Bills fans are currently experiencing one of the fiercest debates of their early season and believe it or not, it has nothing to do with either the coaching staff or embattled QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. Instead it has to do with the league’s newest $100 Million Dollar Man in DE Mario Williams.
During the offseason the Bills made what many considered to be the largest coup in franchise history when they were able to bring in Mario Williams. They threw a boat load of cash at him and through only four weeks the production just hasn’t been there (9 tackles, 1.5 sacks) and the second guessing has already begun.
There are theories and rumors abound about what could be plaguing the Bills newest marquee player. They range from injury issues, to poor technical ability. We all have our own ideas and thoughts but to truly understand both Mario Williams as a player and what may be his issue on the field, we wanted to turn to a couple of experts.
Joe Buscaglia of WGR 550 AM in Buffalo, NY has done a fantastic job charting plays for the first four Bills games. I’d encourage you to go look at them for every Bills player but for a moment let’s concentrate on just Mario v. The Pats for a moment;
According to Joe’s charting the Pats dropped back 29 times v. the Bills, Mario Williams generated a total of two QB Hurries and 0 sacks in those 29 drops and was pancacked once. He was double teamed once, and chipped three times which means that on over 85% present of Brady’s drop Williams was one on one v. the OT. This should of a been a matchup he destroyed and instead he came away with nothing.
When you look at how the Pats ran the ball, they seemed to heavily avoid Williams side but actually ran for a better YPC average when they did run at Williams. Williams was never double teamed on running plays and actually saw one on one blocks by a TE on 8 of the Pats 34 rushing attempts.
When you look at how Pro Football Focus sees things its eerily similar. Steve Palazzolo of PFF in he Week 4 review of the Patriots and Bills game said that Williams has only managed to accrue 12 QB disruptions through 136 attempts on the season. They give his pass rush grade a -2.5 for the season.
So something is clearly wrong with Mario Williams right now and Im not sold its completely injury related. Players get hurt and if it were serious enough that his play was suffering he wouldn’t be out there. You don’t risk a $100 Million investment long term by asking him to play through a short term injury. So what is it? Well for that answer I needed some expert help.
I reached out to former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Jets DE Stephen White for his input. Stephen White spent 7 seasons in the NFL playing mostly for the Tampa Bay Bucs. He’s currently a writer for Bleacher Report and a great follow on Twitter all weekend long during football as he gives breakdowns you won’t get anywhere else.
I didn’t want to waste any time so I got right into as I asked him what he was seeing Mario do that was making him less effective in his pass rush;
“First let me say that there is more than one way to play defensive end well. This is just my opinion on what’s going on.
Having said that I think one of the major problems for Mario pass rush wise is he isn’t flipping his hips at the snap of the ball. This creates a situation where he is still square to the line of scrimmage as he goes up field and it’s easier for offensive linemen to widen him. It also makes it harder for him to use his hands effectively as his legs are going one way and his upper torso is going another. If he flips his hips he can take a more direct line to the quarterback and at least be in his general area when the ball is thrown.
The other thing is that he simply isn’t being physical enough right now. Mario has always had a powerful bull rush but again when his hips aren’t flipped towards the quarterback it’s hard to generate the kind of power you need to push an offensive lineman back. When it doesn’t work he ends up stuck in the offensive tackle’s arms and can’t get off the block to make a play.
When he does go finesse he is also reaching too far out to try to knock the offensive lineman’s hands down. The tackle is trying to punch him in his chest and that’s where he should be trying to knock the hands down. By reaching out too far he is hitting the tackle’s elbow while the tackle’s hands are getting to his chest. And once again in that situation he gets tied up and can’t get off the block.”
When it comes to defending the run the issue with Mario appears to be far more about his mentality than his ability;
“As for running plays the unfortunate truth is it’s an effort issue. Mario needs to play like he believes he can make every play on the run, even those that go away from him. Right now he appears to be waiting for someone else to make those plays instead.”
I followed that up by asking about what corrections he could possibly make to fix these issues;
“In my opinion this is all easily fixable, it’s just a matter of if Mario critiques himself on film and sees what he is doing wrong. If he started turning his hips this week and bull rushing more I can just about promise you he would be more productive no matter who he faces. But until he changes some things I don’t see his production going up very much.”
Finally I wanted to know if it was possible that our scheme was partially to blame for Mario’s lack of production thus far;
“Scheme wise I think the Bills are doing ok. They could line him up at different spots of course and they aren’t doing it now but he would likely have the same issues until he fixes his technique. Also if you slide him inside for instance who do you take out? The Bills are pretty good at defensive tackle already in my opinion.”
So there you have it from a former NFL DE there is plenty of things for Mario to work on but the good news is that it’s all workable. Now it’s up to Mario Williams correct the issues that are preventing him from doing the thing that he does best which is being a force on the football field.