Super Mario leads sack-happy Bills attack
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Mario Williams accepted his second AFC defensive player of the week honor much like he did his first one of the season.
"Just another day to me," the Buffalo defensive end said Wednesday.
Williams' production has been anything but routine this season for someone finally beginning to play to the "Super Mario" expectations that came with the six-year $100 million contract he signed in March 2012.
With 10 sacks through seven games, he's tied for second in the NFL and one short of surpassing his season total of last year.
Calling it "progress," Williams acknowledged this is the best he's felt both mentally and physically since breaking into the NFL in 2006, when he was drafted first overall by Houston.
"I think maybe it's time," Williams said. "I don't know, maybe this is as good a time for me in general as far as my career."
Putting aside the frustrations and criticism that came with his inconsistent production last year, Williams finds himself benefiting from his new multi-purpose role in first-year coordinator Mike Pettine's attacking style of defense.
It's one that has allowed Williams to become a difference-maker in helping Buffalo (3-4) get off to a better-than-expected start in preparing to play at New Orleans (5-1) on Sunday.
Williams has played a key role in two victories.
He had career-best 4½ sacks in a 24-23 win over Carolina on Sept. 15.
Last weekend, Williams had two sacks, his second forcing a fumble that set up Dan Carpenter's game-winning 31-yard field goal with 33 seconds left in a 23-21 win at Miami.
Former safety Rodney Harrison, who is now a broadcaster, has altered his tune on Williams.
"When he's healthy, he is a different player," said Harrison, who criticized Williams for blaming a wrist injury for hindering his performance last year.
On Monday, Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman was so impressed by Williams' dominant day that he was began referring to him as a future Hall of Famer.
That might be premature, but Williams has already nudged his way ahead of Bills Hall of Famer Bruce Smith -- the NFL's all-time sacks leader -- in a few categories.
Williams' 4½ sacks against Carolina broke Smith's team record. And his 10 sacks through seven games are one more than Smith's best start in 1997.
"Bruce, to be mentioned in the same sentence is obviously a great feeling," Williams said. "But for myself, my biggest thing is not really counting the sacks I got, it's focusing on the ones I didn't get."
By Williams' count, he should be at 15 or 16 by now.
The ones he has gotten have helped transform the identity of what had previously been a stale and porous defense in Buffalo.
The Bills 23 sacks match the team's second-highest total through seven games. The pass-rush also is paying off in other ways by generating turnovers. The Bills have a league-leading 12 interceptions, and are tied for third with 15 takeaways.
This is a defense that hasn't averaged more than two sacks a game since totaling 40 in 2006. And this was a defense that was so bad under former coordinator Dave Wannstedt last year that it allowed a combined 97 points and 1,101 yards in consecutive losses to New England and San Francisco.
Williams credits the offseason arrival of Pettine, who was lured to Buffalo after spending the previous four seasons in the same job with the New York Jets.
Pettine's defense relies on players lining up at various positions -- including Williams -- to keep opposing offenses guessing on who might be blitzing. That's a big switch from last year, when Williams traditionally lined up opposite the left tackle.
"It all started with the mentality, just (Pettine) coming in and pretty much wiping the slate clean," Williams said.
Coach Doug Marrone said it's a combination of the defense and Williams.
"I think it's a little bit more difficult when you have a player that moves around," Marrone said. "But he's an outstanding player. I mean, I think you could put him anywhere and he'll be productive."
Defensive tackle Alan Branch has been impressed no matter who deserves the credit.
"I don't know if it's the scheme," Branch said. "I just feel bad for the offensive linemen going against him just because he's a monster when he goes out there."
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