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The Film Room: The Buffalo Bills' Defensive Line (Kyle, Mario, Marcell, and Jerry)

Matt Weston of Battle Red Blog takes an in-depth look at the four men who patrol the Buffalo Bills' defensive line before Buffalo's game with the Texans on Sunday.

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When people think of Buffalo, the desolate frigid place that sits right below Canada, they think of wings, Bills, Sabres, Goo Goo Dolls, snow, Super Bowl losses, Michael Peca, Ralph Wilson, Stanley Cup heartbreak and the Erie Canal. But instead of thinking about the time you lost your virginity while Slide purred from the radio when you hear the word "Buffalo," you should instead think of the vicious defensive line the Bills have put together, no matter how goatish John Rzeznik's sweet and sultry voice makes you.

Under their new 4-3 look with Jim Schwartz, Buffalo's defensive line is composed of Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, and Jerry Hughes. Each of them participated in a game of Chutes & Ladders that brought them to Buffalo, and each have different sets of strengths and weaknesses.

DE Mario Williams: He amassed 53 sacks in six years with the Texans after being taken with the first overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft. In Houston, he will always be remembered for the reports that came in the night before the draft that he would be taken over Reggie Bush and Vince Young, making the victorious "win" over the 49ers in the Bush Bowl all for naught. After a torn pectoral muscle ended his season early in 2011 and the death of his rookie contract he left for Buffalo after signing a 6 year, $100 million dollar deal. Right now, he's in year three of the deal and has amassed 23.5 sacks with the Bills so far. Mario lacks the burst he had earlier in his career, but he makes up for it with his hands, intelligence, and strength.

DT Kyle Williams: The underdog of the group is a 31 year old, 5th round pick who's spent his entire career with the Bills. As a diamond in the rough, he's started 113 of the 118 of the games he's played. Additionally, last year he posted double-digit sacks for the first time in his career. He makes up for his lack of size by squeezing out every drop of his talent like a rolled up tube of toothpaste. He's extremely quick, has a great get-off, plays with tenacity, and has great hands.

DT Marcell Dareus: The king warthog of the 2010 Alabama championship team was brought to Buffalo after being taken with the third overall pick of the 2011 NFL Draft. Last year, he was named to his first Pro Bowl and the police blotter. Dareus is an immovable force whose size and strength make him the road block in the center of the line of scrimmage.

DE Jerry Hughes: A former first round pick of the Indianapolis Colts, he spent his first three years in the league sitting behind future Hall of Famers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. During the 2013 offseason, the Bills traded Kelvin Sheppard for him. He was then put to use as a situational pass rusher. In his first season with the Bills, he sacked the quarterback ten times despite playing only 604 snaps. Hughes is a speed demon who uses his 4.69 40-yard dash time to run around opposing offensive tackles.

In 2013, these four combined with defensive coordinator Mike Pettine - the current coach of the Cleveland Browns - to create one of the best defenses in the league.

Category 2013 2012
Defensive DVOA -13.8% (4th) 10.6% (27th)
Pass Defense DVOA -22.8% (2nd) 13.1% (22nd)
Rush Defense DVOA -3.1% (19th) 7.9% (31st)
Adjusted Sack Rate 8.7% (3rd) 6% (31st)
Adjusted Line Yards 3.99 (20th) 7.9% (31st)

Via Football Outsiders

Last year, the Bills fielded one of the best pass defenses in the NFL because of their pass rush.  Kyle Williams, Mario Williams, and Jerry Hughes were the only trio in the NFL who had at least ten sacks each last season. This led to the 3rd highest adjusted sack rate of 8.7%, and the second best pass defense in the NFL at -22.8%. Pettine transformed this defense from a dress made out of skin into a defense the buffalo murderer the team was named after would be proud of.

