The Buffalo Bills are on pace to set a team record for sacks in a season. Their 37 sacks lead the league and they already have surpassed last year’s total by one.
The Bills’ ability to put pressure on the quarterback is one of the most positive developments of the season, and the team is showing versatility in making the pressure happen.
For the first time since 2000, the Bills have four players with five or more sacks, and there still are five games remaining.
“When you have multiple guys able to get at the quarterback, it really makes a problem for the offense,” Bills linebacker Manny Lawson said. “You can’t just double one guy or two guys. You have to look at our whole front five or front six and choose which one you’re really going to take the chance on giving them a one-on-one rush. That helps our defense out tremendously.”
Each of the Bills’ top four defensive linemen have at least five sacks. Mario Williams leads with 11, followed by Kyle Williams (seven), Jerry Hughes (six) and Marcell Dareus (five).
“Those guys, especially our front guys, deserve credit,” Lawson said. “We have a very talented defensive front. And a lot of our sacks we’ve gotten couldn’t have come without our DBs. Those guys cover for four or five seconds to help us get to the quarterback.”
Hughes, the trade acquisition from Indianapolis, is one of the key additions to the rush. For years, the Bills struggled to find an edge rushing complement to Aaron Schobel. Last year they paid big money in the hope that Mark Anderson would complement Mario Williams. Anderson didn’t work out and was released last spring.
The fact the Bills have adopted a more aggressive scheme than they used last year has been well documented. Buffalo rushed five or more on a league-low 15 percent of pass plays last season.
This year the Bills are blitzing on 29 percent of opponents’ pass plays, according to figures compiled by The News.
“I think what we’re doing now is different compared to previous years, where we were in 4-3 or were in an over front or were in quarters coverage and they know where you’re going to be all the time on your rushes,” Kyle Williams said. “They can set their protections whichever way they want. This puts us in some situations that are an advantage to us.”
Of Buffalo’s 37 sacks, 16 have come on blitzes and 21 have come on four-man rushes.
“We usually have a pretty good mix of pressure, of simulated pressure and straight rush,” Kyle Williams said. “We have a good mix of that all the time.”
Bills defensive backs have joined the pass rush on 19 percent of pass plays. Slot cornerback Nickell Robey is the most frequent defensive back joining the rush by virtue of the fact he’s usually covering a receiver closer to the quarterback. Robey doesn’t have any sacks yet, and DBs only have 3.5 sacks.
“But it’s taking off a double-team from somebody else,” Lawson said. “One guy has to be accountable. ‘Oh look, a DB’s coming, let me take care of him.’ It frees up a guy for a one-on-one.”
Safety Aaron Williams joined the rush five times in the last two games.
“I didn’t blitz once the last two years,” he said.
The Bills had their most aggressive game of the season in Sunday’s win over the New York Jets. Buffalo blitzed rookie quarterback Geno Smith on 17 of 33 pass plays (52 percent), according to News figures. The quarterback defensive coordinator Mike Pettine blitzed the least was New Orleans star Drew Brees (15 percent).
The Bills’ pass defense still has plenty of room for improvement and big plays have been a problem. Buffalo has allowed 13 pass plays of 40 or more yards, second most in the league.
Sacks became an official statistic in 1982. The Bills’ highest total since then is 49 in 1995. However, the Bills’ public relations office reviewed the play-by-play sheets from every year before ’82 and determined the team had 50 sacks in 14 games in 1964, the Bills’ first AFL Championship season. Buffalo is on pace to finish with 54 this year.
Buffalo ranks fifth in sacks per pass attempt faced, which is a more accurate way to rank pass rush than the actual sack totals.