If there is one thing that has plagued the Buffalo Bills the last two seasons it has been the team’s inability to put consistent pressure on the quarterback. In 2010, the Bills defense had a total of only 27 sacks combined with 29 sacks last season. Ten of those came in a shut-out win over the Redskins in week eight. The Bills defence only managed 19 sacks in their 15 other games in 2011.
Something had to change this off-season and, much to the delight of beleaguered Bills fans, it did.
General Manager Buddy Nix signed the most sought after defensive free agent in the NFL in Mario Williams and then added ex-Patriot defensive end Mark Anderson. While not as well known as Williams, Anderson had 10 sacks last year with New England and provides much needed depth and experience.
Under new defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt the Bills have reverted to a four-man front. When watching this new look front four in 11-on-11 drills during training camp, it doesn’t take long to realize they have the potential to be a major strength for the team this year.
“This D (defensive) line is special because everyone is hungry. We’ve got veterans on the team; we’ve got people that have already proven that they can make plays in this league,” says Anderson.
“When you have guys that are good players, they push one another and they don’t want to get outdone," says veteran defensive tackle Kyle Williams.
"I think it’s a great thing where I can push Marcell (Dareus), Mario can push Marcell, Marcell can push me and Mark (Anderson) and (Chris) Kelsay and everybody can push one another and that’s how you get a great defense," says Williams.
"It’s a great group of guys. Sometimes you’ve got to slap Marcell, (Dareus) you know his attention is kind of bad," said Mario Williams laughing. "But we definitely are getting after it. It’s just all about having fun and these guys out here are a lot of fun."
Not to suggest that stopping the run won’t be important to the front four, but the ability to put consistent pressure on the quarterback is vitally important if the Bills are going to contend this year. The dilemma facing Bills’ opponents this season is devising a blocking scheme to account for all four men. The way the Bills look at it, offensive lines can’t double team all of them.
“The only thing that you can do as a coach is get a guy one-on-one. And I think we have some guys that can win one-on-ones. Are you going to win all them? No," said Kyle Williams. "But when you get your opportunity you need to win more than most. We also have some guys that when we get going, might need a little extra attention. You can’t double everybody.”
“The last six years I’ve been in the league I’ve been double teamed, tripled teamed, so it’s expected to me. When it’s one-on-one it shocks me more. It’s actually tougher because it’s like ‘oh, it’s a one-on-one’. However we can make it happen, make it happen. I don’t care who, at the end of the day, has this or that as long as we’re putting “W’s” on the board," says Mario Williams. “I don’t care who has his (the quarterback) number as long as we’re getting back there and disrupting things. Somebody is pushing the pocket. I know I will be. So if you get it (the sack), cool, if I get it, fine. We’re definitely going to be back there, that’s our mentality.”
The rebuilding of the Bills defensive line began in 2011 when Nix drafted Dareus out of Alabama. The combination of the young Dareus, the new free agents and holdovers like Kyle Williams give the Bills a good blend of players that share a common goal to be great.
“We know the only way that we’re going to get as good as we can be is by pushing ourselves. If you watch guys around you and those guys are working hard and there putting their work in and you’re not doing it, you’re going to get left behind or you’re going to get called out” says Kyle Williams. “That’s one thing we talked about in our initial meeting. We have to be accountable to one another. If something isn’t right on film or you’re not getting what we’re expecting of you we’ll call you out and keep each other accountable.”
For a player that was the top draft pick in 2006 and a two-time Pro Bowler, Mario Williams comes across as humble and down to earth. Williams has embraced the sense of accountability within the defensive line and the overall attitude of the team.
“This is a hard working team. Just like the city, it’s a blue collar city; the team is exactly the same. Everybody works hard; everybody does the little things it takes to be a great player in this league.
While Kyle Williams is excited about the potential of the front four and the team as a whole, he has experienced enough losing as a member of the Bills to not buy into what some prognosticators and NFL analysts have said about the Bills’ chances to make the playoffs this season.
“I think we’re a couple steps ahead of where we’ve been in the past few years as far as players. We’ve added some good players we have some players that have been here that have some good experience.” says Williams. “As far as culture, or ‘Same Old Bills’, or anything like that; we haven’t done anything yet to change that title. We got a long way to go.”
Success may indeed be a long way off for Williams and the Bills, but they have the makings of a defensive line that gives them a fighting chance.