While with the New England Patriots during the 2011 season, new Buffalo Bills defensive end Mark Anderson recorded 10 regular season sacks while playing less than 50 percent of the team's defensive snaps under head coach Bill Belichick. When the Bills paid Anderson $19.5 million (with $8 million guaranteed), many experts that loved the logic of the signing balked at the price tag for a part-time player.
Almost immediately, the Bills were insisting that they scouted Anderson as more than simply a situational pass rusher, with head coach Chan Gailey quoted as follows at the time of the signing: "You don't pay that kind of money to specialty players. You pay that kind of money to a guy that you think can be out there 50, 60 plays."
Anderson has split first-team reps fairly evenly with Chris Kelsay to this point in training camp, and oft-injured veteran Shawne Merriman is now back in the rotational mix with a strong and healthy start to camp. Buffalo may not be in a position where they have to play Anderson a ton, but it's crystal clear that they still believe he's capable of doing so.
GM Buddy Nix was on the air with WGR 550 just prior to the start of training camp, and was banging the drum for Anderson's run-down ability yet again.
"I don't think there's any question that these guys can rush the passer," Nix opined on July 24. "All four of them have done it, and done it well - the two new guys at end (Mario Williams and Anderson), and then Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus. Those guys have all proven they can rush the passer. I think the thing that's going to surprise people is how well that group plays the run."
Nix would later continue: "Mark Anderson's not as big, but he plays with a lot of leverage, and he can set the edge and contain the ball for you."
Even still, there's something to be said for the fact that Anderson's two best NFL seasons have come as a situational pass rusher. Last year in New England was very reminiscent to his rookie season with the Chicago Bears, when he burst onto the scene as a fifth-round pick in the 2006 NFL Draft and led a Super Bowl defense with 12 sacks. In the years between 2006 and 2011, Anderson had three disappointing seasons with the Bears, was subsequently released, flashed as a situational player in the latter half of the 2010 season with the Houston Texans, and then signed on with the Patriots.
Count the folks at Football Outsiders among those that believe Anderson's role should be limited to that of a pure pass rusher with the Bills. I spoke with Sean McCormick, who authored the Bills chapter in this year's Football Outsiders Almanac, and he doesn't see a reason to believe that Anderson can handle a bigger role in Buffalo.
"Anderson is very much a pass-rush specialist with limited utility against the run, so it's a concern that Gailey seems set on utilizing Anderson as a three-down player, presumably to justify the financial investment," McCormick writes. "Anderson was actually spectacular against the run his rookie season, posting a Stop Rate of 92 percent (in an admittedly tiny 13 play sample), but his Stop Rate percentage hasn't cracked 80 percent since, and was usually down in the sixties. Last year, Anderson barely registered on the stat sheet against the run. That said, the Bills needed a pass rusher, and the presence of the three other studs on the defensive line should help Anderson be productive in that role. But if the Bills insist on playing Anderson on run downs instead of rotating him with Kelsay, they are basically asking for teams to run off tackle over and over."
This is an interesting debate, so we're turning it over to you. The Bills think Anderson can play the run. There's credible evidence to suggest they're wrong. What do you believe Anderson's role should be this season?