The Buffalo Bills have lofty ambitions entering this NFL season after an off-season full of forward steps in the eyes of their fan base. The prospect of fighting for the AFC East division title and making a deep run in the playoffs is something that the most optimistic of Bills fans are expecting while the more realistic ones will likely only be satisfied if they can compete with the New England Patriots for the division crown.
Much of this optimism has been created by the team's signings of Mario Williams and drafting of Stephon Gilmore, but a few older faces will be vital for the Bills' success next year also.
None more than defensive tackle Kyle Williams.
Williams is a six-year veteran defensive tackle who only played in five games last year before being put on IR because of a foot injury. During the five years before then however, Williams was arguably the best penetrating nose tackle in the NFL.
Playing a position that rarely ever gets the recognition it deserves, nose tackle in a 3-4 defense, Williams notched up 9.5 sacks and 143 tackles in 30 games the previous two seasons. Stats don't truly reflect Williams' play on the field however; the level of disruption he causes to opposing quarterbacks is phenomenal.
That disruption should crank up to previously uninhabited levels as the Bills transition to a 4-3 defensive scheme.
Adding Mario Williams and Mark Anderson has given the Bills a pair of pass rushing defensive ends, but it will be their defensive tackles who they look to for taking over games. Last year's third overall draft pick Marcell Dareus will pair with Williams looking to dominate both against the run and the pass.
While Mario Williams and Anderson will be able to disrupt quarterbacks, neither player is dominant against the run. Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus however will be able to shut down the running game on their way to the quarterback.
Dareus didn't receive the same level of recognition that Von Miller received in Denver when both players were rookies last year, but that does not mean that his level of play didn't deserve as much. A combination of circumstances on the field and where he played prevented the average NFL fan from noticing Dareus.
The Bills drafted Dareus to reignite a front seven that had been struggling for talent. Last year he was brought in to aid Kyle Williams' attempts to dominate upfront. Outside of Williams and Dareus, the Bills have a below average group of players upfront. Chris Kelsay is solid, but not exceptional while Nick Barnett and Kirk Morrison are both past their prime and Kelvin Sheppard had a solid, but not overly impactful rookie season.
Once Williams was lost, Dareus not only lost the best teammate he had upfront; he was also forced to cover two positions. Dareus was effective both as a defensive end and nose tackle after Williams went out, but his efforts were mostly redundant.
This year however, Dareus and Williams should be excellent complements to each other inside as a defensive tackle pairing. While both players are very effective in both aspects of the game, Dareus is a slightly better run-stuffer than Williams, so that will be his primary role. In addition, that will free Williams to rush up field with greater vigor and possibly double his sacks from two seasons ago.
While double teaming Mario Williams can contain him, Kyle Williams is well used to facing double teams and can still make plays through them. Even if his sole purpose is to draw extra blockers, then Mario Williams will be set free one-on-one. The Bills will need dominant displays all season from their defensive line in order to compensate for their lack of linebacker talent.
The Bills' defense is structured, with its personnel, to rely on its defensive line to keep blockers off its linebackers while also forcing the pressure its secondary needs to create turnovers. While Mario Williams can help the secondary, he doesn't help the linebackers as much as Kyle Williams does.
Covering for the Bills' linebackers is more important than helping the secondary because the Bills already have a very instinctive group on the back-end just waiting to make plays. Adding Stephon Gilmore will prove to be an excellent move because of the overall passing attitude the NFL has today and his ability to play physical coverage.
The Bills' deep secondary doesn't need as much help as the team's linebackers do. Fortunately for them, Kyle Williams doesn't discriminate when it comes to helping his teammates.
Fans will be desperate for both Williams to fully recover from their season ending injuries from last season. While they may be looking forward more to Mario though, Kyle is the more important piece. Mario, Marcel and Mark just makes his job easier and more relevant.