Now under new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, they occupy the four spots on the line of scrimmage rather than lining up all over the place as they did with Pettine. Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes play defensive end while Marcel Dareus, and Kyle Williams play defensive tackle. So far this season, the Bills' defensive line has the following individual numbers:

Name QB Sacks QB Hits QB Hurries Stops Tackles
Kyle Williams 2 4 9 6 5
Mario WIlliams 2 1 4 7 5
Marcel Dareus 1 1 2 6 7
Jerry Hughes 1 0 6 3 5
Total 6 6 21 22 22

Via Pro Football Focus

At the moment, the Bills are 2-1 heading into Houston to play the 2-1 Texans.  Buffalo is the surprise of the NFL thanks to the performance of their defensive line. Kyle, Mario, Marcell, and Jerry's ability to rush the passer and turn offensive lineman into pendulous globs of goop has led to the Bills' defense carrying their 2013 success into 2014.

Kyle Williams: The Motor

When analyzing this unit with the old eyeballs, you have to start with Kyle Williams. He's the motor on the defensive line. The one who creates interior pressure and turns the pretty plays drawn on the whiteboard into a chaotic painting from the Cubism movement. Personally, he's my favorite of this bunch. I wanted to write 10,000 words about only Kyle Williams--he's the greatest.

The first thing that stands out with Kyle Williams is his size. He's an undersized defensive tackle who stands at 6'1" and weighs 303 lbs. on Earth and 716.2 lbs. on Jupiter. His size is his greatest strength and his biggest weakness. By being lower to the ground, he can get underneath offensive linemen's pads, thanks to his leverage. This leads to him bullrushing offensive linemen into the backfield, where he then sheds the block to make a play on the quarterback or running back. His weight allows him to be nimbler and of fleeter foot than the mammoths who play offensive guard in the NFL.

Kyle also has an excellent get-off. He is routinely the first one off the ball and the first to make contact. Yet his size also hampers him. He has trouble taking on double teams and is consistently driven back three to four yards when offensive linemen mold into a 650 pound monster.

Quarter 3, 7:12 Remaining vs. MIA. Result: Damian Williams LT for 3 Yards (Holding on Samson Satele).

This quickness is on display in the third quarter against the Dolphins. The Dolphins' center and left guard have an "Ace" block (double team between the guard and center) to the weak-side linebacker. Most of the time a double team knocks Williams back into the linebacker, but here his quickness is able to derail it.


When the ball is snapped, every player is still in their stance except for the center and Williams. Kyle is a fast twitch player who is able to explode out of his stance at the snap of the ball. This ability to move immediately after the ball allows him to get out of his stance and is the result of his quickness.


When he makes contact with the guard and center, he's already won the battle. Since he came off the ball so quickly, Williams  was able to get deep into the gap. This hampers the guard and center's ability to get hip to hip. Williams is able to create a mouse hole to scurry through. The guard and center are working against each other and aren't able to create any movement.


After the guard peels off to block the linebacker, the center is screwed. As the result of Kyle's get-off, the center was never able to cover him up and spent the entirety of the block shoving his inside shoulder.


All the center can do is shove and hold.


If Kyle Williams was an Animporh, he would definitely turn into a Dolphin.



This double team isn't the norm, however. This play depicts Williams's nasty get-off, his quickness, and his ability to blow up gaps. Most double teams end up looking like this next play.

Quarter 4, 7:41 Remaining vs. SD. Result: Donald Brown RG for 3 Yards. 

San Diego is running an inside zone out of the shotgun. Before the snap, Donald Brown goes into motion to the right of Philip Rivers. Kyle is on the back-side of the play, but he's facing a back-side double team against D.J. Fluker (RT #76), and Johnnie Troutman (RG #63).


The right guard and tackle are trying to open up a cutback lane and split the defense. At the snap, the right guard takes a slide step left and then feels inside before climbing to the second level. The right tackle is taking a slide step right, but he is tasked with the bulk of the double. The guard is just trying to get it moving before he goes to the second level.

Like the previous play, you can see Kyle's get-off. He's going to make contact before Marcell Dareus.  This is in spite the fact that the first round pick is in closer proximity to an offensive lineman and is right next to the football, which in theory allows him to react to the snap quicker.


I know the field goal post is in the way, but you can see how the guard and tackle are hip to hip in this picture. Every time offensive linemen get hip to hip on their double teams against Williams, they blow him off the ball. If Williams is able to win the snap, get deep into the gap, and create a chasm, he can make up for his smaller size. The problem is most NFL offensive linemen have been making this block since they were thirteen years old.



