The Buffalo Bills made a pair of potentially significant roster moves a day ahead of their showdown with the Cincinnati Bengals.
On January 21, the team announced that defensive end Kingsley Jonathan and defensive tackle Eli Ankou were elevated from the practice squad. While Jonathan had looked strong in his lone appearance this season, insiders saw the elevations as a sign that two key starters are at risk of missing the game.
Bills in Trouble on Defense?
As Syracuse.com’s Matt Parrino noted, the Bills may have called up Ankou and Jonathan as replacements for two defensive line starters hobbled by injury.
“Bills defensive tackles DaQuan Jones (calf) and Jordan Phillips (shoulder) are both listed as questionable to play on Sunday,” Parrino wrote. “If one or both can’t go, perhaps the Bills are thinking about using [Shaq] Lawson or [Boogie] Basham inside in some spots and that may allow Jonathan to get some run. Ankou played 18 snaps last week in place of Phillips, who practiced on a limited basis this week.”
As Parrino noted, Jonathan had a strong performance against the Chicago Bears on December 24, registering a quarterback pressure on Chicago’s Justin Fields and making a tackle for a loss.
Jonathan was with the Bills through training camp and joined the Bears after being waived. He appeared in five games for the Bears, logging 35 snaps on defense and eight more on special teams. His best performance came in the team’s November 13 loss to the Detroit Lions, when he made two tackles.
Bills general manager Brandon Beane told the Buffalo News that team kept an eye on Jonathan throughout the season and scooped up the Syracuse University alum again after he was released by the Bears.
“We liked Kingsley a lot,” Beane said. “We thought he did a really good job at camp. We had some tough cuts at the 53 and he was one of the guys that got claimed. We talked about it, you hate losing (him) and you never know. You always tell them ‘listen, you did a great job for us, this league’s unpredictable, you never know. Maybe this year, maybe next year, there’ll be an opportunity to get you back’ and similar to AJ Klein, we saw he was out there. Once he went unclaimed, we connected with his agent and brought him here for a practice squad spot. Excited to see him, a great smile on his face. He was wearing his Syracuse Orange shirt today. He was excited to be back.”
The Bills could use another big performance out of Jonathan on Sunday, as their front seven have struggled since losing All-Pro Von Miller on Thanksgiving. As Parrino reported, Buffalo ranked No. 4 in the NFL in pass rush win rate before Miller’s injury, and dropped to No. 27 since his injury.
Ankou already has some playoff experience under his belt. He appeared in last week’s win over the Dolphins, making two tackles in 18 snaps on defense.
Bengals Facing Their Own Injuries
The Bills’ defensive line will be facing an injury-ravaged Bengals line. Left tackle Jonah Williams and right guard Alex Cappa were both ruled out of Sunday’s game earlier in the week, while right tackle La’el Collins has been out since suffering a torn ACL in Week 16.
Bengals coach Zac Taylor said the replacement group has been working on communication, which could be important in what will likely be a raucous Highmark Stadium on Sunday.
“I thought they did a good job,” Taylor said of the new group. “I think they are ready to go and take advantage of their opportunities.”