ability to execute them all well. However, if you have Nolan Ryan on the hill, you aren’t going to tell him to throw a lot of changeups and curveballs are you?
You want him rearing back and throwing that nasty-ass 100+ mph fastball and daring batters to hit it.
Similarly, if you are a Bills fan, you want Phillips bull-rushing most of the game because sooner or later, the dam is going to break and he is going to get back to the quarterback off that move.
Of course, nobody’s power rush works every single time. But what I like about Phillips is that he never really allows himself to get stuck at the line of scrimmage. Instead, when he doesn’t get any push, Phillips does a great job of mirroring the quarterback, trying to get in position to knock down or chase the quarterback.
For a man his size, Phillips’ short-area quickness is truly uncanny at times. On film it’s apparent that when some quarterbacks see him coming, they underestimate just how quickly he can get to them. He has had several pressures this year on plays where it looked like the quarterback was genuinely shocked at how quickly Phillips was on them before they could make it outside of the pocket.
I’m also impressed with how Phillips has really sharpened up his ability to run pass-rush games this year. When Phillips is the penetrator, he hits the gap quickly and violently, frequently creating a clear path for the looper to come around scot-free. When he is the looper, he really sells his fake pass rush well.
His improved ability to turn a tight corner as the looper has also been a huge plus this year, and that showed up in a major way twice in the Bills’ big win over the Steelers.
How Phillips’ two best plays helped send the Bills to the playoffs
The first time came with a little less than nine minutes left in the first quarter.
Phillips was lined up as the three-technique on the left. On the snap, Phillips flashed all the way inside of Steelers right guard David DeCastro to give the impression he was going to try to rip into the A gap. Phillips took three big steps inside, which all but forced DeCastro to follow him. At the last second, DeCastro tried to step back outside to block Phillips’ teammate Lorenzo Alexander. That created a very short corner for Phillips to get around, and he cut that corner just about as close as anyone possibly could. That put him on a collision course with the quarterback.
It helped that Steelers rookie Devlin Hodges stepped up in the pocket. That put Hodges right in Phillips’ sights, and Hodges made a fateful mistake by trying to deliver the ball down the field with Phillips bearing down on him. Phillips contacted Hodges’ midsection just as he was following through on the throw, and the pass was picked off by Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White.
The second time Phillips made a big play off of a pass-rush game on Sunday may have been even more impressive. It was certainly at least as important.
With 39 seconds left, the Bills were clinging to 17-10 lead, but the Steelers had already made it down to Buffalo’s 26-yard line. Phillips was once again lined up as the three-technique on the left, but this time he ran a pass-rush game with rookie first-rounder Ed Oliver.
Phillips came inside right at Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey as if Phillips was going to bull-rush him. That forced Pouncey, who was already sliding to his right, to come over a little harder to try to account for Phillips’ power. That opened up the A gap to Oliver’s side and he then shot inside of Steelers left guard Ramon Foster. Pouncey, being the top-notch veteran center that he is, was able to step back to his left and pick Oliver up at the very last minute.
However, when Foster tried to follow Oliver inside, he had once again created a short corner for Phillips to loop around. This time, Phillips blew past Foster and was able to reach out and take Hodges down for an 8-yard loss.
Hodges would go on to throw an interception on the very next play, and the Bills’ win clinched them a spot in the playoffs.
Phillips can soon get the recognition he deserves, though
There is another way Phillips’ breakout season is similar to Barrett’s: They are both balling out like this after they bet on themselves and signed one-year deals this offseason. You know what that means, right?
Phillips is about to get paid, jack!
I don’t know how many men his size have ever actually gotten to 9.5 sacks in a season in NFL history, but I’d be willing to be that list is awfully short. Finding a defensive tackle who can consistently push the pocket and get quarterbacks on the ground is something that damn near every team is looking for, so Phillips should have no shortage of suitors once the offseason rolls around.
The guy went from unwanted in Miami just a year ago to getting ready to break the bank, and it’s a testament to the work he did sharpening up his skills this year. He didn’t really do anything fancy, either. Phillips just embraced his strengths and started being who he was meant to be on the field all the time. A lot of other players could learn a lesson from that.
I don’t know where he will end up next year, but I do know that Jordan Phillips is one of the major reasons why the Bills are in the playoffs this season. If he keeps this up, Buffalo just might make some noise when they get there, too.
And on that big of a stage, I think people will really start to learn his name.