The guard peels off to block the linebacker. Fluker is abusing Williams, whose shoulders are turned inside and away from the play. The back-side double team does a great job splitting the right-side of the defense in half.



We all can't be perfect and super great at every thing we do. Despite Kyle's ability, this is the one facet of his game he gets beat up on. It's not a case of talent or technique. It's just his size being a blessing and a curse. The same stature that allows him to get underneath offensive linemen and get off the ball before everyone else leads to him being a piece of candy taken away from a baby when matched up against double teams.

Quarter 2, 0:42 Remaining vs. SD. Result: Philip Rivers sacked by Manny Lawson for -5 Yards.

I've mentioned how Kyle Williams' size allows him to create leverage against bigger offensive lineman a few times so far. This play exemplifies it.

San Diego is throwing the ball against the Bills' defense in the red-zone. The offensive line is sliding to the left one gap.  The right guard and right tackle are blocking the man in front of them. So if Williams comes into the "B" gap, he will have a one on one battle against the left guard, Chad Rinehart (#78).


Not only does Kyle come off the ball quickly, but he stays low to the ground. Once the ball is snapped, he's like an extra large sleeping bag smashed into a small stuff sack that is then shot out of a canon. The guard snaps out of his stance and takes a quick step to the inside gap. At this point, Williams is already a head length or two lower than the left guard.


Kyle is still lower than the guard.


When he makes contact, he punches the big 7 and 8 that are glued onto Rinehart's chest. When he punches, the guard is lifted up off the ground some and is even higher than he was in the previous play. Williams has hand and leg leverage. Williams has the guard under his control. Now he will pound his feet and drive the guard into the backfield.


Kyle Williams has his head in the guard's chest and is flat out abusing him.


He knows he has the guard beat, so he begins to look for the quarterback. He sees that Rivers is in the "A" gap to the left of him.


He uses his hands to disengage from the guard to get into the "A" gap and make a play on Rivers.


He just barely grazes him. Rivers does what all good quarterbacks do and climbs up into the pocket to try and throw the ball. But he ends up stepping right up into Manny Lawson, who licks the gravy off the plate.

Williams already has two sacks this season, but his team leading nine quarterback hurries may be even more important than the sacks. Interior pressure kills a quarterback's rhythm. The center and guards are trying to create a flat plane in front of the quarterback. The quarterback can't step up in the pocket when pressure comes from the center and disembowels this plane. Instead, the QB has to move laterally, which creates tougher angles to throw from and pushes him into the defensive ends coming off the edge. The Bills' pass rush has been one of the best in the league because of the interior pressure Williams creates.



Quarter 2, 14:17 Remaining vs. MIA. Result: Ryan Tannehill Sacked by Kyle WIlliams for -10 Yards.

The last aspect of Williams's game that needs to be mentioned are his hands that bend prison bars like a Street Shark.

Unlike the previous play, the offensive line is sliding away from Williams, so he has a one on one match-up against the right guard Shelley Smith (#66 ).


When he comes out of his stance, Williams sets up on the outside shoulder of Smith. This makes the guard over-set to the right to react to his move. Williams doesn't punch the numbers. Instead, he jams the guard's outside shoulder to knock him off balance.


Kyle takes a vicious step back inside with his left foot. The guard has all of his momentum moving right, and Williams cuts against his grain and comes inside. He already has the guard beat because his head is on the guard's inside shoulder. All he needs to do is rip underneath, shed the block, and wrap up Ryan Tannehill.


You can see the rip that disengages the block in these next two images.



Before the quarterback even looks to the right, Williams is already close enough to spit a loogie onto Tannehill's aquamarine jersey.


The guard makes a last ditch effort and flails into the legs of Williams.


In the end, it doesn't really matter.


Kyle Williams is the greatest. If the Bills' defensive line was a side scrolling smash em' up, I would play as Kyle every time. His quickness, murderous hands, refined technique, tenacity and leverage make him a perfect interior rusher. He is the catalyst of the Bills' pass rush; he flattens the interior wall like a Mongolian. Only Mario Williams pressures the quarterback more often (Mario Williams had 26.3 pressures in 2013 compared to Kyle Williams' 23.3 via 2014 Football Outsiders Almanac), but when Kyle hurries the quarterback, he puts him in a tougher situation to manage.

