WASHINGTON — Six weeks into the 2016 season, the NFL sacks leader isn’t Von Miller, or J.J. Watt or any of the other usual suspects.
No. Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, formerly of the Raiders, Cardinals and Redskins, and who some might call an NFL journeyman, now leads the league with eight sacks in his 10th season.
On a new team at 33 years old, Alexander is suddenly at the top of his game. He credits his health and opportunity for his fountain-of-youth season, opportunity he says he never quite got at any of his previous NFL stops.
“Still doing the same old thing, I’m just getting more opportunities,” Alexander told Chad Dukes on 106.7 The Fan. “Playing about 50 snaps a game, compared to what I’ve been other places, I may get 15 to 20, so just with that extra opportunity I’ve been able to produce a little bit more.”
Alexander, who earned his only Pro Bowl bid as a special teamer for the Redskins in 2012, was beloved in Washington for his willingness to add or drop weight any given offseason to play wherever he was needed defensively. In Buffalo, he’s been able to lean on his jack-off-all-trades versatility to increase his opportunities. He has as many sacks through six games as he registered during his entire six seasons in Washington.
“I’m an outside backer,” he said. “But I still play defensive end in certain sets. I do a little bit of everything. Sometimes I even line up at inside backer.”
Alexander doesn’t feel like he’s exacting revenge on his former teams with his surprise breakout season.
“Nah, not at all,” he said. “I mean everything happens for a reason. I’ve been placed up in Buffalo for a reason and mainly just because it’s a great fit for me. I think Rex Ryan’s defense is conducive to me making a lot of plays. The way they use me, and the way they allow me to kind of roam the field at times has really helped me make a lot of plays.”
“And then we have some great athletes up here, obviously Jerry Hughes, Kyle Williams kind of headline the group,” he said. “And we’ve got some guys coming back here soon, too, so it’s just been a good vibe all around. Plus, I’m healthy. I think most people just haven’t really seen me this healthy since probably 2012, when I went to a Pro Bowl when I was in Washington. So it’s exciting for me and everybody that’s getting to benefit from my health.”
Strangely enough, the Bills and Redskins are experiencing parallel seasons, with each starting out 0-2 only to rebound with four consecutive victories. The fanbases, Alexander says, aren’t all that dissimilar either.
“Bills Mafia up here is crazy,” he said. “It probably could rival D.C.’s fandom in a sense. The culture and the history that goes along to being a Buffalo Bills fan goes way back, so they’re loving it.”
“Obviously starting 0-2, nobody wanted to see that,” he continued. “Rex was on the hot seat, but it just really came down to us, as you probably can see in Washington, just making the plays that ultimately win you the game.
“And normally it’s about four or five a game, whether it’s a 50-50 ball that a guy goes up and gets, or intercepts, or a fumble recovery — little things like that that add up to a big win at the end of the day that we’re finally starting to make and trying to fight through adversity, and finding ways to win instead of losing games.”
The Redskins, coincidentally, severely lacked a reliable pass-rush up until Sunday’s five-sack day against the Eagles. Has that thought, that he could perfectly satisfy his former team’s greatest area of need, dawned on Alexander at any point this year?
“Um, no. Not at all,” Alexander said. “It’s been, what? Four years now? I’m kind of removed from a sense of wanting to play there. That love has kind of left. I mean, I still love the area, love the people that support it, but it’s no longer like, oh, I still have an opportunity to be there.”
“Like I said, I’ve been moved for a reason,’ he said. “I’ve been to three other places now and I’m happy where I’m at and really enjoying that environment. I still love all the guys in the locker room that I know, and I saw [Ryan] Kerrigan get two sacks yesterday, so obviously he’s starting to get into mid-season form.
“And, you know, sacks come in bunches, as I’ve seen throughout the years. I have eight now, but it could easily go away, so I’m just trying to stay focused, one game at a time, and just continue to work on the skill set that has allowed me to get them and just continue to work hard.”
“Those guys up there are going to continue to get them as well. I know Chris Baker is going to start stepping up and making a lot of plays,” he went on to say. “Sometimes it’s not even about getting a sack, it’s about pushing the quarterback off the spot and making him make a bad throw and allowing the DBs to make plays, or getting off the field because he can’t get the ball to the receiver. They’ve been able to do that the last four games, and it’s exciting to see for those guys and I’m happy for them.”
(Note: Below is an excerpt from the interview, which airs in full Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. on Chad Dukes vs. The World.)