FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Football games are won and lost in the trenches.
A cliche we’ve all heard before. Against a revamped Buffalo Bills defensive front, Sunday’s game will be decided by the effectiveness of executing this overused football phrase and not by the arm of Mark Sanchez.
Or the legs of Tim Tebow, for that matter.
Despite being 5-1 in his career against the Bills, Rex Ryan conceded that history will not tell the story of Sunday’s outcome. He stressed the difference in this team — particularly the Bills’ suddenly fierce front four.
“It’s a big time group, no question about it. Everybody knows about Mario, obviously he’s a tremendous player. But I think their two tackles are big time as well. Marcell Dareus is a big man that has good movement. He’s much more than a run plugger. Kyle Williams, in my opinion, has been one of the most underrated players in football. They use him as a 3-technique right now – a penetrating 3-technique. He’s strong, quick, has excellent change of direction, very active – and a great nickname [pot roast]. Mark Anderson is a pass rush guy – speed and power guy. We’re going to have a huge challenge in front of us,” Ryan said Thursday.
Mario Williams will be the marquee name, and rightfully so, after signing with the Bills for seven figures in the offseason. First-year starting tackle Austin Howard gets the tough luck of the draw having to line up opposite the All-Pro 300-pound end, a match-up that Ryan said will not exclusively be one-on-one.
“You don’t want to just leave anyone out there by themselves down after down, but sometimes he is going to be by himself. There are other things you have to do against any great pass rusher. You have to do things to help slow him down,” he said Wednesday.
Part of that will be sending Justin Smith in to stack the right side of the line or making sure the receiving tight ends chip him on the line before starting their routes. Regardless of the help, Howard is looking forward to the challenge in his first career start.
“I’m very excited about the challenge. He has a motor he is a really good defensive end. As a unit, we have a lot of respect for him and not only him, but the whole defensive line that they have in Buffalo. They do a good job making sure that they’re always going, always trying to make plays,” Howard said.
Howard will not be the only concern for a unit that allowed 36 sacks on their franchise quarterback last season. A vote of confidence from Ryan aside, who boasted Thursday that there’s only one team with three Pro Bowl linemen from last year, D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Nick Mangold and Brandon Moore will all have their hands full.
The Bills’ starting front four combined for 20.5 sacks last season despite two players (Kyle & Mario Williams) missing 22 games, collectively, due to injuries. After allowing Jets’ quarterbacks to be sacked 22 times during the preseason, their play will dictate the effectiveness of their new offense.
A sentiment that Ferguson echoed on Thursday.
“That whole front line is very talented whether it be Mario, Mark, Marcell or Kyle. However, we feel very confident with what we’ve been doing and what we’ve been practicing. I think we’ll be ready for what they have to give us,” he said.
Ryan likened the Bills’ front four to the “NASCAR” defensive front of the New York Giants, who kicked off the 2012-13 season Wednesday night with a 24-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. In that game, the Cowboys’ offense — which has protection issues of their own — regularly took three-step drops and ran out of the shotgun to combat that vaunting defensive pass rush on not just the exterior, but the interior as well.
On Wednesday Ryan gushed about the Bills’ interior threat, the 6-1, 300 lb. Kyle Williams who’s aptly nicknamed “Pot Roast”.
“He’s the other Williams,” Ryan joke. “He’s pretty darn good. He’s just short but man, he is a heck of a football player. And I told him that. I said one year, I’m like, ‘Man we voted you to the Pro Bowl, but that doesn’t mean you’ve got to take it out on us.’ But he really is tremendous playing. He’s playing that three-technique form. They missed him a lot last year when he was out. They really missed him.”
The two-time Pro Bowler had 13.5 career sacks prior to being placed on injured reserve following a Week 9 loss to the Jets. Now healthy, Williams figures to be a key player in both the Bills’ run stopping and pass rushing plans.
Mangold, sans his blonde beard, knows beating Williams off the line early and often will be the key to success for the Jets offense.
“The guy in the middle is doing a fantastic job. He’s very underrated and he’s a heck of a player, so it’s going to be a challenge for us. It’s going to be a good battle and we’re really looking forward to it,” Mangold said.
On Sunday it all starts up front and the battle will be won inch by inch. After all, cliche or not, football is a game of inches.