In the run game, he's Wade Phillips' wet dream. He's a one gap brute who penetrates into the backfield because of his get-off and quickness. His size hinders him from taking on double teams, but he still wins the occasional battle. The good news is that Marcell Dareus plays on the other side of him, so he ends up getting more one on one match-ups than he should. Kyle Williams is the man who brings this defensive line to life.

Mario Williams: The Superstar

The former number one pick, Mario Williams, is the jewel of this ball. The one hundred million dollar man was paid beaucoup dough to rush the passer. He's known for his pass rushing, but in 2014 most of his plays have come in the run game.

Against the Chargers, Williams abused their 2013 first round pick, D.J. Fluker. In these first two plays, you will see how Mario's lateral quickness, hands, and strength have turned him into one of the best pass rushers and one of the best run stoppers in the game.

Quarter 4, 4:25 Remaining vs. SD. Result: Donald Brown RG for -1 Yards.

On this play, the Chargers are running a lead play to the right. The tight end next to Fluker is going to block the safety in the alley and Fluker is going to have to block Super Mario all by himself.


Instead of making contact right away, the veteran takes a lateral step to the left, sits, squats, and reads the play. I don't know if this is a coaching decision or Mario playing smart, but it's an interesting way to react to the snap of the ball.


Mario then punches Fluker and ends up with his head on his outside shoulder. Fluker has Williams right where he wants him. He has his head on Mario's inside shoulder, has leverage on him, and he has inside hand placement. He's in perfect position to push him out of the hole. The problem is Mario Williams is Mariusz Pudzianowski strong.


He realizes that Fluker is trying to drive him to the right. So he plants his foot in the ground and buckles down to stop the momentum. He then uses his right arm to separate himself with Fluker so he can cut back inside and make a play on the ball. This play is 50% awareness that resulted from playing football for a long time and 50% strength.


Fluker keeps flowing right and has his hands removed from Williams. Mario now has a wide open path to the running back since the fullback is blocking Nigel Bradham (#53).



The running back is suffocated in the backfield.




Mario was drafted with the first overall pick and was paid like a pre-2011 number one pick again because of plays like this. He's strong, intelligent, and has incredible lateral quickness.

Quarter 2, 12:04 Remaining vs. SD. Result: Donald Brown for -1 Yards.

This play showcases Mario's lateral agility.

Here the Chargers are running an inside zone play out of the shotgun. So the center and right guard have an "Ace" block (double team between the center and guard) to Preston Brown (#52). The backside guard and tackle have a "Deuce" block to the "Mike" linebacker. This leaves Mario Williams on the back-side of the play going up against D.J. Fluker mano y mano.


Mario comes off the ball with his eyes in the backfield. Fluker takes a zone step to the right. trying to scoot as fast as he can to cover up Williams because even though Mario is playing as a back-side "5" (outside shade of the tackle), he still has the speed to make a play on the ball carrier.


Because of Fluker's internal dilemma and the need to get to Williams as quickly as possible, he over-steps. He tries too hard to get to the outside shoulder. Mario's a savvy player. He sees the gap between the tackle and guard and quickly shoots into the "B" gap. In this still, you can see the exact moment Mario opts to cut back inside rather than fight the outside shoulder of Fluker.


Mario finds his inner J.J. Watt and gets around the tackle without getting touched. Fluker looks like a drunk in an alley who's feeling the repercussions of drinking a six pack of High Gravities out of his boot.


Once he's around Fluker, Mario quickly flattens down the line of scrimmage so he can take a narrow angle to the running back. If he kept going up the field, he would have run himself out of the play. His angle allows him to be in perfect position to make tackle on Donald Brown.


Fluker still has no idea what happened.


Consequently, the Chargers now face a second and goal from the eight yard line.


Quarter 3, 12:21 Remaining vs. SD.

Now we get to take the previous two displays of strength, intelligence, and lateral quickness and show them off in the pass rush.

Here Mario is lined up as a "jet" or wide nine. There's a tight end sized hole between him and Fluker. The Chargers are moving everyone on the line one gap over except for the left tackle, King Dunlap (#77), who's blocking Jerry Hughes.

