Mario Williams didn't exactly light the world on fire in his Buffalo Bills on Sunday, contributing just one tackle and one quarterback hit during the team's 48-28 road loss to the New York Jets. Matched up against a right tackle making his second pro start in Austin Howard, Williams was a non-factor throughout the game.
Any time a player doesn't perform to lofty expectations, fans are going to be peeved. That problem is exacerbated when a player makes excuses in the media, and that's precisely what Williams did after the game, ripping into the replacement officials for ignoring his protestations over the way Howard was blocking him. Williams accuses Howard of repeatedly getting his hands into Williams' face, which by rule is a penalty.
Was Williams making excuses, or did he have a legitimate post-game gripe? I got up way too early this morning to try to find out.
The first thing I need to point out: all-22 film isn't yet available through NFL Game Rewind for this matchup, so this is all based on watching the broadcast footage from yesterday's debacle. That actually helped the situation, because it's easier to see hand placement with the bigger view, even if it's a pretty bad angle.
This was the first Jets passing play of the game, and yeah, that's Howard's right arm jabbing Mario in the face. It was not sustained and therefore unlikely to draw a flag, but the jab was there.
This was another first quarter play, and again, there was contact to the face, but it was just a brief jab. Like the first instance, this was a very fast instance that's tough to see.
Howard got up high on this third quarter play, but that appeared to be more of a function of his hand slipping as Williams abruptly changed direction.
The hands were high on this play, as you can see, but I didn't see any egregious facial contact.
That was the theme for me this morning. I re-watched the television footage two times through to see if Williams' gripe was legitimate, and my answer would be no. Yes, Howard was getting his hands into Williams' face, but they weren't particularly easy to spot, and in zero cases did I see sustained helmet contact that would constitute an illegal hands to the face penalty. They were just little jabs that, I'm sure, served their purpose: they seem like the ideal way to irritate Williams and get him off his game.
Long story short: Howard and the Jets got into Mario's head, and Howard handled him.
Plus, the blade cuts both ways, Mr. Williams, I saw these plays, too:
Maybe Williams' frustration would have been better aimed in the direction of his defensive teammates - specifically the defensive backs. Folks, here's an important thing to keep in mind for the few of you who have continued to read this far: Buffalo's pass rush isn't a problem. Not yet, anyway.
The defensive line didn't play particularly well on Sunday, but Buffalo's pass coverage was absolutely atrocious. Mark Sanchez repeatedly delivered the ball as soon as his back foot planted on his three- and five-step drops. No pass rush is going to create consistent pressure when receivers are running free almost immediately.
Bottom line: don't worry about Williams yet. Don't worry about the defensive line yet. Buffalo has much bigger fish to fry defensively, and it starts with their overwhelmed secondary. I'll get into that a bit more when the coaches' film is available.