The All-22: How Damar Hamlin has made a difference in the Bills’ defense

While we all wait for further news on the condition of Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin, who suffered cardiac arrest in the first quarter of Monday night’s game between the Bills and Cincinnati Bengals, all we can do is to hope for the best. The team gave an update on Hamlin’s condition late Monday night.

This content is not available due to your privacy preferences.
Update your settings here to see it.

This is an unprecedented on-field incident in NFL history, so everybody involved is trying to figure out the best way to deal with it. It was of course the right decision to cancel the game after Hamlin was taken to University of Cincinnati Medical Center. And there’s no real thought of when — or if — to re-schedule this game at this point. The focus is on Hamlin and his recovery.

“Medical advice guided our decision,” NFL Chief Football Administrative Officer Dawn Aponte told reporters on a conference call that took place after midnight EST. “We remained in constant communication with both teams, medical personnel, game officials and ownership. We made decisions that we believed to be in the best interest of Damar’s status and the state of both teams – players and staffs. There couldn’t have been more collaboration throughout this process by all parties.”

This content is not available due to your privacy preferences.
Update your settings here to see it.

In the end, it was a series of conference between Bills head coach Sean McDermott and Bengals head coach Zac Taylor that ruled the day.

Fans and well-wishers have donated over $3 million to Hamlin’s toy drive, and if you would like to add to those donations, you can do so here.

Everybody is hoping and praying for the best. I wanted to take a few minutes to detail how Hamlin has made a difference on the field for the Bills’ defense in the 2022 season. Hamlin was a sixth-round pick out of Pitt in 2021. He played just 65 snaps in his rookie season, but he accepted a lot more responsibility in 2022, especially after safety Micah Hyde was lost for the rest of the 2022 season to a neck injury in late September. Buffalo’s defense, led by Leslie Frazier, requires a lot of discipline and consistency from its safeties, so it didn’t help that Jordan Poyer has also missed time this season due to injury.

That might have overwhelmed a lot of young players, but Hamlin was not going to be overwhelmed. His rough upbringing defined his determinism, but it never defeated him. Hamlin worked hard to get where he got, and when the moment put the spotlight on him, he delivered all season long.

So, as we wait for more news, here is how Hamlin has helped to define one of the NFL’s best defenses.

Winning as a deep-third safety.

(Syndication: Democrat and Chronicle)

Hamlin has played all over the field for the Bills in 2022; his versatility has been one of his strong points. But 52% of his snaps have come in the deep middle third of the field, with 29% as a split safety to the defensive right, and 26% to the defensive left. Hamlin didn’t have any interceptions this season in those positions, but his pass breakups show a player with excellent speed and timing to the ball.

In Week 13 against the New England Patriots, Hamlin had to carry receiver DeVante Parker out of shaded Cover-2 with Poyer as the other deep safety. Hamlin was disguising single-high pre-snap, but he was able to move over to deflect Mac Jones’ deep pass.

Announcing his presence with authority as a run defender.

(Syndication: Democrat and Chronicle)

This season, Hamlin has 66 solo tackles and 23 stops, and he’s proven his ability to come down to the box and the line of scrimmage to prevent run plays from becoming explosive run plays. We’ll start with this play against the Chicago Bears in Week 16. Quarterback Justin Fields had escaped the pocket and was ready to run on an RPO, but he had two problems along the way. First, defensive end Kingsley Jonathan did a great job of mirroring Fields to the edge, and then, Hamlin came all the way down in Cover-4 to wrap Fields up by refusing to let him get around. Not an easy task. Fields isn’t used to two-yard losses when he runs, but that’s what he wound up with here.

Making blitzes count.

(Syndication: Detroit Free Press)

Hamlin hadn’t been asked to blitz too often this season — he had just one sack and five total pressures — but when his coaches drew that up, he was happy to oblige, and in some unusual ways. Again, this is where his ridiculous field speed shows up.

Speaking of plays in which an opponent might be looking at Hamlin with a “How the [redacted] did you get from there to here?” expression, there’s this near-sack of Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff in Week 12. Goff was already under pressure from the word go, so it didn’t help his efficiency to have Hamlin blazing down at Road Runner speed — again, from deep up top — to nearly being Goff down. You don’t expect this to happen if you’re a quarterback. This is not generally part of the plan.

Hamlin is an ascending player in a defense that is difficult to master.

(Syndication: Democrat and Chronicle)

I’m saying that Damar Hamlin is an ascending player; perhaps that’s my way of trying to manifest something when there’s so much we don’t yet know about his personal and professional futures. But I thought it was important to detail just how much he has become a key cog in that defense, and how much his desire to rise above his anonymous first NFL season, and his low draft status, has shown up on the field.

We can only hope and pray to see it again. But if we don’t, and Damar Hamlin walks away from all of this with a full, healthy life, that’s just as good.

Story originally appeared on Touchdown Wire