Scheme or players? Mario has produced pretty well in any defense, so what’s the real problem here?
Following Sunday’s loss to Washington the predominant story-line has been how Mario still feels like the scheme hasn’t changed. He publicly voiced his displeasure for the issues that have occurred. This week it was the issues of matching of personnel/substitutions. There is some truth to that, the coaches have struggled in some of those areas. But coming from Mario, that really strikes a nerve. Again, I don’t totally disagree because there is some truth to that. Maybe the coordinators are out-thinking themselves, some of their play-calls and match-ups have not worked. Some of the game-plans have been bad, bad because they didn’t work. To be fair we don’t totally know the tendencies of the opposing teams.
I cant say that dropping eight into coverage on 3rd and 16 is the wrong call, because I don’t make those judgements. I think it is unfair to make that judgement because you don’t have the information that the coaches do. But what I want to examine is the play on the field.
It is my opinion that coaching can only take you so far. Play-calls can take players totally out of position, but they can also put players into positions to make a play. Regardless, player are the ones to execute it.
When it comes to the scheme and what the Bills play this year, it has varied. It was a 4-3 under, sometimes a 3-4 sometimes a 4-6. It has been quite fluid especially once injuries started to creep up. Most people think that Mario has played OLB the whole year and that is completely false. The Bills only dabbled in the 3-4 after the KC game because of injuries. So what I want to examine is the lack of production versus the pass. EVERYONE wants to discuss how we only have 20 sacks this year after a record setting year. The system has been a major disappointment. They want to blame the scheme and Rex. As of late the argument has been who should be out the door? Two camps have formed, fire Rex or cut Mario. If it were only that simple….
I have called out the coaches on various occasions this year for bad calls and I have called out players for bad execution just the same. But when it comes to executing, Mario has not held up his end of the bargain.
I went back and looked at his 2011 season when the Texans changed defenses from a 4-3 to a hybrid 3-4 defense. Wade Phillips came in as the new defensive coordinator and many Texans fans were worried how their 1st overall pick Mario Williams would transition to OLB. Let me state for the record, I don’t believe that the Bills are a true 3-4 or 4-3 defense. Honestly that really doesn’t matter either because teams are in nickel personnel more than anything and Mario is usually lined up as the defensive end. But to prove a point I want to show people that they are being tricked into thinking that the Bills are a 3-4 team and that Rex constantly puts Mario in coverage. I want to prove that the scheme has still put Mario in a position to succeed, he just hasn’t done so. So lets look at some stats and some film…First the stats…
In 2011 while in Houston, Mario appeared in 5 games as a player in the 3-4 defense led by Phillips. At the time of his injury, Williams led the Texans in sacks with 4. He tore his pectoral muscle in the 5th game while sacking QB Jason Campbell. At the time of his injury, here were his snap numbers: He had appeared in 225 snaps, 82 of those in the run game, 126 pass rushes and 17 snaps in pass coverage per Pro Football Focus (PFF). Keep in mind Mario played 8 snaps in that 5th game. But Mario had 5 sacks, 2 QB hits, 17 QB hurries, 4 solo tackles and 6 stops to end the year. So he was on pace to have a pretty good season as an OLB in a 3-4 scheme. How much of that success was motivated by it being a contract year? That is debatable, but that is not measureable. So I can’t really discuss that. Here is some commentary from Ryan Van Bibler of SB nation at the time of his injury:
So from looking at the numbers I think you could say Mario was going to have at least a double digit sack season in the 3-4 and it seemed like the media who covered the team thought so too. But some may say, that’s too small of a sample. You may be right, well then let’s look at his 2013 season under Mike Pettine, a Rex Ryan disciple.
Mario was used by Mike Pettine in 2013 in a similar manner/scheme and Mario flourished. Many fans have even wanted Pettine back in 2016 to run this defense and put it “back on track”. If Pettine is fired I wouldn’t mind if he were to run the defense and let Rex manage the team. Regardless, here were Mario’s numbers from 2013.
Well lets look at Mario’s production from 2013-present. He has been super productive. So when you look at 2015, it is easy to blame Rex for the drop in numbers. He partly is to blame for the dip, but from what I can see, Mario has rushed the passer just as often as he has in prior years. He has missed a few games this year, he played in 9 snaps of the Jets game only 42 snaps of the Pats game and missed the entire Chiefs game. So, yes his stats could be a lot better and might be by the time the season ends…But here are the numbers so far.
Analytics courtesy of PFF
As you can see the perception that Rex Ryan is dropping Mario into coverage all the time is not true at all. He has dropped in coverage as much as any other year. So where do those numbers stack up this season to other similar players in the league?
The following chart maps out the snap counts and main statistics from a few of the top sack leaders. Von Miller and Mack are considered OLBs but they do line up at DE and rush the passer in most passing situations. Chandler Jones, Carlos Dunlap and Everson Griffen are all listed as defensive ends and they too drop into coverage but also produce sacks , QB hits and QB hurries. All three of those defensive ends are similar in stature to Mario, just do not cost the same..
Courtesy of PFF
So is Rex to blame for the lack of production? How much of that are Mario’s injuries? How much of that is Mario’s age? All of those probably factor in, I am not going to deny that. But as a player that is the second highest paid defensive end in the league. How can you consistently blame the scheme? He has yet to take responsibility for his lack of production. Since the week eight bye, Mario has 1 sack (5 total), 1 QB hit (6 total), 5 QB hurries (23 total), 3 solo tackles (11 total), 3 stops (12 total). No QB hurries in the last two games.