Mario runs up field. His get-off in the pass game is just okay at this point of his career. At age 29, he's not going to run around offensive tackles anymore unless it's set up by inside moves or bull rushes. When you compare him to the speed racer on the other side of him, it's no question what his strengths are right now.


Mario is even with Fluker, so he plants and gets ready for contact.


The other ingredient not seen in the previous plays are his hands. When Fluker goes to punch Williams, he takes his right hand to swat Fluker's left hand away.


He then tries to use his right hand to swim over the top, but ends up missing and knocks Fluker in the noggin like a red dodgeball of pain.


Fluker and Williams get locked up again. Mario buckles down and separates himself from Fluker to set up a rip. It's also worth mentioning the difference in leg bend between Fluker and Williams. Fluker is standing straight up and leaning forward, while Williams has his knees scraping across the ground.


For the second time on one play, Williams is able to break away from Fluker, but this time he has a free pass to the quarterback...


Until the right guard, Johnnie Troutman (#63), who has the "B" gap, sees Mario and blocks off his rush.



At 29 years old, Mario Williams is far from an old man who's a shell of what he once was. Yet at his age his get-off and speed are showing signs of decline. So now he relies on his strength, hands, and intelligence to make players like D.J. Fluker look like a fool. This is good news for everyone whose heart is invested in the Bills. It means he can continue to play and produce throughout his FAT contract; he has already changed his game to match the skills he has. The days are gone of him competing for the sack title. Instead, he's a player who can pick up ten to twelve every year and dominate the line of scrimmage in the run game. Additionally, his strengths make him a perfect compliment to the quick and mobile Kyle Williams, who usually lines up next to him.

Marcell Dareus: The Immovable Force

Marcell Dareus is a rock. No wait, scratch that, Marcell Dareus is one of the immovable boulders in Pokemon that can't be moved until you can teach your Rhydon strength. He's one of those big and nasty players that have to be double teamed unless you want bad things to happen to your offense. But even when you double team him, there's no movement, only stalemates.

Quarter 1, 2:09 Remaining vs. SD. Result: Donald Brown for 4 Yards.

The Bills are lined up in their dime formation that has the defensive tackles lined up as "3" techniques and the defensive ends as "5" techniques. Preston Brown (#52) and safety Duke Williams (#27) accompany the defensive line in the box.

The Chargers are running an inside zone play from the shotgun. Usually we would see an "Ace" block on Marcell, but the center can't get a hand on Dareus and block the linebacker because of his alignment. Since he's playing as a "3" technique, the center can't provide help.


At the snap, the linemen take their steps and hesitate for a second to get a read on where the defenders are going. Since Buffalo is in a dime package, there's a chance for stunts and slants. Marcell lurches out of his stance and is looking at the guard's outside shoulder.


The guard moves an extra step over to try and smother his head into Marcell's numbers, but Dareus steps back inside.


He then thrashes the guard away from him.


The running back begins to cut back through the "B" gap between Dareus and Mario.


Dareus sees this and moves back towards the left. He gives the guard another truculent toss inside like he's a bag of empty cans going into the dumpster, rather than the recycling bin where they're supposed to go.


Finally, Dareus dives at the running back, but comes up empty while giving us his best Derek Jeter #RE2PECT impression.


Blocking Dareus one on one is a problem because of his size and lateral movement. When blocking a defensive lineman with zero help, the offensive lineman is trying to put his head into the defender's sternum and drive him. Dareus is so big that it's impossible to cover him up. At 6'3" 330 lbs., there is just too much of him. Blocking him is like putting a XXXXL sweater on a gymnast. But even if the opponent does get his head placement correct, Marcell has the strength to toss the offensive player away like a balloon filled with helium and the quickness to make a play on the ball carrier.

Quarter 2, 7:10 Remaining vs. SD. Result: Donald Brown for 3 Yards.

Here is a similar play to the previous one, but Marcell is a "2i" (inside shoulder of the guard) and the Chargers are running a draw play rather than inside zone. So now he's in the "A" gap in between the center and guard. Unlike the previous play, the guard and center can get an "Ace" block and "drive" Dareus to the inside linebacker.


The center and guard snap out of their stance and show their numbers to give the illusion of pass protection. Marcell is wary, though. Rather than attacking the gap, he plants and waits.


