Playing in the shadow of respected veterans like Takeo Spikes and London Fletcher his first four NFL seasons, not many people paid a whole lot of attention to what Angelo Crowell was doing week to week on the field. And though the outside linebacker has been productive the past two seasons, his numbers this year are becoming too impressive to ignore by those around the league that hold Pro Bowl ballots.
Through the first 12 games Crowell not only leads his team in tackles, but is tops in the league among outside linebackers in that category (106) and is fifth among all linebackers. In the AFC there isn't another outside linebacker within 15 tackles of him.
Crowell's game however, has been more than takedowns. He's the only linebacker in football right now with a safety, a sack (2), an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery this season. Simply put his performance thus far this season has been among the best.
"We certainly hope so," said Bills head coach Dick Jauron when asked if Crowell's play has reached elite status. "He certainly works hard enough to get there and he's skilled enough."
Crowell's best game of the season was arguably this past week when he contributed nine tackles, a fumble recovery and a crucial safety in a one-point Bills victory at Washington. The defensive co-captain realizes making big plays can help one's Pro Bowl chances, but Crowell chooses to go by a different credo.
"To have crooked numbers in all those categories helps, but the main thing is to win ball games," said Crowell. "If you win a lot of ball games you get a lot more attention as a team and that eventually trickles down to you."
But Buffalo's defensive staff has made a point of putting their most talented linebacker in position to make big plays for them when they need them the most. Last Sunday's safety was a perfect example.
With a 3rd-and-11 on the Washington seven-yard line, defensive coordinator Perry Fewell had Crowell in a center blitz, with John McCargo clearing out on a wraparound stunt. The key was the timing of the play.
"The key to blitzing is holding your look just long enough to where the line has already done their count and they're set in terms of guessing who is coming and who is not," said Crowell. "I basically held it long enough where the center had turned the protection away from me and the ball was snapped as I was moving toward my gap to blitz so it was timed up perfect."
The back in for pass protection for Washington picked up McCargo allowing Crowell to wrap up and bury Washington quarterback Jason Campbell for a safety.
"I thought the timing on the stunt on the safety was a really good call and really well executed," said Jauron. "He put a solid hit on a big quarterback because we've all seen a lot of times the quarterback can stagger out of the end zone and get it out to the one. But Campbell wasn't getting away from that tackle. He really played well."
Later in the game Crowell was rewarded for living by the number one mantra of Buffalo's defense scheme. No matter where you are on the field, fly to the football.
On a 3rd-and-7 play at the Washington 38, Crowell had dropped into coverage. When Campbell scrambled away from pressure and was hit by both Kyle Williams and Larry Tripplett, Crowell started running to the ball.
A moment later the ball came loose. Crowell was on it instantly for a fumble recovery, which led to a Bills field goal.
"I was about 10 yards from the ball when Campbell first started to run and then I saw what was happening. If you're around the ball something is bound to happen whether it's a tipped pass or a fumble," said Crowell.
"Good things happen when you're around the football, and he's around the ball," said Jauron. "Larry, I believe, knocked that ball out on the fumble, but Crowell is right there to get on it. And he does hustle. When you fly around and get around the football a lot of things happen."
And they've been happening for Crowell through the first 12 games. The important thing for the outside linebacker now is to finish the season strong and healthy, after a broken foot cut his season short last season by four games. He's not 100 percent, but he's good enough to keep going for now.
"That's the key. You've got to play 16 games," said Crowell. "You can have a great season, but you've got to fight through those bumps and bruises. On Sunday I really don't want to feel anything. So during the week it's a big maintenance tune-up job for me to have my body prepared for game day."
Ultimately, Crowell isn't worried about the individual accolades. Right now he's trying to help lead a defensive unit on a team that's still in the hunt for a playoff berth.
"It's not something I'm even really thinking about," said Crowell of the Pro Bowl. "I know if we win ball games we'll all experience success. It's just a matter of winning. When you win all the other stuff comes with it."