It took a little longer than expected, but the Buffalo Bills may finally have the best defensive line in football.
Many thought that would come last year in the wake of the Mario Williams signing. Williams had spent the better part of a decade as one of the game’s premier pass rushers for the Houston Texans. When his price tag became too hefty in the eyes of the Texans, it was time to move on.
His signing in Buffalo had a huge impact for a few reasons. The obvious is that he’s a great player that can have a huge impact on a defense. His presence alone can make others around him better. The other was that his signing signaled a change for the Bills. Traditionally, the Bills couldn’t lure in that big free agent. Playing in Buffalo wasn’t something guys sought out, and the Bills routinely hit their ceiling in free agency with mid-level guys at best.
Signing someone like Williams – an elite defensive player still theoretically in the prime of his career – showed that the Bills are willing to spend the money to bring in the talent to win.
Coupled with the signing of Mark Anderson, coming off a double-digit sack effort himself, it seemed like the Bills’ defensive line would instantly be one of the best. They were returning standout second-year tackle Marcell Dareus and Pro Bowler Kyle Williams to join the newcomers.
To say that things didn’t exactly go as planned is probably an understatement. The defense as a whole finished 26th in points allowed and 22nd in total defense. Both Williams battled injury, with Mario tallying 10.5 sacks but not feeling like the disruptive playmaker the Bills thought they were getting. Anderson was lost to injury and subsequently cut.
Part of the issue was because of the high expectations. Many believed that the Bills were ready to make their first run at the playoffs in a dozen years, and that Williams would help make the defense one to be reckoned with. Instead, the team collapsed under the weight of the expectations as injuries interfered, and the season was gone.
This year, three of the four are back and productive as ever. Williams has 11 sacks and is among the NFL leaders in that category. Williams has seven sacks of his own and looks like the player during his Pro Bowl season. Dareus has been a force as well, taking on double-teams routinely and even managing five sacks of his own.
Throw in new faces like Manny Lawson and Jerry Hughes (eight sacks between them) and the Bills suddenly have a fast, ferocious defense with one of the best pass rush units in the game.
For the Bills, and Mario Williams in particular, this year has been a bit of a coming out party. Yes, the team is 4-7 and that would normally not be a reason for anyone to celebrate. But with the youth on the roster learning and growing, it’s good to see Williams and the defense coming into their own and setting the tone.
Besides, it’s not too late for the Bills to make a run towards the Wild Card. Williams and his band of brothers will be leading the way.