BBD Staff Writer: Joe Marino
The ability to pressure the other team’s quarterback has emerged as a pivotal element in fielding a good football team in the NFL. Of the top six teams in quarterback sacks for the 2012 season, five of them were teams that went to the playoffs.
After ranking tied for 27th in sacks for both the 2010 and 2011 seasons, the Bills set out last offseason to upgrade their pass rush. They did so by investing a combined $117.5 million in prized free agents Mario Williams and Mark Anderson.
The pass rush did improve in 2012, but was still average. Williams had the most sacks in a season he’s had since 2008 and was the first Bill to record double-digit sacks in a season since 2009. Anderson, however, only played in five games last season. As a team, the Bills finished the season with 36 sacks, which tied for 18th in the NFL.
The only notable move the Bills made this offseason to potentially upgrade their pass rush was trading third-year inside linebacker Kelvin Shepherd to the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for fourth-year outside linebacker Jerry Hughes. Hughes has been widely considered a disappointment in the NFL, with just five sacks over his first three NFL seasons, but he had 26 sacks over his last 2 seasons at Texas Christian.
Some may point to the free-agent pickup of Manny Lawson as pass rush help, but Lawson was only used to rush the passer 33 times in 2012 and 45 times in 2011 with the Cincinnati Bengals, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
That said, Williams, Anderson, Hughes and Lawson are all among the key figures that make a group who the Bills will count on to bring more pressure next season as they switch to a new defensive scheme under new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.
Last season, Mario Williams was the first Buffalo Bill to have double-digit sacks (10.5) in a season since Aaron Schobel in 2009. He provided consistent pass-rush, and was a presence coming of the edge.
Williams rushed the passer on 534 snaps last season, resulting in 38 quarterback hurries in addition to his 10.5 sacks, according to PFF. This was as a 4-3 DE. Williams will become more of a hybrid player in Mike Pettine’s defense, a role he was used in at the end of his run with the Houston Texans when they switched to a 3-4 defense.
Williams’ last season with the Texans in 2011 was cut short due to injury, and he only played in five games. In those five games, Mario was excellent. He had five sacks and 17 quarterback hurries on just 126 snaps. At that pace, over 16 games, Williams would have had 16 sacks and 54 quarterback hurries.
Ryan Kerrigan of the Washington Redskins led all 3-4 outside linebacker in 2012 with 51 quarterback hurries, with the next-highest total being 37 for Aldon Smith of the San Francisco 49ers.
A monster year could be in store for Super Mario.
Mark Anderson’s first season as a Bill was cut short due to injury, but the team has high hopes for him being an impact pass rusher in 2013.
In five games last season, Anderson rushed the passer 126 teams resulting in one sack and seven hurries, according to PFF.
That doesn’t tell the story of Anderson’s pass rush potential. He will likely be used in 2013 more similarly to the way the Patriots used him in 2011 as a hybrid type player.
2011 was one of Anderson’s best years in the NFL, and it’s the reason the Bills gave him a $20 million contract. In 2011, Anderson rushed the passer 419 times resulting in 10 sacks and 36 hurries. If he can replicate those numbers, the Bills’ pass-rush will be significantly improved.