Can Mario Williams run wild on the Dolphins?
Bills defensive end Mario Williams and Dolphins right tackle Jonathan Martin might both like to take a mulligan on their early-season performances.
When the two square off on Thursday, one will turn it around and the other will continue to struggle.
This matchup will not be the only one to impact the prime-time showdown of two mediocre AFC East teams, but the Bills could seriously use some pressure from Williams, and the Dolphins could definitely use the push up the right side of the line.
Which team will get what they want? Let's have a look.
Some have suggested that the Dolphins might look to move on from left tackle Jake Long this year, but considering the struggles of Jonathan Martin, that may not be a good idea.
In Martin's defense, this is his first year at right tackle, having protected Andrew Luck's blind side as the left tackle at Stanford, and head coach Joe Philbin is pleased with his progress so far (per The Miami Herald):
He's done a nice job. From where he was in the preseason to what he's done [recently], I like the development I see. He's a very aware player, and I think he has a chance to be a good one.
If history is any indication, Martin will most likely be in the league for years to come despite the tough start to his career.
At this stage, though, Martin is one of the worst starting offensive linemen on the Dolphins roster and in the league.
It looked like Williams might be the biggest free agent bust in recent memory, even if the $96 million man hasn't yet lived up to his contract.
We wondered long and hard whether there was any validity to Williams' wrist injury as a true inhibitor of his performance. In the two weeks following the bye, Williams has made it a point to prove it so.
Here's the following from Football Outsiders' Vince Verhei (via ESPN):
At Football Outsiders, we credit defensive players with a defeat any time they cause a turnover, a loss of yardage or a stop on third or fourth down. In each of his past five seasons in Houston, Williams averaged anywhere from 1.2 to 1.5 defeats per game. Through seven contests in a Buffalo uniform, though, he had only five defeats.
...Whatever happened to Williams [during his surgery], it seems to have worked—Williams had three defeats (one sack and two stuffs on run plays) in Sunday's loss to Houston.
Williams was credited with three stops against New England, as well, so it appears he's on the upswing after his wrist surgery.
Martin has given up 24 pressures, according to ProFootballFocus.com, which is the fourth-most among right tackles and the eighth-most overall. By their metrics, he grades out as one of the 14 worst pass-blockers in the league.
While the three sacks he's allowed seem to indicate he's doing enough, that may be more indicative of Tannehill's ability to throw under pressure LINK than of Martin's ability to provide him enough protection to at least avoid being sacked.
In fact, Martin's been at his worst lately, allowing two sacks and seven pressures in the past two games.
Both times, Martin was beat on a speed rush. Williams is a master of the bull rush, but he has plenty of speed moves in his arsenal.
So clearly, Williams has an opportunity to dominate a lesser opponent, but can he take advantage? He ranks 28th in pass rushing productivity, a similar metric to pass-blocking efficiency in that it measures the number of sacks, hits and pressures applied by a defensive end.
Most of Williams' damage has been done against lesser opponents. Take his big game against the Arizona Cardinals, for example, where the high-priced defensive end logged two of his 4.5 sacks on the season.
He notched another 1.5 sacks against the Cleveland Browns and rookie right tackle Mitchell Schwartz.
His play has been up-and-down all season as a pass-rusher, but seems to be trending upward headed into the Thursday night showdown.
As bad as Martin has been in pass protection, ProFootballFocus.com says he's been worse as a run-blocker. In fact, he grades out as the third-worst run-blocking offensive tackle in the league.
Joe Philbin has also recently expressed a lack of trust in their ability to convert 3rd-and-short situations by running the ball:
Usually the things that affect runs are quick penetration, or indecisiveness running the ball, or poor course or poor read. You throw on our tape on third-and-1, you'll see a little bit of all of that.
We looked a bit more closely at those short-yardage struggles in a recent post, and the Dolphins currently rank 30th in adjusted line yards off the right side, according to Football Outsiders, and 22nd in ALY off runs to the right end.
It makes sense, then, that the Dolphins run to the right side on 19 percent of their rushing plays while running to the left 29 percent of the time.
Williams' production in the running game doesn't show up on the stat sheet because he doesn't have a lot of tackles, but even when the Titans ran the ball down Buffalo's throat in Week 7, Williams wasn't the one getting beat.
In fact, he was often sealing the edge quite well, as he did on Johnson's 83-yard touchdown run. Had the linebackers sealed off the cutback lane, this run might have been stopped for no gain. Instead, Johnson scampered 83 yards untouched.
Who Holds the Edge?
While Jonathan Martin is taking a step backward, Mario Williams has looked a bit better over the past few weeks and will need to keep that trend upward if he's to impact the game on Thursday night.
It will be interesting to see if the Dolphins show cognizance of the improved play from Williams, whether it be with tight ends chipping him in his rushes or with double teams in the running game.
Either way, unless Martin's play improves over what we've seen lately, it looks like Williams will make his presence felt.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained via team press releases.