Rex Ryan can talk all he wants about his exotic blitzes and intention to “bring everybody known to man” when rushing an opposing quarterback.
That’s a staple of his coaching style, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen most of the time. Depending on the opponent, the pressure could often emanate from only the defensive linemen, leaving the maximum number of defenders in pass coverage.
The Indianapolis Colts, whom Ryan’s Bills will face in Sunday’s season-opener at Ralph Wilson Stadium, figure to be such an opponent. That’s because their quarterback, Andrew Luck, excels at beating the blitz. He knows how to find holes in the secondary and exploit them with highly talented receivers such as T.Y. Hilton and Andre Johnson.
It stands to reason, then, that the Bills will be looking to place the greatest amount of heat on him with their front four or, in some cases, their front three.
“That’s the case, I think, in every game we’re going to play this year,” Bills defensive line coach Karl Dunbar said. “The money we’ve put in this defensive front tells us we should be able to get pressure with the four and we’re going to try to do as much as we can. We like our matchups.”
They won’t like them any less Sunday, even though their best player up front, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, will sit out while serving a one-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. On Thursday, he became the latest recipient of some of that staggering investment the Bills have made in their defensive front by signing a six-year, $108-million contract extension.
Corbin Bryant will replace Dareus, and Dunbar is confident that he won’t be the weak link on a line that includes two Pro Bowlers in end Mario Williams and tackle Kyle Williams, and standout end Jerry Hughes.
“He’s a strong, smart kid,” Dunbar said of Bryant. “He’s athletic. He’s powerful. He’s not Marcell, but he’s a great, great guy to have on your team. I just think, with the athletic ability we have, and if we can learn some tips as far as their formations and what they do and try to get some one-on-one matchups, that’s going to be what we’re looking for.”
“It makes it a lot easier on the DBs when we’re not blitzing and they’re not in the pickle in man-to-man,” Bryant said. “If we can just rush four guys and get pressure like that, which I know we’re capable of, it’ll be easier on the back end. We’re good. We know what we’re doing out there. This is, what? Our third or fourth year together? We just go out there and have fun.”
Bryant understands the Bills’ defense will have its “hands full” with Luck, but he also expects the opposite to be true. And he intends to help make the quarterback’s life miserable by playing to his strengths rather than trying to replicate Dareus.
“I have to be myself,” Bryant said. “That means play strong, play fast, play quick. I think I’m a guy that can do it all. I’m very smart, I know what’s going on out there and I’m just going to go out there and give it all I’ve got. Guys like Kyle Williams, Jerry and Mario, they make it easy for me. So all I’ve got to do is go out there and do my job.”
The Bills plan to rotate six defensive linemen Sunday in an effort to keep themselves as fresh as possible at the position. Besides the four starters, they also plan to work Stefan Charles and Alex Carrington into the mix.
Stamina is particularly important against Luck, because despite being a prolific passer, he won’t hesitate to run. And he has the speed to do so.
“I think the thing about him is he’ll get out of the pocket to throw the ball down the field and then get out of the pocket to run,” Kyle Williams said. “Whereas with Ben,” Roethlisberger “you’ll see get out of the pocket to throw the ball. He really won’t take off and run unless he’s got no other option. So we have a big challenge in front of us defensively, for us on the defensive front because there’s a razor’s edge of selling out to get pressure and getting around him, but also maintaining the integrity of your contain and doing different things in your pass-rush lanes. It’s a great test.”
Which explains why Ryan called out fans to be as loud as possible when the Colts have the ball – especially in obvious passing situations. Dunbar remembers how large a factor the home crowd was when he was coaching defensive lineman Jared Allen on the Minnesota Vikings in 2011, when he had a career-high 22 sacks.
“Sixteen of his sacks were at home,” Dunbar said. “So, yeah, crowd noise makes a major, major difference when you’ve got pass-rushers.”