MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Buffalo Bills unfolded an astute defensive game plan at Minnesota and unleashed their front seven on Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins.
The most important part of their preparation and execution? Forcing Cousins to fumble.
With a third-down strip-sack of Cousins inside the 20-yard line to turn the ball over on each of Minnesota's first two possessions, Buffalo converted those big plays into 10 easy points on the way to a 27-6 victory Sunday.
"We drop back every single day and talk about having two hands on the ball and protecting the football and understanding how important that is," said Cousins, who also threw an interception.
Since Cousins became a full-time starter for Washington to begin the 2015 season, he has fumbled 33 times. That's one behind Seattle's Russell Wilson for the most in the NFL over that span. Cousins has lost 13 of those fumbles, including the pair in the first quarter on sacks by Jerry Hughes and Trent Murphy . Lorenzo Alexander and Matt Milano, who picked off the bobbled pass in the third quarter , recovered them.
According to Alexander, the defense made Cousins a prime target for prying the ball loose in meetings during the week.
"With guys like Jerry and Trent coming in from behind, they just don't have the awareness that a running back or receiver would have," Alexander said. "We're always taught to strip the ball because sack fumbles are game-changers."
With Vikings running back Dalvin Cook held out because of a hamstring injury and the Bills ahead 24-0 with less than three minutes elapsed in the second quarter, the pressure only increased on Cousins and his offensive line. The Vikings attempted a franchise-record six rushes, two of which were scrambles by Cousins. He finished 40 for 55 for 296 yards, including a late touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph .
"Our secondary has been doing a fantastic job of making the quarterback hold the ball for us," said Hughes, who dominated left tackle Riley Reiff throughout the game and had two quarterback hits.
Milano and Kyle Williams also registered sacks. The Vikings had only 46 yards at halftime.
"They're a good defense," Reiff said, "and it wasn't fun."
Head coach Sean McDermott took over the play-calling responsibility from defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier at halftime last week against San Diego, with the Bills trailing 28-6. McDermott said he and Frazier, the former Vikings head coach, were in collaboration with the play-calling this time.
"I want to give credit to the staff and players with getting on the same page with what we're trying to get done," McDermott said.
That included a priority of pressuring Cousins, who lost to Carolina with Washington while McDermott was the defensive coordinator there in both 2015 and 2016. Cousins threw two interceptions, lost three fumbles and was sacked six times over those previous two games.
"He had always given me a hard time when I played him, so I just felt that these guys were going to be a challenge," Cousins said, "and they were."
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