Thursday, 15 March 2012

It's time for Super Mario to show some love for maple syrup

It's taken a couple of days but we finally have a mega-splash in the first week of NFL free-agency as the Buffalo Bills have landed defensive end/outside linebacker 'Super' Mario Williams from the Houston Texans.

Williams was the first overall pick in the 2006 NFL rookie draft, a mild shock in a draft that featured Reggie Bush. He has been a two-time Pro Bowl performer (2008 and 2009) and set the franchise record for sacks in 2007 with 14.

On the surface this is a superb acquisition by the Bills, a team that have been flying so far under the radar of NFL success they have been playing regular-season games in Canada every year to try and attract a new fan-base.

When you dig a bit deeper however it is easily understandable why the Texans decided to let go of Mario. Here are some interesting facts about 'Super Mario':
  • He has only played in 18 games in the last two seasons (missing 14 games)
  • Since 2007 his sack total has gone down every year (from 14 in 2007 to 5 in 2011)
  • He has only managed 11 forced fumbles in 82 career starts (as comparisons Vikings defensive end Jared Allenhas had 26 in 8 seasons, and the Giants Osi Unenyiora 30 in the same stretch)
  • He has never played in a playoff game in the NFL, let alone won a playoff game
Yes Mario's 2011 season was cut very short due to injury, and before that he had notched-up 5 sacks in five games in a new position (outside linebacker), but by the time the bell tolled at the end of the season it was the likes of J.J. Watt, Brooks Reed (both rookies) and Connor Barwin (second year) who were the defensive talk of the town in Texas.

Reed, the 42nd pick in the 2011 draft, and former high-school running back, took over from Mario in week 6 and ended the season with 44 tackles and six sacks. In the Texans' first ever playoff game Reed recorded a franchise record 2.5 sacks in a losing effort.

The Bills have been woeful since head coach Wade Phillips left the team in 2000. In the last 11 season they have been .500 once, had one winning season, and never won more than 9 games in any one year. Even more disturbing Buffalo fans have not tasted a playoff win since December 30 1995.

'Super' Mario does join some talent on the Bills defense, becoming team-mates with Pro-Bowl defensive tackle Kyle Williams and former Alabama defensive tackle Marcel Dareus, billed the best defensive tackle to come out of the class of 2011, but looking at the defense overall it is not a talented bunch. The team have ranked 28th (2010) and 30th (2011) in points allowed over the past two seasons.

I have fond memories spending my teenage years watching the likes of Bills legends Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed, Cornelius Bennett and Bruce Smith, Mark Kelso et al dominating the AFC. The team stayed together for most of the 90s, and remarkably reached the playoffs in 10 out of 12 seasons between 1988 and 1999, playing (but losing) four consecutive Super Bowls.

I don't think Mario Williams alone will bring back the good times to the home of the world's most popular chicken wings, but he can help to restore some degree of pride to a team that was respected by everyone in the football world when they were led by Marv 'where would you rather be than right here right now' Levy.

Let's just hope the Bills don't migrate to Canada before the glory times return, who knows Super Mario may be more of a muesli and yoghurt man rather than a fan of pancakes and maple syrup.

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