EJ Gaines makes snaps count, labeled as “someone you can count on” by Bills coaches (video)
ORCHARD PARK – Coming into the 2017 season, the Buffalo Bills revamped their secondary and was rightfully labeled as perhaps the biggest question mark in terms of position groups on the roster.
But the group has defied the odds and at times has played at an elite level. Cornerback EJ Gaines is an essential part, but might be the most overlooked.
He’s not the stud-rookie in cornerback Tre’Davious White. He’s not a fan favorite like Jordan Poyer. He hasn’t led the NFL in points like Micah Hyde. It’s steady as she goes for Gaines, and that’s just how Buffalo (6-5) defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier likes it.
“(Gaines) plays with great vision. He’s a guy that can tackle well enough on the corner and sometimes guys at corner, sometimes they just want to be cover guys and not necessarily tackle, but he tackles well enough and he has some ball skills,” Frazier said. “To be able to have a guy out there that you can really count on and know that they’re really no matchup issues for the most part, it gives you confidence when you’re calling certain things, that we’re not as vulnerable.”
Another reason for Gaines possibly being overlooked is his availability. Gaines has been limited to seven games this season for the Bills with groin and hamstring injuries.
Unfortunately for Gaines, who Buffalo landed in a trade with the Los Angeles Rams along with a 2018 second-round pick for Sammy Watkins, he’s had a knack for being injured following a strong rookie year. In 2015, a Lisfranc injury in training camp caused Gaines to miss the entire year.
Those bumps and bruises haven’t affected his game which has the steady numbers.
Between himself, Poyer (6.5), Hyde (4.3), and White (3.7), Gaines has the second-most tackles-per-game with 5.9. In passes defended per game, White leads the group with 1.3 and Poyer’s 0.9 is second. Gaines slides in at third with .86 with Hyde at .82.
But there’s one stat to rule them all for Gaines. When starting, the Bills are 5-2. Without him, the Bills are 1-3. Gaines most recently returned from injury against the Los Angeles Chargers two weeks ago.
“We have confidence in the players that are behind E.J. That said, it’s certainly nice to have your starter out there, which we’ve been able to have now for a couple of games which has been good,” Buffalo head coach Sean McDermott said.
On Sunday against the Chiefs in a 16-10 win against his hometown team (Lee Summit, Mo. native) that low-key, steady game for Gaines was what was on display. Gaines’ impact on the Bills was best displayed on one play in the fourth quarter on the Chiefs’ final offensive drive.
The play was overshadowed by Gaines’ phantom unnecessary-roughing penalty and then by White’s game-ending interception. But on first-and-10, the first play after the two-minute warning, Gaines made a stop on a wide-receiver screen to Charcandrick West at the line of scrimmage.
Gaines went one-on-two for the stop. Buffalo’s 5-foot-10 defensive back blew through 6-foot-6 tight end Travis Kelce and wrapped up West.
“That was pretty impressive,” Frazier said. “For him to not back down and take that tight end on and then I think it was maybe a one-yard gain at that. That was a pretty impressive play by him.
It’s plays like that that you look forward to and you don’t think twice about because, when he’s out there, he’s able to make those type of plays. It’s good for our defense, and we’re glad he’s back.”
Moving forward, Gaines’ availability could be a pivotal part in Buffalo’s playoff hopes, which takes its next step on Sunday at New Era Field at 1 p.m. against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
For more from Frazier and to view Gaines’ late tackle on West, see the attached videos below: