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.