Prompted by the drafting of J.J. Watts, there’s been some chatter. Chatter that suggests something rather interesting may be a brewing. Chatter that says Mario Williams is about to become a six foot seven, monster of a linebacker.
Now it’s important to remember it’s just that as of right now: chatter. But it’s not like Williams hasn’t played with his hand off the ground before.
Only last year he played 113 of his 793 snaps (including penalty-erased plays) with his hand off the ground. On 13 of those plays he dropped into coverage, 70 he rushed the passer and the remaining were run plays or pre-snap penalties.
Those are the raw numbers but what about the performance? And, primarily, what about his pass rushing?
Well before dropping a dose of analysis on you, how about a few more numbers. In 2010, Mario Williams rushed the quarterback 465 times. He picked up 60 combined sacks, hits and hurries (or as we like to call them quarterback disruptions.) That’s an average of a pressure for every 7.75 times he rushed.
With his hand off the ground and him as free as a bird he picked up seven QB disruptions on 70 rushes; an average of one pressure for every 10 times he rushed the QB from a linebacker like role. A small sample size, but a noticeable difference.
Anyway, now onto digging into some film. Up first, these are the quarterback disruptions he caused while standing up:
Week 1 versus Indianapolis. 2nd and 8 with 2:44 left in the 2nd Quarter
Williams lines up as a RE in a three man line opposite the left tackle, but before the snap stands up and moves outside the tight end. Comes off the edge and beats Charlie Johnson outside to pick up the sack.
Week 1 versus Indianapolis. 3rd and 10 with 2:00 left in the 2nd Quarter
Williams lines up as a RE in a three man line outside the LT’s shoulder, but before the snap stands up and moves outside the tight end. Using his hands to swat Johnson away before hitting the quarterback as he throws the ball. Result of play: fourth down.
Week 3 versus Dallas. 1st and 10 with 5:10 left in the 2nd Quarter
Texans use a 3-4 formation with Williams as ROLB outside LT Doug Free. Comes off the edge and is picked up by LG (Kyle Kosier) but is able to bull rush him, and pressure Romo into throwing early.
Week 3 versus Dallas. 3rd and 3 with 8:24 left in 3rd Quarter
Williams lines up as a LLB in a 3-3-5 formation outside the RT Marc Colombo. Is unblocked as RT picks up blitzing linebacker inside, and Williams hits the quarterback as he throws. Ball almost picked off.
Week 4 at Oakland. 2nd and 5 with 8:02 left in 4th Quarter
Williams lines up as RLB outside LT in 3-3-5 formation. Beats Mario Henderson outside, forcing QB into early throw.
Week 5 versus New York Giants. 3rd and 7 with 5:31 left in 3rd Quarter.
Texans play a sub package ‘Psycho’ defense with only one defensive linemen (Amobi Okoye) having their hand on the ground. Williams lines up outside the left tackle, beats David Diehl outside and pressures Manning into a quick throw.
Week 8 at Indianapolis. 3rd and 10 with 14:45 left in 3rd Quarter
Texans again with ‘Psycho’ defense with only one defensive linemen (Amobi Okoye) with Williams lined up outside TE. Beats Charlie Johnson outside and comes back to pressure Manning just as he is about to throw.
And now, some select plays of him dropping into coverage:
Week 2 at Washington. 2nd and 8 with 8:15 left in 3rd Quarter
Defense in nickel, Williams lines up outside LT with his hand off the ground in RLB spot. Drops into zone and into throwing lane that disrupts pass that is thrown behind receiver.
Week 3 versus Dallas. 1st and 10 with 10:59 left in 2nd Quarter
Texans run 3-4 with Williams lined up as the ROLB outside LT. Holds position before chasing down field when recognizing it as a screen play to the other side.
Week 3 versus Dallas. 2nd and 16 with 9:44 left in 2nd Quarter
Texans in sub package D with Williams (ROLB in 2-4-5 look) lined up outside LT. Williams fakes to rush half heartedly before dropping into coverage. No receivers in area.
Week 5 versus New York Giants. 1st and 10 with 2:51 left in 2nd Quarter
Texans run 3-4 with Williams at LOLB spot outside TE. Williams drops into hole three yards deep (while Texans run overload blitz on right side) and to the left, making an effort (unsuccessfully to deflect a ball).
Just four plays there but the Texans got Williams covering a zone not too far away from the line of scrimmage on each of them. Obviously with Williams all they’re trying to do is create some confusion, and because they did it so rarely (24 times) teams weren’t able to exploit it. Williams wasn’t thrown at once in coverage, but if he’s asked to play more outside linebacker then he will be.
Probably the best example to draw is Tamba Hali. The Chief only dropped into coverage 12.59% of plays despite playing 3-4 outside linebacker (less than defensive end John Abraham who was in coverage for 13.08% of plays.) While Williams will likely be back peddling on more than the 4.91% of plays he managed in 2010, it’s not like Wade Phillips is going to turn him into a James Harrison type ‘backer who can handle playing in coverage over 40% of the time.
Going back to Hali, because the Chiefs didn’t ask a lot from him in coverage he was only thrown at six times all year (including the post season.) So just because Williams is playing with his hand off the ground, doesn’t mean he’s going to become a target for opposing quarterbacks. Plus you also have to remember there’s two games a year against the Colts which mean you can forget about base defense and use Williams with his hand in the ground (like the Chiefs do with Hali and Phillips did with both DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer.)
The bottom line is: Mario Williams’ ethos isn’t going to be changing. When a quarterback drops back and surveys the field looking for an option, Williams is going to be coming for him.
So long as he’s doing that it’s hard to imagine him not being successful.