The free agent additions of pass rushers Mario Williams and Mark Anderson certainly has Bills fans buzzing about the possibilities come this fall. Many are trying to remember when Buffalo had as formidable a group as this year's contingent could be. The 1995 Bills are probably the answer and might serve as an indicator of what could be in the cards for the 2012 squad.
Seventeen years ago the Bills added Bryce Paup and Ted Washington in free agency. While those two acquisitions do not quite mirror Williams and Anderson this offseason, both were instrumental in changing the fortunes of Buffalo's pass rush.
In 1994, Buffalo had the third-lowest sack total in the league with just 25 that season. Bruce Smith had 10 of those sacks, but clearly needed a better supporting cast. The Bills needed a complementary pass rusher and some beef in the middle to help collapse the pocket. Enter Paup and Washington.
The results? Buffalo led the league in sacks with 49 in 1995 and went from last in the AFC East the season before to division champs with a 10-6 record.
Bills Wall of Famer Phil Hansen, who often kicked inside on passing downs on that '95 team knows as well as anyone the more pass rushing threats the better.
"It absolutely helps," Hansen told Buffalobills.com. "When you have a serious threat like I did with Bruce Smith, it opened things up for me that wouldn't be open otherwise, and that went the other way too. We ran a lot of twist, stunt games with Bruce too and it really opened things up because you really have to allocate more resources to a guy who can rush the passer like Bruce could and like the Bills new player Mario Williams can."
Adding Paup, who lined up primarily as a stand-up linebacker, and Washington at nose tackle left opponents in a 'pick your poison' situation on passing downs.
"There were more threats," said Hansen. "I was capable, but I wasn't up to Bruce or Bryce's capabilities, but you had to keep an eye on me too. And Ted was so big that if you didn't keep two guys on him he would take his guy and push him right back to the quarterback. That would keep the quarterback from stepping up."
Buffalo's current defensive line already had the interior defenders in Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus. Both are unblockable one-on-one and can collapse the pocket. Now with two proven pass rushing ends like Anderson and Williams the Bills' front presents a multitude of protection problems for opposing offenses.
"To have one great pass rusher is a good thing, but when you have multiple threats you have to keep more guys in blocking," said Hansen. "It allows the defensive backs to cover better. When you can put pressure on a quarterback after you stop the run that's how you win football games."
That's where adding Washington was so valuable for the '95 Bills. With 'Big Ted' tying up a pair of blockers himself and Smith commanding double team attention it left Paup and Hansen with a lot of one-on-one opportunities.
"Bryce would be the first one to tell you that you have to give a lot of credit to Bruce on the other end because it took two blockers to block him or a tackle and a back chipping on him," Hansen said. "Sometimes Bryce was matched up against a tight end. Nobody believed that Bryce was as good a pass rusher that he was, but it always helped that the eyes were all focused on Bruce Smith.
"I'm not saying that Bryce just snuck in there to get his 17 and a half sacks, but it helped that they couldn't dedicate resources in the backfield to block Bryce. As the season went on they had to dedicate more. He was such a proficient pass rusher at that time, but the horse was out of the barn and running wild by that time."
Hansen had 10 sacks of his own as he along with Paup and Smith were responsible for 38 of the team's 49 sacks that season, showing just how little the Bills had to blitz to be effective.
So will this year's Bills see similar improvement in their sack totals as the '95 team after finishing with just 29 sacks last year?
"Depending on how those new players can get to the quarterback there's a good chance," said Hansen. "If their track record is any indication that should be the case."