The "Ace" block does a great job with timing. They get together at the same time the running back receives the ball. Now that they are hip to hip, they will try to plow Dareus backwards.


The guard has to peel off early because of the linebacker attacking the hole. Despite this, they were still able to get together and attack Dareus while he sat at a red light. They got zero push on him, even though they had forward momentum. The Chargers are in a deep hole now because not only were they unable to get a push on Dareus when they had the chance, but #99 is being blocked by only one man.


He uses his strength to lift the guard onto one foot and topples him to the right.



Once the guard is dispersed, Dareus jumps back in the hole to tackle the running back.



Now there's just a bedlam of bodies thanks to the havoc Dareus concocted.



When a defense has a big body in the center like this who isn't moved by double teams, it makes the linebackers' jobs much easier. The linebackers don't have to make reads with a defender in their face. They can make quick, clean decisions. Also, they don't have to deal with offensive linemen as much because the linemen have to spend more time on the first level to create movement, rather than being able to naturally peel off.

Quarter 1, 9:48 Remaining vs. MIA. Result: Ryan Tannehill Pass Incomplete Short Right to Charles Clay.

Here we see Marcell Dareus in a pass rushing situation. The left side of the Dolphins' offensive line is shifting one gap over. Dareus is in the "B" gap. Consequently, he will be going up against LG Daryn Colledge.


From the get go, he's aiming for the outside shoulder of the guard.



Now he does what he does best--drive the lineman backwards. The problem is that when rushing the passer, you rarely have enough time to drive a lineman back five yards to get to the quarterback. Dareus rarely makes any moves to shed the block. He just bull rushes forever.


The guard quickly ends this pressure by buckling down and shutting off the pass rush.



Dareus carries his weight well, which allows him to not only be impossible to move, but quick too. Yet this body works well in short bursts rather than in the long distances five step drops create. This season, he has been an average pass rusher. Last year we was credited with 14.5 quarterback hurries, 7.5 sacks, and 5 quarterback hits (2014 FOA), but this has more to do with the 4-3 Over Pettine ran last year than Dareus' overall skill set. Additionally, sacks are one of those stats like interceptions that have a high variance year to year.  Iit doesn't really matter. That's not his job. Marcell Dareus is paid to devour double teams like crab rangoons at a Chinese buffet and anchor the Bills' run defense. 

Jerry Hughes: The Speed Demon

The last member of the Bills' defensive line is an outcast. As mentioned earlier, he was traded to the Bills from Indy despite being a first round pick in 2011. After three frustrating years with the Colts, Hughes finally put together an above average season and reached double digit sacks for the first time last year.

This season has been more impotency and frustration. He's played solely as a defensive end and has played with his had off the ground sparingly in what may be a situation where Schwartz is trying to play a XBOX One game on a Dreamcast.

Quarter 2, 6:29 Remaining vs. SD. Result: Pass Complete Short Right to Donald Brown for 4 Yards.

This is Jerry Hughes' base pass rush--the speed rush. It may be weird to say this, but I love his three point stance. He's bundled like up like an untapped ancient dinosaur grave crackling beneath the Earth, and he's ready to erupt. Additionally, he's lined up wide, and there is a player's worth of space between him and Fluker.


When he rushes the passer, Hughes has one goal--get around the outside shoulder. Once Rivers gets the snap, he sprints up field. Hughes has a rapid get off. He's already a step ahead of Mario Williams and two steps ahead of Fluker.


His head is already outside of Fluker's, so he plants and cuts toward the quarterback. If he kept carrying forward this way, he would have been too deep up the pocket to pressure the quarterback.


By the time he rushes toward Fluker, Hughes is an arm length away and two steps outside of him.


When contact is made here, Hughes has the edge and a step on Fluker. He looks to be in good shape.


He flattens out nicely, but he looks to be a step too deep to get to Rivers.


Fluker keeps shoving him and knocks him off his plane to the quarterback. In the previous image, Hughes was on the same line as Rivers and now he's two yards behind him.


By the time Rivers releases the ball, Fluker has moved Hughes past the quarterback.


