10/25/2013 04:12 PM
It probably wouldn't be fair to say that Buffalo Bills defensive end Mario Williams is having a breakout season.
When one is a former No. 1 overall draft pick, a two-time All Pro and an eight year-veteran, those days have come and gone.
But to say Williams is having a career-best start this season? That's not even a question.
Williams has 10 sacks this season, which is tied for second in the NFL and is the most sacks through seven games in Bills franchise history. He's also on track to break Bruce Smith's franchise record of 19 sacks set in 1990.
Williams' personal best of 14 sacks, set in 2007, could also be broken in short order.
Williams earned his second AFC Player of the Week honor last week after sacking and forcing a fumble on Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, a move that set up the winning field goal late in the fourth quarter last week.
The first honor in Week 2, after Williams set a personal and franchise single-game record of 4.5 sacks against the Carolina Panthers.
It's been enough to earn the attention of New Orleans Saints tight end Ben Watson, who said Williams is a "larger than life" presence on the field.
Watson, a former New England Patriots and Cleveland Browns player, has been lined up against Williams often through the years. And he said he'll surely be seeing a lot of him when the Saints host the Bills on Sunday.
"He's going to be one of the guys that we have a tremendous responsibility of blocking, pass blocking and run blocking again, and he's a guy who is a dynamic player," Watson said. "Obviously he has 10 sacks on the season. ... He's a very good player.
"One that we will take account for and also one that like anybody else, if we stick to our fundamentals and do what we have to do, we'll be all right."
And if fellow tight end Jimmy Graham, who has an foot injury, can't play Sunday, that responsibility will likely fall heavily on Watson's shoulders.
"Certain schemes, just like any other week, I'll be blocking the D-end when he's at the defensive end position or when he's playing an outside linebacker, the tight ends will be responsible for him," Watson said.
As the story has been often told, Williams could have potentially been with the Saints, who had the second pick in the 2006 draft. But the Houston Texans snatched him up instead, allowing the Saints to take USC running back Reggie Bush.
Now quarterback Drew Brees, who has been sacked 14 times this season, will have to keep an eye on Williams.
When asked if Williams looked like he was having his best year yet, Brees didn't hesitate to agree.
"He's always been a physical presence, but over time you just develop certain skills and techniques and master certain things, and I definitely think he's gotten better as the years have gone on," Brees said. "He's always had that big physical presence, but he has the tools to go along with it and you see the results."
The challenges of containing a pass rusher like Williams lies in his ability to line up in numerous positions.
"He plays that weakside/outside linebacker position, which can put him right or left based on your formation in the base," said Saints coach Sean Payton. "In the nickel snaps, he's more to our right and to his left. He's had an exceptional season. He's had sacks from inside. He's had sacks from outside. He's someone who is comfortable on either side of the tackle. So you've seen that production."
Williams signed a $100 million ($50 million guaranteed) six-year contract with the Bills in 2012 after leaving the Texans in free agency. He's almost surpassed his sack total of 10.5 in 2012, when he battled injuries.
"Certainly he is a player that you have to account for because he changed the game; last week, we saw in the final snaps," Payton said. "He's really playing well."
Collectively, the Bills have been tops in forcing turnovers. Next to Williams, Kiko Alonso is tied for the NFL lead in interceptions with four.
Buffalo is No. 1 in the league with 12 interceptions and No. 4 with 23 sacks, giving them a more stout defense than their 3-4 record indicates.
"Those usually kind of go hand-in-hand often times, if the clock is quick for the quarterback it benefits the back end," Payton said of the takeaways. "That's certainly one of the challenges this week."
As for Williams, Saints tackle Zach Strief said he's one of the best pass rushers they've had to prepare for this season.
"He's certainly the most productive, and he can absolutely be disruptive and make a lot of plays against you," Strief said. "He's probably the most talented guy that we've seen.
"I think he's a better rusher from their left. He's been more productive there. So you see him move over to the left a little bit more in nickel. ... At the end of the day, he's beat a lot of blockers and he's got 10 sacks in seven weeks."
Added Watson: "This year he's having a really good year so he's always a guy, whenever you play him, he's a guy you have to be ready for and a guy you have to bring your 'A' game with."