Finally, Just Football for Super Mario
There's been too much on Mario Williams' mind over the last few years, both on and off the field. Now experiencing harmony in life and with the Bills, he's able to focus on two things: playing angry and taking down the QB
There’s always been a “yes, but” associated with Mario Williams’ eight-year NFL career. Let me take you back to the pre-draft process in 2006, when Houston owner Bob McNair and GM Charlie Casserly were adamant about favoring the pass rusher from North Carolina State, Williams, over the offensive weapons, quarterback Vince Young or running back Reggie Bush, with the first pick in the draft. “We’re going to be facing Peyton Manning twice a year in our division,’’ McNair said, “so I don’t think this is a really tough decision for us.”
Williams had some good moments for the Texans—a three-sack mauling of Donovan McNabb against Washington, 3.5 sacks of Jay Cutler against Denver, and a two-sack game against the aforementioned Manning in 2008. But he never developed into the consistent pass-rush threat the Texans thought they’d bought with the first pick in the ’06 draft (six seasons, 53 sacks), and Houston didn’t fight when he got a rich free-agent contract with Buffalo before last season. His first season with the Bills seemed like more of the same—a little bit hurt (he had left wrist surgery in the Bills’ bye week), a little bit effective (10.5 sacks), and distracted. He broke off his engagement, there was a lawsuit over the return of a pricy engagement ring, his ex released some ugly text messages between them … and, well, Williams’ first 12 months in Buffalo were mostly a debacle.
“Now,’’ Williams said this week, “it’s pretty much all football, and I couldn’t be happier.”
If indeed that’s the case, it’s showing. After seven games, he’s tied for second in the league with 10 sacks. His Week 2 tour de force performance against Carolina (4.5 sacks, six quarterback pressures) is one of the best games by a defensive player this season, and his play the last two weeks (2.5 sacks, three knockdowns, nine pressures) is the kind of consistent pressure the Bills need to have while their offense is struggling with inconsistent quarterback play.
Occasionally in his past, Williams could be faulted for not playing relentlessly for four quarters. Not taking plays off, exactly. But not coming with the passion the Texans thought they saw in Williams at North Carolina State. That wasn’t the case in the fourth quarter at Miami in Week 7. With the Dolphins trying to add to a 21-20 lead with seven minutes left, Williams faked Miami tackle Tyson Clabo, then stormed inside to sack Ryan Tannehill before he could work through half of his receiver progression. Miami punted two plays later. Then, with three minutes to go, Williams overpowered Clabo, pushed him into Tannehill, and the ensuing forced fumble was recovered by the Bills’ Kyle Williams. Six plays later, Buffalo’s Dan Carpenter kicked the winning field goal. The Bills stole one, in large part due to Mario Williams being the best player on the field in the last seven minutes on an 87-degree day in south Florida.
In the last three years, Williams has had three different head coaches, three different defensive coordinators, and three different line coaches—all of whom have had different ideas about where he should be positioned and how he should rush the passer. This year’s coordinator, Mike Pettine, has moved Williams around some from his standard left end spot in the Bills’ 4-3 scheme—though both sacks against Miami came from that side. Williams told me this season’s coaching staff and defensive group with Buffalo “is the best environment I’ve been in since I got in the league. I’ve got a [defensive line] coach, Anthony Weaver, who played the game and knows what to expect and can identify with what we’re going through out there. I’ve had a lot of different coaches recently, and it’s unbelievable when you’re on the same page with a coach and a group of players how much difference that makes. I really feel like now, with the scheme we’re running, nothing can get in the way of me succeeding.’’
Interesting point: Weaver, a free-agent defensive lineman, signed with Houston in 2006, which was Williams’ rookie year. They’re close, and Williams brought him up three times in a 12-minute talk this week.
I asked Williams if the criticism he’s taken in his career has bothered him—and whether he thought it was valid.
“I’m playing angry—but not at the critics,’’ he said. “It just helps me to play that way. What people on the outside say really doesn’t bother me. I know you hear that a lot, but with me, the only thing that matters is what my coaches and the guys in the [defensive meeting] room think.’’
This will be good news to Bills fans: Williams is on pace (though many players have been in midseason) to threaten the all-time sack record of 22.5. This will also be good news: He says he doesn’t care.
“I don’t look at that,’’ he said. “I just look at the next game.”
That would be Sunday at New Orleans. On the fast carpet of the Superdome. Mostly against right tackle Zach Strief, who most likely will have Williams on the brain over the next 48 hours.
About Last Night …
Carolina 31, Tampa Bay 13. A momentary respite from the “Fire Schiano and Fire Him Yesterday” stuff dominating the west coast of Florida. A word about the Carolina offense. Could you have envisioned, four games ago, after the Panthers put up a measly six points at Arizona, that they’d win three in a row and score in the 30s every time? In the span of three games, Cam Newton and offensive coordinator Mike Shula have shown they’re mixing the run and pass perfectly. Newton has averaged 27 pass-drops and 10 rushes a game; DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert, the primary backs, have rushed 68 times in those three games. So: 98 runs from the three of them, 81 pass-drops from Newton, and good ball-control drives. Carolina’s a real threat in the NFC wild card race now.