Mario Williams joins an already talented defensive line in Buffalo. (CSM/Landov)
Mario Williams caught plenty of people off-guard by making Buffalo his first stop after becoming a free agent Tuesday. He opened even more eyes when he never left.
Williams' addition, plus the team's imminent switch from a 3-4 to 4-3 defense (a more natural fit for Williams) gives the Bills one of the most imposing young lines in the NFL. With 2011 No. 3 overall pick Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams on the interior, and Mario Williams and Chris Kelsay outside, offensive lines will have their hands full.
Let's take a look at why as we Break It Down:
Remember when Peyton Manning was the Colts' quarterback? Well, a large part of his success with Indianapolis came because of his decision-making and ability to fire off passes in a hurry.
As we'll see in the next few photos, that quickness did not do much to negate Williams. The Houston examples below all come from 2010 or earlier, when the Texans were in their 4-3 defense -- Williams picked up five sacks in five games last season after a switch to the 3-4, so he ought to be fine either way in Buffalo.
Williams lined up on the right side on this play, with three Houston defensive linemen stacked on the line:
The Texans brought a linebacker on a blitz, leaving Williams with a one-on-situation on the outside. This is a recipe for disaster just about any time offensive lines try it against Williams in straight-drop situations, and you can see why below.
Using just a speed rush, Williams blows around Indy's left tackle and helps bring Manning down.
Later in the same game, Williams again found himself with a man-on-man scenario with Manning in the shotgun and Houston showing a four-man rush. This time, the Texans opted not to bring extra pressure.
But with the memory of that early Williams blow-by fresh in his mind, Colts left tackle Charlie Johnson cheated outside to try to cut off Williams.
The problem is, Williams is far more than a one-trick pony. As the Colts set up a play-fake inside and Johnson slid to his left, Williams stepped to the inside with a powerful and explosive swim move.
This didn't result in a sack but did force Manning to throw the ball away.
One more quick look at Williams' ability to fire off the ball and create problems. In the picture below, Williams is about to combine with a teammate on a sack of San Diego's Philip Rivers.
You'll notice the blue line, showing where the ball was snapped from, runs across the 33. Rivers has dropped seven yards deep to the 26. Williams has taken his route even farther to the outside, finally turning back upfield at the 24.
By most accounts, this would have to be considered a pretty solid job of blocking for San Diego's right tackle -- he's taken advantage of Williams' attempted speed rush and run him way upfield. What must drive offensive linemen crazy, though, can be seen there. Williams has so much athleticism that it's almost impossible to completely eliminate him from a play. Even as deep in the backfield as he was there, he managed to reverse course, get around his blocker and harass the QB.
What's all this mean for Buffalo? Well, Williams' elite ability to get into the backfield is obvious. But in addition to the 53 career sacks he's recorded, Williams also sets the table for his teammates by drawing massive amounts of attention.
Case in point: The play below against Jacksonville. Williams lined up on the left side of Houston's defensive line and the Texans brought four rushers.
The Texans ran a pretty basic stunt with Williams diving inside and the defensive tackle looping around him to the outside.
But you can see in the boxed frame what Williams can do by changing his approach -- three of Jacksonville's five linemen drive inside to pick him up, freeing up Williams' teammate to swing wide. On top of that, Houston's two other D-linemen wind up in a pair of one-on-one situations.
Jacksonville QB David Garrard wound up seeing pressure from three linemen. None of them was Williams, but his presence laid the groundwork.
That type of impact plays right into Buffalo's hands, especially if it goes to a 4-3 defense as expected.
If we look back at what the Bills did up front in 2011, you'll notice that they have plenty of athletes already. Here, they're in a dime defense with a traditional four-man front (two DTs and two DEs) with Dareus and Dwan Edwards inside and Kelsay to the left.
Kelsay gets upfield and takes away Tim Tebow's backside lane, while Dareus occupies a pair of blockers, allowing Edwards to collapse the pocket from the middle.
Imagine Williams as the fourth lineman here, coming from the right one-on-one. Good luck with that.
Teams are going to have to decide how to deal with all of these pass-rushing forces. Do you double Williams and play one-on-one on the interior? Use a tight end or running back to chip Williams on the outside and take away a receiving option? Oh, and what if Buffalo blitzes?
All of these scenarios are nightmares for offensive coordinators.
Our last play again sees the Bills with four up front, but this is a more traditional 3-4 setup with Dareus at nose tackle, two ends and linebacker Arthur Moats coming off the right edge.
This time, Edwards shot into the middle of the line and carried two offensive linemen with him. Moats blew past the left tackle, forcing Miami's running back to help him.
And that left Dareus with just one overmatched blocker to swing around. He did so, forcing Matt Moore out of the pocket. In Buffalo's revamped 4-3, you're basically substituting Mario Williams for Moats on this play -- and it's hard to imagine that attack being less productive.
The AFC East and any other foe Buffalo hits in 2012 is going to have its hands full -- that's obvious, because the Bills had a solid pass rush to begin with, and Williams is as sensational as they come at that aspect of the game.