METAIRIE, La. — It’s not that Mario Williams has had a quiet start to the 2013 season.
Not with 10 sacks, second-best in the NFL.
Not with a 4½-sack game against Carolina.
But with Buffalo sitting at 28th in the league in run defense and the problems the Bills have had in keeping key players healthy, Williams’ standout season has taken a backseat.
The Saints, however, know exactly what they’ll see on Sunday at noon in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
“He’s had an exceptional season,” New Orleans coach Sean Payton said. “He’s had sacks from inside. He’s had sacks from outside. He’s someone who is comfortable on either side of the tackle. So you’ve seen that production.”
Those 10 sacks through seven games are a ½-sack off of his 2012 total and four fewer than his career high. He’s 6-foot-6, 290 pounds and comfortable in the Bills’ defensive system, which has helped produce a league-high 12 interceptions.
In Buffalo’s 23-12 win over Miami this past weekend, he finished with three tackles and two sacks. With 2:57 to go, he forced a fumble by Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill that his teammate recovered. The Bills kicked a game-winning field goal on the change of possession.
For the performance, he earned the NFL’s AFC Defensive Player of the Week honor, the second time this season he has been awarded it.
“He’s given a couple teams a lot of trouble so he’s a guy you don’t want to get going,” Saints right tackle Zach Strief said. “You really don’t. Obviously he’s highly talented and I think they’ve put him in good positions out there to rush the passer and he’s responded.”
To combat Williams’ prowess for getting to the quarterback, it’s likely the Saints will devise a scheme that has tight ends and running backs chipping him at the line or staying in to block him.
Veteran tight end Benjamin Watson knows it’s coming.
“He’s going to be one of the guys that we have a tremendous responsibility of blocking, pass blocking and run blocking again, and he’s a guy who is a dynamic player,” Watson said. “… He’s one of those larger than life guys that you see on the field and he’s a very good player.”
What Williams and the defensive line have done up front has helped the Bills in the back end; Buffalo has 23 sacks so far this season and leads the NFL with 12 interceptions.
Along with Williams’ 10 sacks, interior linemen Marcel Dareus and Kyle Williams have combined for 6½ sacks.
“Generally that back end and front end go hand-in-hand and if you’re applying pressure and you’re getting to the quarterback, the time he has to make decisions goes from that tradition four Mississippi that we grew up with or whatever the term was you used when play in the street, it’s three Mississippi now,” Payton said. “The clock in his head speeds up and it becomes more challenging to play the position.”
But Mario Williams is the key.
“His year he’s having a really good year so he’s always a guy, whenever you play him, he’s a guy you have to be ready for and a guy you have to bring your A game with,” Watson said.