Most of Hughes' pass rushes look just like this one. He lines up far outside, attacks the outside shoulder, but moves too deep up the field to make an impact on the quarterback. The problem is the alignment and his size. When Hughes lines up closer to the line and gets near the offensive tackle, he gets gobbled up. Then when he lines up wide like this, he has to move farther up the field to get around the tackle, which leads to him being behind the quarterback rather than being a real threat.

Quarter 3, 13:18 Remaining vs. MIA. Result: Ryan Tannehill Pass Complete to Charles Clay for 7 Yards.

Even though most of Hughes' pass rushes look like the last one, he does have a knife in his boot to counter the offensive linemen. Because of his speed, offensive tackles will over-set the outside to protect the edge or turn their shoulders to wash him past the quarterback. This leads to offensive linemen having narrower bases and not being square (I don't know of an antonym to being square to the line of scrimmage). As a result, they are susceptible to inside moves and bull rushes.

Hughes is lined up on the left-side of the offensive line and is going up against the really, really good Branden Albert. We know this is Hughes because of his Spiderman stance.


He comes out of his stance looking like he did in the previous play. He's running up field trying to get a head of steam. Albert is reacting to his speed and wide pre-snap alignment already. Albert is kick-sliding out farther than usual to meet Hughes at the edge. He's also bringing his feet together more than he usually does to speed up his pass set.


Albert does a great job mirroring Hughes. When Hughes plants to come back inside, Albert matches by planting his left foot in the ground. The only problem for Albert is that he's five inches taller than Hughes at 6'7", and his need to speed up has left him playing higher than normal. Hughes looks like a Border Collie standing next to a Great Dane.


When they butt heads, Hughes's legs are bent more than Albert's and his head is in his sternum.


Hughes begins to bull rush Albert even though he's outweighed by eighty pounds.


Albert hunkers down to stop Hughes' movement, which leads to him leaning forward.


Albert bench presses Hughes to extend him off his chest. The problem is Albert is using his flippers (his forearms) and doesn't have Hughes grasped by the numbers.


Because of this lack of hand placement, Hughes is able to rip off of Albert and give chase to Tannehill.



Tannehill is able to throw the ball to Charles Clay before Hughes can get to him.

Because of his pure speed, Hughes is able to freak out offensive tackles; they hurry up their movements so they can get in position to protect the edge even if it means a trade-off in technique. This time it led to Albert playing too high, which allowed Hughes to get underneath his pads, drive, shed, and give chase to the quarterback. It's a great counter.  The only problem is Hughes isn't very big.

Quarter 3, 11:02 Remaining vs. SD, Result: Phillip Rivers Incomplete to Ladarius Green.

Here's an example of what usually happens when Jerry Hughes tries to bull rush through an offensive lineman. Hughes is lined up as a wide "5" and is matched up with King Dunlap.


At the snap, he comes out of his stance and aims at Dunlap's outside shoulder.


He gives a short fake outside, plants, and goes to attack the inside. He rarely is able to plant and get to the inside gap without the lineman getting his hands on him. Instead, he ends up getting into the lineman's chest and has to run through him rather than around him.


Hughes is low and able to get underneath Dunlap some. The problem is Dunlap is bigger and stronger than Hughes, so he can absorb most of Jerry's rush.


Hughes looks like a five year old who's afraid of his first day of school holding onto the leg of his mother.


Hughes tries to spin outside and Dunlap gets away with a hold. Rivers runs outside the pocket and throws the ball away.



If Hughes could develop a better exit move like a swim or rip to shed the block after the bull rush, he may have more success with his inside moves. But really he needs to do a better job getting around the edge to open the lineman's shoulders. If not, we are going to see more plays of him being an afterthought outside the pocket this season than a real threat.

Last year, Hughes had a great season as a situational pass rusher. He played 604 snaps, which is less than Manny Lawson and eight more than Alan Branch. This season Schwartz is using Hughes as an every down player. This seems to mitigate him as a pass rusher. By coming off the bench and playing on passing downs, Hughes was a change of pace, a breath of fresh air in a fart-riddled dungeon. When offensive tackles went from blocking Manny Lawson to Hughes, they were knocked off guard by his speed and agility. This year, when offensive tackles face him every snap, Hughes becomes less of a curve ball and more of a belt high fast ball down the middle of the plate. It's not a case of him being a bad player; it's a case of him being used incorrectly.

