There's no debating that the free agent acquisition of Mario Williams is a big addition, but for Bills defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt it's the defensive line as a whole that will determine the fortunes of Buffalo's pass rush success.
"As our defensive front goes so goes our defense," Wannstedt told Buffalobills.com. "There's no question Mario is someone we really needed desperately. When you can get a young player like him and fit him in with the group it's a real positive, but he's another piece to the puzzle."
Wannstedt has had dynamic pass rushers before. He's coached Charles Haley, Richard Dent and Jason Taylor. All of them were tremendous individual players, but the defenses in which they played did not have consistent pass rushing success without a pair of quality defensive tackles.
"The only way we can survive and be a top defense in the league in this system is with the guys up front. For that to happen you have to have players. We felt extremely good about our inside guys, and we've got some quality young backups that were first and second-year players that are only going to get a lot better."
It begins with Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus on the interior. Both defensive tackles are three down players that can clog running lanes and not just push the pocket, but rush the passer. Last season Dareus led the team in sacks with 5.5. Williams did the same in 2010, his Pro Bowl season, with 5.5 of his own.
The last time Wannstedt had a pair of defensive tackles capable of that kind of pass rush success from the inside was with Steve McMichael (6 sacks) and Chris Zorich (7 sacks) when he was head coach in Chicago in 1993. Meanwhile the ends for that club, Trace Armstrong and Richard Dent, combined for 24 sacks providing a glimpse at the potential for Buffalo's front.
"As a group in Dallas with Leon Lett, Russell Maryland and Tony Casillas they could rush the passer pretty good. In Chicago with McMichael and Zorich were good on the rush," said Wannstedt. "In Miami Tim Bowens wasn't much of a pass rusher, but Daryl Gardener was a real good athlete. Here it's a good combination. I know where Kyle (Williams) is at, but I'm excited to see where (Marcell) Dareus is."
Wannstedt is expecting Dareus to make big strides in his second NFL season, especially with a full offseason of prep work in Wannstedt's new defensive system. With Mario and Kyle Williams lined up on either side of him Wannstedt believes winning battles could prove to be far less difficult for Dareus.
Buffalo's defensive boss expects the double teams by opponents to vacillate back and forth between their defensive linemen up front based on who is winning their matchups consistently. Knowing all of them have pass rush ability is going to force opponents to make decisions, none of which will be ideal.
"When I was at Miami and I had Jason Taylor and Trace Armstrong these guys always had 12 to 15 sacks a year on the outside," said Wannstedt. "And if you ask Jason Taylor right now who he would give the most credit to he would say Tim Bowens and Darryl Gardener inside. They were both first round picks and they were both as good as any other defensive tackles in the league.
"There was no stepping up with the quarterback. The pocket collapsed and if you had the edge pressure we were going to get sacks. It was the same way in Chicago and when we had Charles Haley in Dallas with Leon Lett and Russell Maryland inside. The whole thing needs to fit. Mario knows that here and understands it. Let them double team him. It's going to happen. The nice thing is we've got three other guys where if you give them opportunities to win one-on-one they're going to do it."