Through five games Buffalo's top pass rusher has one sack, but that doesn't mean Aaron Schobel isn't playing good football. Defensive ends are often measured by a single statistic and nothing bothers Schobel more.
"Yeah it's frustrating," said Schobel. "I haven't had many in the last two years, but I honestly think if you watch the tape from the '06 season to right now you can't say there's a difference. If you sit there and watch a thousand plays you can't tell which season is which. So I don't feel like I'm playing any different. Obviously last year I had 6.5 sacks and I still went to the Pro Bowl, so I think teams understand I'm a factor in the game and I still feel that way."
Schobel typically gets off to slow starts with respect to sacks. Only twice in his career has Schobel had more than two sacks through the first five games of a season. And in his two most productive sack seasons (2005, 2006) he had just a pair through five games in both years.
But the defensive end admits he has missed on a few opportunities.
"I've missed three sacks, so if I had four we wouldn't be having this talk," said Schobel. "So when they're there I've got to make them."
With respect to the rest of Schobel's game however, he's performing well.
He's second on the team in tackles with 32. Paul Posluszny is the only player with more (46). Schobel is tied for second on the team in tackles for loss, second in quarterback pressures and tied for second in quarterback hits. No other defensive player ranks in the top two in as many defensive categories as Schobel.
The pass rusher played through a nagging foot injury last week, which appears to be more about pain management than anything else. But Schobel refuses to use it as an excuse for his play.
"It didn't affect me," said Schobel. "I took some medicine that helped me. I didn't feel it and then as the game went on it wore off. It was all the way in the fourth quarter before I felt it, but it didn't change anything."
"Aaron did not finish the game," said head coach Dick Jauron. "His foot got more and more sore as it went along and was pretty sore at the end. We don't think he was any worse off than he was last week."
But Schobel is not expected to practice this week during the bye, and isn't sure if it's an injury that will linger.
"I'm no doctor, hopefully I can get over it," he said. "It was feeling better. It's a little sore, but I'll be alright."
Schobel is more focused on being more effective at finishing his rushes off with an impact play. He's already made one adjustment that he feels will make a difference.
"I've gotten to a point where I know what I need to do," said Schobel. "I thought I knew what I needed to do, but I was wrong so I've changed stuff like my alignment."
Defensive line coach Bill Kollar doesn't mind having his ends rush from a nine-technique (outside shade of the tight end), because there's more space in which to work. But Schobel believes there are benefits to lining up tighter, especially when the Bills are facing as much of the quick three-step drop pass game as they are this season, which neutralizes even the best rushers when properly executed.
"It's all about angles as far as rushing the passer and I think I was too wide," said Schobel. "So I've tightened down and it will help me get on the passer quicker."
Schobel feels he'll also be able to sense the draw play more effectively from a tighter alignment as opponents have been successful against the Bills with that play the past couple of games.
"I think when you have a bunch of draws it gets guys going upfield and makes the gaps bigger," said Schobel. "You have to realize that and a lot of them have been on third down when you're thinking pass."
Ultimately, Schobel believes he's playing very well against the run and in rushing the passer. He just feels his overall game gets lost because observers only look at one statistical category.
"I think I'm a better player now than I ever have been," he said. "Will I put up the numbers I've had in the past? I don't know. If I knew what I would have at the end of the year I might tell you all to… you know. I play a thousand plays in a year and you all judge me on five or 10. It's crazy that we sit here every year and talk about sacks."