Buffalo Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso is rampaging his way toward a remarkable conclusion to his rookie NFL season.
Alonso crossed the 100-tackle mark in Sunday’s win over the New York Jets and ranks second in the league in tackles with 112. Only Cincinnati’s Vontaze Burfict has more, at 118, with six weekends to go in the regular season.
Alonso has yet to miss a play for the Buffalo defense. He has been on the field for all 787 snaps.
He still leads all NFL rookies at any position in interceptions with four.
“I’ll tell you what, his effort is unbelievable,” said Bills coach Doug Marrone. “All of a sudden he gets cut-blocked, he gets up and makes a play. … Really the instincts are getting better and better.”
“He’s the buzz around town,” said Bills running back Fred Jackson. “Anytime you hear the ‘Legend of Kiko,’ that speaks for itself. He’s a guy out there making plays any time he gets an opportunity. I said it in Week Three. If he keeps playing the way he’s playing, he’ll be hands-down the rookie of the year.”
“The Legend of Kiko Alonso,” as many Bills fanatics know, is the cult following he has inspired. It sparked a social media video that purports: Alonso went tubing over Niagara Falls; “he doesn’t do pushups, he does earth downs;” and “sharks celebrate ‘Kiko Week.’”
Alonso is on pace for 163 tackles for the season. Carolina’s Luke Kuechly led the NFL as a rookie last season with 164 tackles. The highest a Bills defender has finished in tackles in the past decade is third. Paul Posluszny was third with 151 in 2010. London Fletcher was third three times for Buffalo, with his highest total being 157 in 2005.
It should be noted tackles are not an official statistic in the NFL. They’re based on the results of play-by-play sheets produced on game day, not by a standardized video review.
Alonso had 13 tackles in the Jets game, and eight of them came within 3 yards of the line of scrimmage. He credits the Bills’ defensive linemen with allowing him to make so many stops.
“I give all the credit to those guys up front – Marcell, Kyle, Mario, Jerry, Alan Branch; I’m trying to name them all,” he said. “All of those guys really clog stuff up so I can run around free and make tackles.”
Teammates marvel at the decisive way he attacks ball-carriers.
“There’s no ‘I don’t know if I should or not,’ ” said linebacker Manny Lawson. “I think a lot of what Kiko does is instincts and awareness.”
That characteristic is especially evident in the way Alonso has covered running backs out of the backfield of late.
On a third-quarter play against the Jets, Alonso wasn’t fooled by a fake screen left and blanketed back Bilal Powell to the right. Jet QB Geno Smith was forced to hold onto the ball and was sacked by Lawson.
Three weeks ago against Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles, one of the most dangerous backs in the league, Alonso read a screen play, defeated a block by center Rodney Hudson and took down Charles for a 4-yard loss.
“We’re very confident in his ability to cover, whether it’s in underneath zones against an elite back or even a back like that, where we can pick and choose times to lock him on man to man like he was on the screen play,” said defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. “He made a heckuva play.”
Teammates say Alonso is getting better at communicating and reading offenses.
“By him watching the film more and taking his coaching, as well, he’s aligning in better positions, and it’s making him more effective,” said linebacker Arthur Moats. “At the beginning of the year, he’d be cheating over sometimes too far.”
“Sometimes it was when we were in our smaller packages,” Moats said, referring to five- or six-defensive back formations. “It’s just little alignment things.”
“Every once in a while, he’ll get himself in trouble almost recognizing it too fast,” Pettine said. “Sometimes he needs to understand the structure of the defense. The way it’s set up, any running play that goes in a certain direction more than likely is going to have to come back to him. So he’s had some overruns this year. And it’s all stuff that’s going to come in time. He’s obviously on-the-job training, thrown in there from Day One. He’s a guy that rarely makes an identical mistake twice.”
The Bills released cornerback Justin Rogers from the 53-man roster. Rogers, a seventh-round pick in 2011, had been inactive the last six games. He started the first four games in place of Stephon Gilmore, who was injured at the time. But Rogers was relegated to the bench early in the fifth game. Rogers was the Bills’ slot cornerback much of last season.
Meanwhile, the team signed defensive back Mario Butler to the practice squad and released defensive back Johnny Adams. Butler, 6-foot-1 and 187 pounds, entered the NFL as an undrafted rookie out of Georgia Tech in 2011. He spent portions of the 2011 and 2012 seasons on the practice squads of Dallas and Denver.