If Mario Williams plays the way he has over the past three games, he could live up to that contract yet.
The Buffalo Bills are finally getting an all-star effort from their high-priced defensive end, giving credence to the idea that his wrist injury was a bigger deal than it originally seemed in terms of how it impacted his play.
What has happened as Williams has gotten back on track? How has he improved the most? Can he keep it up? Could a dominant run from him help set in motion a turnaround for the defense as a whole?
Let's dig a little deeper in hopes of finding the answers we're looking for.
Williams's sluggish start as a pass-rusher garner more attention simply because sacks are the glamour stat to end all glamour stats for defenders in the front seven. It may also have something to do with the fact that run defense has never really been his strong suit to begin with.
That being said, it's hard not to notice his struggles against the run or his improvements over the past few weeks.
In his weekly review of the defensive line play, Joe Buscaglia of WGR 550 Sportsradio said of Williams' game against the Titans: "The word to best describe how Williams played against the Titans was also used by the man himself after the game: hesitation."
That word could be used to describe Williams' game all season long.
Even though there were times when he would be single-blocked by a tight end and would still be wiped out of the play, his struggles against the run were never as egregious as his inability to pressure the quarterback. In fact, on the season, he grades out better against the run than as a pass-rusher according to the metrics of ProFootballFocus.com.
It's thanks in large part to a solid five-game stretch where he's graded out positively against the run every week, but on the field, it comes down to plays like the one he made in the first quarter of Buffalo's win over the Dolphins.
Williams sliced tight end Anthony Fasano and tackle Jonathan Martin, then blew past fullback Jorvorskie Lane to bring down running back Reggie Bush for a five-yard loss.
He used a nice rip move to get past Fasano, and his speed carried him past Lane, who was well out of position to block him.
Williams has never been elite as a run defender and was brought in primarily for his abilities as a pass-rusher.
Thus, his struggles in that area this season have been especially frustrating for Bills fans who expected a pass-rushing maven for the $96 million contract.
Part of that struggle can be attributed to his wrist injury, which has inhibited his ability to push defenders backward with the bull rush.
Williams isn't entirely one-dimensional; we've seen him utilize some good speed rush moves throughout his career, and this year as well.
His best move has always been the bull rush, though, and his inability to use it may have played into his struggles. We hadn't seen him use it much, or use it very effectively, while he was hampered by the wrist injury.
Williams admitted as much (via USA Today):
I'm a hands-on player and it's all about power in my game. It's just been a little odd having a little nick or whatever and not being able to use it to the full extent, but you know, you gotta play. When you're out there on Sunday, you gotta play regardless of what's going on.
He put that move on display in Buffalo's Week 11 win over the Dolphins.
With the Dolphins backed up on their own goal line, the Bills rushed four defenders at Tannehill. Williams got a great jump on the snap, and he and Kyle Moore both beat their assignments, teaming up to push both offensive tackles into Tannehill's lap.
NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock delivered his take on the call of the game:
He killed Jonathan Martin, the rookie second round pick. ...Mario Williams is going to take him to school [with a] bull rush, gets right under him, jacks him back into the quarterback and gets the sack. That's all Mario Williams, and this is what Dave Wannstedt wants right here. Dominant front four, Mario earning some of that big money they're paying him.
The Bills rarely blitz, relying on the ability of their front four to create pressure in order to get stops in the passing game. Their inability to do so has directly contributed to their sluggish start defensively.
The Dolphins offense is not the best barometer for a defensive performance, but if the Bills can get continued pressure the way they got on Thursday night, their defense could see a marked improvement against the pass.
Williams is far from the only problem on the Bills defensive line; otherwise, it might be better than the stats indicate.
Right now, though, it's not.
If the Bills get improved play from Williams, that will be a good start in turning this defense around. A little pressure can go a long way to improve any pass defense.
That being said, defensive tackles Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams need to do their share as well. Kyle Williams is having the best year of any Bills defender, in large part because he leads the team in quarterback sacks and hits, and ranks second in pressures behind Mario Williams. He is the league's second-best pass-rushing defensive tackle, according to ProFootballFocus.com.
For Dareus, however, the opposite holds true of all the nice things that were just said about Kyle Williams. They will need to get more out of him both against the run and the pass; he has just 12 pressures, one hit and four sacks on the season.
The struggles of the defensive line were never all about Williams, and its return to form won't be, either. His improved performance, however, is a step in the right direction.
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.
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