Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt spoke with reporters on February 16 for the first time since being named to his new position in early January. At that time, Wannstedt made one thing very clear about his new-look 4-3 defense: its success or failure would depend on the play of the defensive line.
"For us to take a jump in the defense that we're going to run, the front four needs to make a difference," Wannstedt told Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com at the time. "They need to make an impact. So that would be the position. Our defensive line, as a group, they need to be a major, major factor, run and pass, every week after week after week, for this defense to work."
In the trio of Mario Williams, Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus, the Bills appear to have found at least three-quarters of exactly the line Wannstedt described a month ago.
We knew going into free agency that Kyle (6'1", 306) and Marcell (6'3", 343) would be the foundation of the Bills' building efforts defensively. Kyle, a 2010 Pro Bowl alternate, was the team's highest-paid defender at the time, and he's currently in the prime of his career, as he'll turn 29 years old this June. Marcell, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, is the up-and-comer; he won't turn 23 until this November, and is coming off of a rookie season in which he recorded 5.5 sacks - tying Kyle's career high - and flashed serious play-making potential.
Now they add Mario (6'6", 285), the 27-year-old proven pass rusher that is also entering the prime of his career. Mario is the show horse, but between the three players, they'll have a trio that ideally will produce like workhorses.
Mario is capable of beating blockers one-on-one. Kyle is capable of beating blockers one-on-one. Marcell is capable of beating blockers one-on-one. You see the pattern here. The Bills' mentality of aggression has transferred to the build of their defensive line, and they're playing a game of match-up football, where this fall they'll dare their opponents to leave any one of these three guys across from just one blocker on a given down. The Bills' front office has talked about winning one-on-one match-ups all off-season, and their new-look defensive line has the potential to do so frequently.
Buffalo's approach is going to reap benefits for the team on the field - provided, of course, that everyone can stay healthy, particularly the two Williamses. They have certainly made a heavy investment here; between Mario's record-setting contract, Kyle's lucrative extension and Marcell's fully-guaranteed rookie deal, the Bills have handed out $87.4 million in guarantees to their defensive line triumvirate.
Wannstedt's defense is purported to be "defensive line friendly," and he's made stars out of several pass rushers and run-stuffers in previous professional gigs. In Buffalo, however, the veteran coach may already have the most talented defensive line he's ever worked with.