Mario Williams became the face of the Buffalo Bills’ defensive disconnect with the coaching staff when the Pro Bowl end complained to the media about frequently dropping into coverage in the Oct. 18 loss against the Cincinnati Bengals.
On Friday, he said his message apparently had no impact.
“We’re still doing the same thing,” Williams said after the team’s final full practice before Sunday’s game against his former team, the Houston Texans, at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
And after 11 games and with the team’s slim playoff hopes at stake, he’s still talking about continued adjustment to Rex Ryan’s scheme rather than having it down cold. His linemates, including fellow end Jerry Hughes, have echoed those observations.
“It makes us switch up certain things that we do,” Williams said. “Now, we might have to do this, we might have to go that way and might not be in the same, as comfortable a position as we’ve been in previous years. But other than that, I don’t think it makes it difficult. It’s just a different look. It’s a different feel for us.”
Asked if he were surprised that he finds himself still not settled into the defense this late in the season, Williams said, “I can’t say it surprises me. It depends on where you’re at. If you’re doing something totally foreign, to a certain extent – I’m not going too far of a stretch – but if you’re doing something totally different, it is different. If you’ve got a different view, if you’ve got a different look, a different perspective from what you are accustomed to doing, then it is definitely not out of the question to feel like you’re still adjusting to it.”
Williams, who is listed as probable for Sunday with a foot injury that kept him out of last Sunday’s loss at Kansas City, is tied with Hughes for the Bills’ sack lead with three. Last season, Williams had 14.5 sacks, while Hughes had 10. At their respective paces, Williams would finish with just under five sacks (the lowest total since he had 4.5 as a rookie with the Texans in 2006), while Hughes would have just under 4.5.
Williams said he still believes he is more than capable of generating double-digit sacks.
“Yeah, definitely. I’m not worried about that,” he said. “I’ll bring it. When I’m on the edge, you see that.”
If the Bills’ primary offensive chore Sunday is to prevent All-Universe end J.J. Watt from being a destructive force, their defensive effort is equally clear: don’t allow highly talented wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to consistently burn them for big plays.
The Texans’ relatively straightforward game plan is to target Hopkins as often as possible in hopes of increasing his chances of delivering game-breaking catches. The strategy has worked reasonably well, considering that Hopkins leads the NFL with 142 targets and ranks fourth in the league with 81 receptions for 1,081 yards and nine touchdowns.
“One of the things is, they target him on first down,” Bills safety Duke Williams said. “A lot of receivers in the league, they’re second-and-long, third-down go-to guys. This guy, you’ve got to have him keyed-in on first down because they like to target him downfield on first-down, play-action pass.”
No one on the Bills is more familiar with Hopkins than fellow receiver Sammy Watkins, because they were teammates at Clemson. They’re also close friends.
“He has, literally, everything,” Watkins said. “He’s what you call an All-Pro NFL receiver. He’s going to come in and compete, and what you’re going to have to do is double him or triple-coverage him to stop him and, hopefully, we do that.
“If he’s open all the time or one-on-one, just throw the ball up. That’s what’s been happening. He’s been one-on-one and wide open. Even when a guy’s close on him, he’s going to make that catch and fight for the ball.”
With only 48 targets this season, Watkins can’t help but feel somewhat envious of Hopkins.
“That’s something that you wish for,” he said of how frequently Hopkins is targeted. “And lately we’ve been actually doing that, so I’ve been getting the good side of it and hopefully we just continue to keep attacking everybody and be aggressive.”
It’s looking more and more as if the Bills will be without both starters on the right side of their offensive line for Sunday’s game.
That would be the side across from which Watt is expected to line up for most of the game.
Rookie right guard John Miller has been declared out for the Bills with an ankle injury. Right tackle Seantrel Henderson is listed as doubtful with an illness that has kept him out of practice all week. “Really doubtful,” Ryan said.
Kraig Urbik will start his second straight game at right guard, while Jordan Mills is likely to make his first start with the Bills in place of Henderson. Mills started for most of the 2013 and 2014 seasons in Chicago while Bills offensive line coach Aaron Kromer was the Bears’ offensive coordinator/offensive line coach.
Linebacker Nigel Bradham (ankle) and running back Karlos Williams (shoulder) are also listed as out for Sunday. To help provide depth at running back, Ryan said the Bills were planning to promote Mike Gillislee from their practice squad to the 53-man squad. A roster move is necessary to make room.
Quarterback Tyrod Taylor (right shoulder), defensive end Mario Williams (foot), offensive tackle Cordy Glenn (back), wide receiver Marcus Easley (concussion protocol), and safety Bacarri Rambo (knee) are probable.