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Bills additions shift division landscape

Posted Mar 23, 2012

He was the top pass rushing prize in free agency and is one of the premier defensive ends in the NFL. Since 2007 no one in the AFC has more sacks than Mario Williams’ 48.5, and he missed 11 games last season. In a division where there are no pass rushers equal to Williams’ caliber his addition alone to Buffalo’s defense had the opportunity to create a shift in defensive power in the AFC East. Coupled with the signing of Mark Anderson this week it’s difficult to find a better defensive line in the division.

“Buddy Nix and Coach Gailey and Coach Wannstedt have identified spots where they’ve felt like we needed to get better,” said Kyle Williams. “Moving into a new defense, adding some top level talent and doing some different things, I think it’s all about winning. I think that’s all you can say about it. I think it’s all about winning at this point and those guys are going to help us do it.”

The perennial division favorites, the New England Patriots, got the most out of two veteran pass rushers last season in Anderson, now a Bill, and Andre Carter, with each of them logging 10 sacks. Carter is coming off a serious late season knee injury, though New England would like to re-sign him at proper market value.

The Jets, despite a reputation for being a successful pass rushing defense, have finished 18th, 8th and 17th in the league in sacks in their three seasons under Rex Ryan. Calvin Pace is considered their best pass rusher, but hasn’t had more than six sacks in each of their past two seasons. It prompted New York to turn to Aaron Maybin last year, who posted six sacks in a specialty role.

Miami has Cameron Wake, who has 22.5 sacks over the past two seasons, but complementary pass rusher Jason Taylor (7 sacks) retired. Many believe the Dolphins will use their eighth pick in the draft this spring on a pass rusher.

Granted, the other three AFC East clubs have time to address their defensive fronts, but as things sit right now, no team in the division has the across the board pass rush talent that Buffalo possesses on their defensive line.

“I can’t put a percentage on how much better we are but I know we’re appreciatively better and I know that we will get more pressure on the passer,” said head coach Chan Gailey. “I don’t think there’s any question about that. We got a lot better and I think our pass rush has improved greatly.”

While most won’t debate Mario Williams’ pass rushing exploits, or Mark Anderson’s for that matter, few might be aware of what Buffalo’s interior defensive linemen are capable of as pass rushers. Marcell Dareus led the Bills in sacks as a rookie last season with 5.5 despite facing constant double teams after Kyle Williams was lost for the season due to a bone spur on his Achilles. Kyle Williams went to the Pro Bowl after his monster 2010 season in which he led the team with 5.5 sacks. Both cannot be handled one-on-one.

“I think the talent is definitely going to allow us to compete,” said Anderson. “We have a long way to go and a lot of work to do. Everybody has to mesh and jell and get on the same page. Starting at OTAs and training camp we’ll have to get on the same page and work hard and when things start going right you’ll be able to tell on the field.”

Anderson joins Chris Kelsay at end, who was a bit miscast in Buffalo’s 3-4 defense the past two seasons. When given a chance to line up at his more familiar left defensive end at times last season Kelsay thrived. The best and most recent example came in the Bills Week 16 victory over Denver (40-14) when he posted three sacks lining up mainly as a defensive end.

The true wild card is Shawne Merriman. Progressing well in his rehab from surgery to repair his Achilles (it never ruptured) Merriman could be an additional pass rush specialist defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt lines up at the end position perhaps in nickel package situations.

It’s a pass rush contingent that no team in the division can rival.

In a league that’s turning more and more to the passing game Buffalo’s re-invented pass rush could pay handsome dividends when it comes to success in the team’s six division contests. Defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt however, would rather wait and let the results on the field do the talking.

“Optimistically we’re all encouraged that it’s going to happen,” said Wannstedt. “We just don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. We’ve got to develop some of these younger players and if that happens shifting the landscape will take care of itself.”