Has Mario Williams Found His Groove in Buffalo Bills' New-Look Defense?
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The Buffalo Bills aren't counting on any one particular player to be their dominant pass-rusher. Under new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, their pressure comes as a unit.
That may not stop defensive end Mario Williams from being one of the most important players in their defense.
He set a team record with 4.5 sacks against the Carolina Panthers in Week 2, but it wasn't just the final sack total that impressed—it was how he reached that number. He lined up on both sides of the defense as an end and an outside linebacker.
Self-calculated, half-sack = one pressure
Most of Williams' best work came as a left defensive end. He rushed 25 times from that spot, and got some form of pressure a total of 12 times, with four sacks, comprising a large majority of his production on the day.
It was clear, though, that the Bills have big things in mind for him, and if he can be more effective rushing from other spots in the front seven, he'll be a valuable chess piece for this defense.
"I felt great. Physically I feel great and mentally I'm better than ever," Williams said after the game. "I'm just going out there and playing ball, staying calm. I'm probably one of the calmest persons you'll ever meet. I just go out there and try to make it happen."
For one of the first times since the Bills signed Williams to a six-year, $96 million contract, it seemed like the team got what they paid for. It was only his third game with more than one sack with the Bills.
Sacks can sometimes be an overrated stat—one of Williams' sacks came when Newton stepped out of bounds after being pressured by Williams; another came with Newton tripping over his own offensive linemen as he tried to scramble out of the pocket.
But make no mistake: Williams set up camp in the Panthers' backfield with consistent pressure on Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.
Even when he wasn't getting the sack, he was getting in Newton's face.
The Bills rushed four defenders on this 2nd-and-2 in the first quarter. The Panthers ran a play-action fake to running back DeAngelo Williams. Newton then dropped back and scanned the defense.
The Panthers double-teamed Williams with right tackle Byron Bell and DeAngelo Williams helping out after the play fake. Mario Williams fought through both blocks and ended up in Newton's lap.
It wasn't instant pressure, and Newton had enough time to knit a sweater in the pocket, but with the defensive end in his face, Newton couldn't step into his throw and it was off target, sailing over wide receiver Ted Ginn's head.
In the first quarter alone, Williams notched 1.5 sacks and six combined pressures.
Given that strong start, it's a wonder they put a tight end on him in pass protection on this play in the second quarter.
With Greg Olsen assigned to block Williams, Newton should have known he had to get this pass out quickly. Olsen is regarded more as a receiving tight end than as a great blocker, so it should have come as no surprise when Williams bull-rushed Olsen directly back into the lap of Newton.
It wasn't just the bull-rush that Williams used effectively. He also showed some explosiveness off the edge, dipping his shoulder to get around the offensive tackle for the sack.
This is clinical from Williams. One quick move down and back up allows him to get leverage and win immediately against Bell.
It seemed no matter what the situation, no matter what the technique, Williams found ways to create pressure.
Thus, it should have again come as no surprise when the Panthers decided to finally start double-teaming Williams off the edge.
He was blocked by an offensive tackle, sometimes with an extra back or tight end helping to chip, and other times with an offensive lineman helping out if Williams was giving trouble. On this particular play, Williams saw three total blockers: the tackle, the tight end out of the backfield and then the guard helping out.
Newton was able to complete that pass for a conversion on 3rd-and-10, but if offenses have to continually account for Williams with two blockers, that will only open things up for his teammates to make plays.
That was far from the only time he would draw a double-team against the Panthers.
In fact, he drew two more in the final 30 seconds of the first half as the Panthers were able to punch it in the end zone.
The Panthers had no choice, though. When they singled him up, he was frequently getting into the backfield. It didn't matter who the Panthers had blocking him.
Williams logged two of his sacks against Panthers All-Pro left tackle Jordan Gross.
On this particular play, the Bills sent six men on the rush including safety Da'Norris Searcy on Williams' side.
Searcy lined up outside Williams, but looped inside through the B-gap after the snap.
This caught Panthers running back Mike Tolbert off-guard, allowing Searcy to get into the backfield. When Newton started to creep up in the pocket, Williams shed his block and caught Newton from behind.
So, clearly, Williams did fine work against the Panthers whether he was logging one of his 4.5 sacks or not.
The question is, can he keep it up?
Williams has a history as a streaky player when it comes to sacks, and there's no chance he logs 4.5 sacks every single week.
There will be times, like on Sunday, where Williams is being double-teamed. As long as he's deemed effective enough to draw those double-teams, it doesn't matter if he's logging the sacks. His teammates, and the high-pressure scheme of Pettine, should be able to pick up the slack.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases.
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