The Buffalo Bills have gone “all in” on linebacker Manny Lawson.
That’s something that couldn’t be said about his former team, the Cincinnati Bengals, who just so happen to be visiting Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday.
“Do I feel like I could have done more there? I know I could’ve done more instead of just being a first- and second-down linebacker,” Lawson said. “To be here and to be utilized in all the ways I can be used in, I think is beneficial for our team.”
Lawson is the leader in the clubhouse through the first five weeks of the season as the Bills’ “unsung hero.” He’s got 35 tackles, a forced fumble and a sack.
The best indication of his value to the Bills, however, comes in looking at his snap counts. In the season opener against the New England Patriots, Lawson played just 40 percent of the snaps. That number has climbed to 83 and 94 percent, respectively, in the last two weeks.
While some of that may be due to the opponent, it’s a clear sign of the Bills’ satisfaction with Lawson’s play.
“I’m excited about Manny. I think Manny’s played extremely well for us. We’re very happy with his production,” Bills coach Doug Marrone said.
Lawson, 29, signed a four-year contract with the Bills in the offseason. He was coming off a pair of one-year contracts with the Bengals, during which time he played in all 32 games with 25 starts. Lawson made 39 tackles last season with two sacks – numbers he has almost reached in the first five weeks with the Bills.
Lawson kept it “P.C.” this week when discussing going against his former team.
“It’s going to be fun to go against those guys. You practice against them in training camp, and then during the season you don’t play against them, and you always wonder. They have great guys, and you want to go against the best,” Lawson said of facing his former team this weekend. “I expect to get my all from them, and I’m going to give them my all.”
Marrone said he doesn’t believe today’s players have a lot more motivation to go against their former teams.
“I think years ago it was that case because a lot of players were on one team for quite a long time,” the coach said. “But I think now with how volatile the league is and people move from team to team every year, I don’t think it’s probably like it was when I was around, before free agency.”
Lawson is a former first-round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers. He played on the same defensive line in college at N.C. State as Bills teammate Mario Williams. His most productive season came in 2009 with the 49ers, when he had 68 tackles and 6.5 sacks.
Not that he’d remember any of that.
“Honestly, I’m really not a big know-my-stats guy. I’ll never know how many tackles I’ve made, or how many plays I was out there,” he said. “I could tell you how many times I messed up, or how many missed tackles I had.”
To prove his point, Lawson was asked how many tackles he missed against the Cleveland Browns in Week Five.
“Three,” he said without missing a beat. “And a missed sack. Honestly, if we were 5-0 maybe I’d think about that stuff. If we lose, I don’t feel good about anything I’ve done. I want the other 10 guys to know they’re going to get my best out there.”
Lawson, who signed a four-year contract with the Bills, has proven he has the ability to drop into coverage on running backs as well as rush the passer. He’s also looked good “setting the edge” in defending the run.
He credits a lot of his success to the scheme implemented by defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.
“I really feel that coach Pettine and I, we’re two birds of the same feather,” he said. “This defense has allowed me to play multiple positions. Coming here and seeing what he’s done in the past, I was thinking this is my opportunity to have some fun and play multiple roles.”
Lawson has also taken a leadership role, both on and off the field.
“I get the freedom to suggest some things,” he said. “That’s rare when a defensive coordinator will listen to a suggestion from a player. That just speaks highly of coach Pettine. He’ll take in knowledge. If it’s good, it’s good. If it’s not, he’ll say it’s not. … He’s molded his scheme around his players. I’d say he’s a defensive guru.”
In Lawson, Pettine has found a good piece of clay to work with.