Pass Rusher Profile: Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes
The latter years of Rex Ryan’s tenure with the Jets was marred by an inadequate edge rush. That shortcoming, paired with some subpar play in the defensive backfield, led the Jets down an uneasy path — a team that could be had with the passing game, only limited on occasion by Ryan’s ability to scheme to cover those deficiencies.
In Buffalo, however, Ryan will be met with no shortage of quality up front in the pass rushing department with his starting front four plenty capable of bringing the heat and getting the pressure without the need to bring extra players that might limit his options on the back end.
Mario Williams & Jerry Hughes
In fairness to the Jets they had plenty of quality on the interior defensive line but on the edge they were lacking and Ryan inherits a massive upgrade in the shape of Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes who are among the league’s premier edge rushing partnerships entering the 2015 NFL season.
Last season the two combined to record 121 total pressures including a combined 28 sacks. By comparison, the Jets’ top three edge rushers (Calvin Pace, Quinton Coples, Jason Babin) fell short of the Williams and Hughes combination. As a pair, Hughes and Williams combined for at least five pressures in all but three games last season and will provide the foundation of a consistent pass rush that Ryan can supplement, rather than prop up, with his blitzes.
Last season under the play calling of Jim Schwartz the Bills relied heavily upon their base pass rush to get the job done in terms of bringing heat on the quarterback and, as you can see above, they did just that. Both Williams and Hughes were very productive with a base pass rush, both in terms of generating pressure and converting that pressure into hits and sacks. Their production and further conversion (for Williams at least) on their pass rushes when a blitz was sent also gives a tantalizing glimpse of the havoc that the Bills could bring if the blitzes are called and timed well to help Hughes and Williams find favorable matchups.
One way to gain a favorable pass rushing matchup is by capitalizing on the pass protection scheme when the center or the whole protection slides to one side which may present the edge rusher that the center turns away from a more favorable path. The above data provides an interesting glimpse into the mindset of offensive play callers and how a team’s “top” pass rusher may not necessarily draw the protection all the time, at least not from the center and protection turning.
You would expect Williams to draw the protection more often than Hughes, for example, but that was not the case last year and this suggests that opposing play callers were not willing to upset their standard play calls simply to shift their center and protection more to the right (towards Williams) than they generally would leaving the quarterback’s blind side with inferior protection. What Williams did with that was capitalize fully, collecting seven of his 16 sacks on plays where the center turned away from him leaving him with a matchup to exploit.
What Ryan and the Bills will hope to do this season is put his pass rushers in more favorable third-down situations by giving them more 3rd-and-long and 3rd-and-extra long pass rushing opportunities. Williams also got seven sacks on third downs last season (tied for sixth-most in the league) with three of those coming on intermediate distances to go, rather than allowing him to fly in long-yardage situations.
With Hughes doing most of his best work on early downs and Williams taking it to opposing offenses on third downs, the Bills have a truly devastating pass rush duo that complement each other well, picking up pressure in situations where the other isn’t at his best and vice-versa. The 2015 Buffalo Bills pass rush is going to be an exciting one to watch and we haven’t even touched on the work of Kyle Williams and Marcel Dareus in this article.
Follow Ben on Twitter: @PFF_Ben