In the past month, Buffalo Bills linebacker A.J. Klein has taken his game to a whole new level and he was rewarded for it Thursday morning.
After tallying 14 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and three tackles for a loss, in a 27-17 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday, the veteran linebacker was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week for the first time in his career.
Early on this season, Klein struggled and only recorded 12 tackles through the first five weeks of the season.
When starting linebacker Matt Milano went down with an injury, he also struggled to fill in the gap and was criticized for it by Bills fans. But he’s started to gain their respect over the past few weeks.
It started with his performance against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 9. He only recorded five tackles, but Klein hit the quarterback four times, tallied two sacks, forced a fumble, and broke up a pass. It was also just the second time this season that he had played more than 90% of the defensive snaps.
Against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 10, Klein recorded 11 tackles and a sack. Sunday was the first time Klein played 100% of the defensive snaps.
After the matchup, Klein owned up to his play earlier this season and said that he just needed some time to get comfortable in the Bills defense and a new position.
“I feel like I’m playing more free, faster, not thinking as much,” Klein said in a video call after the game. “I’m playing will linebacker now, and the rest of my career I’ve always played mike. So that adjustment, and I’m not making any excuses for early in the season and my play, but I just feel like I’m playing fast and I’m trying to run around and make plays, and the less I think the more I’m reacting.”
After his performance on Sunday, Klein joins Tampa Bay’s Devin White as the only two players in the NFL with 50-plus tackles and 5-plus sacks, the latter is a team-high for Buffalo.
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Filling In For Starter Matt Milano
Milano was set to be a big piece of the Buffalo Bills defense this season. But, after Milano went down with a pectoral injury twice this season, Klein has had to step into a position that he had never played before.
After becoming accustomed to the position, Klein has stepped up his play over the past few weeks, which has been crucial to the improvement of the defense as well. He’s shown up in big moments for the defense, including a late sack against the Chargers this past weekend.
Klein’s play gives the Bills defense options down the line as well. With Milano designated to return to practice on Wednesday, his return from the injured reserve list could be in the near future.
Milano’s return will give the Bills depth at the linebacker position, but Klein’s recent play also gives Milano an opportunity to take his time getting back onto the field.
After missing Weeks 5 and 6, Milano returned for matchups against the New York Jets and New England Patriots but played less than 20 snaps in both matchups.
If Milano comes back fully healthy, the Bills could return to their former self after being ranked as the No. 2 defense in the league last season in terms of points allowed.
A.J. Klein’s Play is Nothing New
Before spending three years playing for the New Orleans Saints, Kelin spent four seasons in Carolina playing in Sean McDermott’s defense. He tallied 146 total tackles in four years.
On Wednesday, McDermott said Klein’s coach is nothing new and was exactly what he saw during his time in Carolina with Klein.
“It’s really the same and that’s the type of player he is,” McDermott said during his video conference call. “The last several weeks of his production, his performance, I know you guys are all writing about it but that’s really what I was around in Carolina with A.J. He’s a good football player and he’s done a great job for us this season and I think he’s playing very confident and comfortable right now.”
Before signing with Buffalo this offseason, Klein recorded 193 tackles in three years with the Saints and tallied just 6.5 sacks. He’s 1.5 sacks away from breaking that total in just one year.