After his miserable 5.0-sack campaign led to his expected departure after 2015, what is also expected is pessimism around new Miami Dolphins defensive end Mario Williams. Despite playing 13.3 percent more snaps than he did in 2014, per ProFootball Focus, he sacked the quarterback 1.1 percent and, worse, committed hurries 1.7 percent less.
Ironically, a coach that once employed the team’s former defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan likely did no favors for the defense by having an alignment that did not fit the team’s pass rushers’ skill sets, including Williams. When examining his six years of schemes with the New York Jets, Ryan only had one edge rusher sack the quarterback ten times or more.
Many of Ryan’s schemes focus on exotic blitzes, various coverages, and the skill sets of elite cornerbacks like Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, and Stephon Gilmore. But that should excuse not him as the Bills’ sack totals went from 57.0 in 2013 to 54.0 in 2014 to 21.0 in 2015.
Frankly, Pettine’s overall defensive performance in 2013 was nowhere near as special as Jim Schwartz’s in 2014. Pettine went with a 3-4 alignment while Schwartz went with a 4-3, but both, surprisingly, used the same terminology. They had attacking styles that caused 208 quarterback hurries in 2013 and 175 in 2014 while Ryan’s style caused just 161 in 2015.
It also did not help that Ryan likely influenced the relinquishments of helpful defensive players like Da’Norris Searcy and Brandon Spikes. However, he deserves the benefit of the doubt with a season-ending injury to safety Aaron Williams. Still, other players surrounding the departed Williams, including defensive tackles Kyle Williams and Marcel Dareus, attracted attention at different times to create freedom for him to do what makes him exquisite, get after the quarterback.
Getting after the quarterback is what Schwartz’s 4-3 alignment can do as it employs a stance known as the Wide-9.
The Wide-9 is named after the nine-technique formation where a 4-3 defensive end can line up across an opposing player positioned as wide as the tight end’s area. By not having the defensive end so close to the much slower offensive tackle, the tackle can be exhausted to the defensive end’s advantage and, therefore, make the quarterback more vulnerable to pressure.
The Wide-9 alignment is likely coming to Miami as Schwartz protege Jim Washburn coaches the defensive line and wants to get the most of out of defensive linemen Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake (13.0 combined sacks in 2015). Although Wake is recovering from a torn Achilles tendon, pressure from interior players like Suh, Earl Mitchell, and a possible second-year standout, Jordan Phillips, could leave more one-on-one matchups for Williams.
More than likely, Williams will not match his career high of 14.5 sacks in 2014, except he is undoubtedly better in a Wide-9 scheme. After all, Wide-9 defensive ends that played at least eleven games average 9.0 sacks per season since 2011.
Williams has had to overcome quite a bit as a once declared bust after a 4.5 sack rookie season. In ten seasons, he has amassed 96.0 sacks and achieved four Pro Bowl selections along with one First-Team All-Pro spot. Except, with statistics going down as his snaps went up, it might be time for him to be a situational or complementary pass rusher at this stage of his career. Being alongside the Dolphins defensive linemen can help Williams find success in that, and if it does, his two-year contract worth $17 million will be peanuts compared to Olivier Vernon’s $85 million for five years.
Note: Any criticism of Rex Ryan is not meant to disrespect him and his family in any way as they grieve over the death of his father, famed defensive visionary and head coach, Buddy Ryan. Our condolences go out to Rex and his family as they deal with this tragic loss.