The foundation of Jim Schwartz's defense is pretty simple. Have a great defensive line that can get pressure on the quarterback without having to blitz, and play coverage behind them. Then in the run game, they need to dominate and control the line of scrimmage. It's simple, missionary-style 4-3 football. There's not much creativity, imagination or exoticism that goes into the defense. What you see is what you get. Yet Schwartz does use stunts and slants to try to manufacture pressure. Whether it's painting, writing, sculpting or running stunts with defensive linemen, some people have an inherent need to create.  This is how Schwartz expresses himself.

Quarter 2, 13:31 Remaining vs. MIA, Result: Ryan Tannehill Sacked by Jerry Hughes for -11 Yards,

As far as pass protection goes, the Dolphins have a "Lucky" call - the center to the left tackle are sliding over one gap - and the right-side is playing "BOB," or big on big. The Bills are using a stunt with Marcell Dareus and Jerry Hughes. Dareus is going to do what he does best, devour double teams, by slanting inside. Hughes is going to act like he's speed rushing up the field only to cut back inside and move through the space that Dareus creates.


Hughes is the perfect man to run stunts like this because of his speed. Here we see an example of it. Hughes has outgunned everyone by the time Tannehill catches the ball.


Because of his speed, Albert has turned his back to the quarterback. This means that Albert is trying to block a man rather than a gap, which will lead to mass hysteria and confusion for the pass protection. Hughes is on an island by himself at the moment. He's nowhere close to making contact. Dareus is slanting to the "B" gap and is doing an astounding job holding onto the offensive lineman and taking him with him.


Now Hughes plants and begins to cut back inside.


Dareus could probably even make a play on the ball by himself here. He's taken on exactly half of the left guard and has an opening to Tannehill. Hughes begins to move back around the line of scrimmage. The center is watching for a delayed blitz by the linebacker and is trying to find someone to hit.


Rather than stay in the "C" gap, Albert pursues Hughes. He should communicate with the guard and cover up Dareus so the guard can block Hughes coming back around inside. The center also screws up. He gets bored, looks inside, and sees Kyle Williams swimming over the right guard. Rather than staying in his "A" gap, he leaves his post.


Hughes is a blur once he makes his cut and comes back inside. Additionally, he comes right off the guard's hip and takes a perfect angle to the quarterback. He's like a bloody rabbit bouncing out of a Jack-In-The-Box. Tannehill can't react quickly enough to escape because of the angle; plus, Hughes was hidden behind the porridge of bodies.


Tannehill goes down, and Hughes records his first and only sack of the year.


From what I've seen from Hughes, this is the best way to free him up to create pressure. Let him attack spaces in the line of scrimmage that's created by interior players. He's the perfect player to stunt with because of his insane speed and quickness. But in one on one match-ups, he's been nowhere near as productive as he was last year. Offensive linemen have either caught onto his pass rushing moves, or he's lost his luster as a change of pace player now that he's used on every down.

So far this season, the Bills have ranked as the eleventh ranked defense in the NFL, according to DVOA. They have the following numbers this season (warning--small sample sizes ahead):

Category Rating
Def DVOA -2.3% (11th)
Pass Def DVOA 13.1% (17th)
Rush Def DVOA -26.2% (7th)
Adjusted Sack Rate 5.8% (16th)
Adjusted Line Yards 3.37 (8th)

The defensive line is the focal point to a defense that has started off as one of the better units in the league. Each of the players has their own unique sets of strengths and weaknesses that allow them to complement each other, while giving different looks to offensive linemen throughout the game. K

yle is the motor that creates interior havoc, Mario is paid lots of money to set the edge and rush the passer, Marcell is the fortress in the center of the defense, and Hughes is the fastest man on the line of scrimmage. Together, they make up a maniacal group tasked with the challenge of leading the Bills to the playoffs for the first time since the new millennium. The good news has been flowing like the tears of grown men in Buffalo once Terry Pegula was announced to have purchased the team. For it to continue to roll, the defensive line will need to play like they did last season and have so far this year.  If they do, it will keep this defense a top ten unit and give the Bills a chance at cracking the playoffs in a weak AFC.

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