Needless to say, Mario has been utilized in the same manner that he was in 2011 and 2013, as a hybrid DE/OLB in base defense and a pass rusher in nickel and dime scenarios. So don’t tell me that he isn’t being used correctly. Lets take a look at some sacks and run stops from 2011- present. I could have easily chosen the plays where he didn’t make a difference over the years and compared them to this year. But because there are more unsuccessful plays than successful ones individually, I will use the plays where he did make a difference in the run game or by getting a sack…Tell me if you see a difference.
2011- Mario on this play has JJ Watt to his right as they rush four on an obvious pass down. Look at his jump, speed and power. That’s why we paid $96 Million for him…
2013- Mario versus the RT one on one. Mario gets a good jump, attacks upfield, then dips the shoulder while turning the corner to get the sack with Dareus.
2014- Look at him set up the rush. Fakes the inside rush then puts a wicked swim move on the inferior RT.
2015- This is the second game of the 2015. Bills show four rushers, Dareus drops. Mario just doesn’t have the jump that he had in prior years. Mario is one on one versus the RT. Pretty good use of the hands, just no speed coming around the corner.
2011- Texans rush four. Mario dips, rips and fights to get the sack against Big Ben.
2011- Look at this great play versus the run. Texans are in their base 3-4 defense with Mario at OLB. He gets off the ball, squeezes the hole, sees the guard coming to block him so he rips through it, lowers his center of gravity and makes the tackle. He can play in a 3-4!
2015- The Eagles run a split zone concept where the TE comes across the formation to kick out Mario. Mario recognizes it because the near tackle run blocks, but he doesn’t squeeze the hole and attack the block. He does make the tackle after a four yard gain.
2013- Look at the hustle and tenacity that he shows here.. One on one with the RT and he tries an inside rush bull move, the tackle locks him up so Mario rips through and rushes outside. Great set of moves to get himself a sack.
2014- Bills rush four vs. the Packers last year. Mario one on one with RT and he gets the edge and strips Rodgers. Speed and a nice lean on the tackle to get the edge.
2014- Bills rush four in this week 11 match-up against the Fins. Mario attacks with speed up the field, he notices he has the RT kick sliding and off balance so he converts speed to power and bull rushes the tackle right into the QB.
2015- I like the get up of Hughes and Bryant, but Mario just doesn’t look like he wants to get to the QB. The pressure from the others led to this gimme sack. Mario is one on one with the RT but he can’t beat him. It doesn’t look like Mario has the speed that he once had. Nor the power for the bull rush. Look at his pursuit…
2014- Bills rush four and Mario recognizes the screen being set up so he breaks off and gets the RB for no gain. Great recognition and closing speed.
2015- Bills bring a blitz and the Redskins run a shovel pass off of Mario. Mario is essentially the “read man”. Mario loses contain and no one else can make the tackle.
So what has caused the drastic dip in Mario’s numbers?
The loss of Kyle William has hurt the statistics of all of the players on the defense. Kyle only played in the first six games this year. His injury has definitely caused Mario’s numbers to dip. Look at Mario’s statistics when Kyle was playing: 2 sacks (4 total), 4 QB hits (6 total), 13 QB hurries (23 Total), 8 solo tackles (11 total), 8 stops (12 total). The veteran defensive tackle was a massive loss on the field and even more so off the field. Mario has also dealt with a foot injury this year as well so that can also be a reason why his stats have dipped.
I personally think that Mario has lost a step. Obviously that could be attributed to injury but I am just commenting on what I see. He doesn’t seem to have the same jump off the line of scrimmage. He isn’t the threat to beat tackles one on one with speed up the field. So that has stunted some of the other moves that he used to use to beat lineman in the past.
After watching some of the film on Mario from prior years the technique that I think he has not utilized as much are his hands. He isn’t using his hands to control and swat the hands of offensive lineman. This year it seems like he always utilizes the same swim move to the outside that eventually gets him nowhere near the QB. As he performs the swim move he isn’t gaining any ground. It has been totally ineffective.
In my opinion the lack of production stems from his lack of effort. Mario has supposedly struggled for some reason in this scheme. I showed that he has played in this scheme before and played pretty well. So why is the scheme an excuse for his lack of production? Mario is primarily to blame for the lack of statistics this year. The lack of effort, heart and tenacity have been very evident this year and it all culminated this past Sunday.
Mario will probably be let go this offseason. Due to his lack of effort, injuries, age, speed, overall deterioration of skills and most importantly cost. I was one of Mario’s biggest supporters over the years. I just can’t support someone who continues to call out his coaches in the media. He may be right on most of the issues he has voiced, but that doesn’t make it right. For a team that is searching for leaders from within the locker room you can’t have a guy who is respected, come out and blatantly disrespect the organization. Especially, when that guy has failed to put forth the effort needed to excel like he has in the past. The coaches and the scheme aren’t perfect, nor are the players. But the they must work together to be successful. Some players like Hughes, Lawson, Rambo, and Bryant have bought in and are making a difference. It is not always pretty but you can see the effort and willingness to do their job. I just wish Mario would’ve bought in, because he could’ve been successful in this scheme. Instead, he will be dumped this summer and the Bills will bring in several players to fill his role and many others.