BEREA — A $100 million investment ought to produce significant returns.
Even if the $100 million is spent on something as intangible as human performance.
So when the Buffalo Bills set out in the offseason to improve a defense that had given up almost 6,000 yards last season, it lavished a $100 million contract on Mario Williams, the former defensive end and linebacker for the Houston Texans. And the Bills did it even though Williams played in just five games last season.
On the first day of free agency, the Bills had Williams visit and never let him leave. He and fellow end Mark Anderson became the cornerstones for defensive improvement.
That line will be one of many challenges for the Browns on Sunday as the Bills visit Cleveland for a 1 p.m. game.
Buffalo running back, C.J. Spiller leads the league by averaging 10.1 yards on his 20 carries.
The Bills offensive line is the only one in the league to not give up a sack in two games.
And Buffalo has scored 63 points in two games.
One of the more interesting individual matchups has a Browns rookie right tackle facing a $100 million man, as Mitchell Schwartz will try to block a guy considered one of the league’s premier pass rushers.
“Oh boy,” Browns offensive coordinator Brad Childress said when asked the challenges Williams will present. “Speed, size, length, reach.”
Childress called Williams a power guy with the ability to speed rush as well.
It’s a tough matchup for any tackle, much less a rookie, much less a rookie learning on the fly. Schwartz has had the typical rookie curve. He started slow, looked lost in a couple preseason games and saw how fast the NFL game can be in the opener.
But he settled down in the second as the right side of the line fared pretty well in Cincinnati.
Part of that was it being game two, part that Trent Richardson was far more healthy and ready to run, part that Cincinnati’s defense has struggled in two games (yes, the chicken and egg come to mind).
Schwartz always talks about relying on his tecnnique no matter who he blocks. That means proper steps, footwork, balance and leverage.
Williams ranks ninth among active sack leaders since he joined the league in 2006 with 53 — but he is playing his third position since he was a surprise first overall pick by the Texans in ‘06. He started as a linebacker, moved to right end when the Texans switched to a four-three and moved to left end in Buffalo, the position he played in college.
In two games he has no sacks and three tackles, but the Bills defensive line as a whole has produced impressively. In a win over Kansas City, Buffalo had five sacks and forced three turnovers.
The other Williams — defensive tackle Kyle — had two of the sacks. Marcell Dareus played a week after his brother was killed in a triple homicide in Alabama, and had a sack. The defensive front finished an easy win over Kansas City with 10 tackles, five for a loss, three sacs, four quarterback hits and two passes tipped (one by Mario Williams). And they did that playing just three quarters of a blowout win..
This could be a case of the one new guy helping everyone.
The Browns normally would give Schwartz help. But the Bills inside pressure last Sunday could make them pause, and their best pass-blocking tight end, Alex Smith, has not been on the practice field all week due to a concussion. That leaves fullback Owen Marecic or tight ends Ben Watson or Jordan Cameron to help. None are stone-cold blockers.
“They’re pretty big,” center Alex Mack said. “They’ve got a really good stout rushing team in there, and they have some good edge rushers. We got challenges in the run and pass.”
A year ago, the Bills gave up 434 points — the second highest total in team history — and had 29 sacks, 10 in one game.
This season they already have five sacks, though they all came in one game.
Schwartz was not available in the open locker room session, but Childress said he’s a quick study who takes “copious notes” in meetings.
“Sometimes you have to be told,” Childress said. “He’s a guy who can be told and put it into play on the next play.”
Williams played last week with a cast on his left wrist, but got generally good reviews. This week he celebrated the release of a cereal called Mario-Os, with all proceeds benefiting children’s cancer research. He become the first Bill since Terrell Owens (and Doug Flutie) to have his own cereal.
His $100 million contract? The richest for a defender in NFL history.
“The defensive ends in this league all present problems in their own way,” coach Pat Shurmur said, adding: “Every week presents a bigger test than the last.”
Schwartz’s story won’t be told on one Sunday, but the Browns should know a little more about their rookie tackle — and their offensive line — by the end of the afternoon.