Kyle Williams has been a force for Buffalo defense early on in the 2016 season. (Kevin Hoffman/USA Today Sports)
FOXBORO — The Patriots have been running the ball better than any team in the NFL through three weeks.
If that’s to continue this week, they will have to contain one of the best interior lineman in football.
Kyle Williams is in his 11th season with the Bills as the anchor of their defensive line. He was a stud the moment he came in as a fifth-round pick out of LSU in 2006. He was limited to six games last season because of torn meniscus in his left knee.
With Williams back this season, Buffalo is allowing just 98 yards per game and 3.4 yards per carry. The Jets ran for 123 yards in the 37-31 win on Sept. 15, and that’s what the Patriots will try to copy. But the Bills were also able to hold the Ravens to 83 yards and the Cardinals to 88 yards. In three games, Williams has 13 tackles and 1.5 sacks for the Bills.
The Patriots come into Sunday’s game with the leading rusher in the NFL and AFC offensive player of the month. LeGarrette Blount leads all of football in yards (298) and carries (75). But what sticks out the most to Williams is how physical the line in front of Blount is playing with Dante Scarnecchia back as offensive line coach.
“The thing is, you know I’ve played against them a number of years, you see the same things that you saw a decade ago,” Williams said. “Physical offensive line that plays hard and doesn’t make mistakes, a running back that hits things downhill, a tough runner. So it’s going to be a great test for us. There’s no doubt about it. Coach Scarnecchia always does a great job with his O-line and they don’t beat themselves. So just be on top of our jobs and be ready a physical football game on Sunday.”
Williams, at 6-foot-1, 305 pounds, is not considered the typical two-gap, run-stopping force in the middle of the line.
“I think Kyle is just a great player,” his coach Rex Ryan said in a conference call. “You know it’s as simple as that. He’s much different than a Vince Wilfork but he’s more of a penetrating one-gap player. But he can do it all. He’s got great pass rush from the inside.”
Added Bill Belichick, “At times he is on the center, at times he is on the guard in a three-technique. Occasionally they’ve even played him at end a little bit on the tackle in a four or five-technique. More inside than outside but depending on what scheme they have, and they have multiple schemes, they move those guys around so you don’t always know exactly where they’re going to be.”
So what exactly has made Williams such an effective anchor in the middle of their defensive line for so long?
“He’s a really disruptive player,” Belichick said. “He’s very instinctive. He has a great feel for anticipation of plays, whether that’s tendencies or reading linemen’s stances. I’m not sure how he does all of it but he does it very effectively. He has got very good quickness. He has a tremendous motor. He never gives up on a play. He makes a lot of plays on second effort where he comes off of a block and hits the quarterback or makes the tackles or that type of thing.
“He also makes a lot of plays on his quickness. He has got good playing strength. He’s explosive in a short area. He can knock blockers back. If they come off too hard on him then he’s quick enough to jump around them and make them miss and end up in the backfield. But again, he’s a very instinctive guy. He always seems to do the right thing at the right time and it’s not always the same thing but it always seems to be the right thing.”
Belichick noted that when the Bills are flying around on defense making plays, Williams has plenty of help.
“[Jerry] Hughes outside, Williams inside; those two guys are really disruptive on their defense,” Belichick said. “They make a lot of plays or they force plays to be bad plays and somebody else makes them. Obviously, they have a lot of speed at linebacker with Zach Brown. Preston Brown makes a lot of tackles so those guys are very productive players, too. But those two guys up front are particularly a problem.”
The Bills have shown a very solid defense in two of their three games. They lost 13-7 in the opener at Baltimore. They allowed just 18 points against Arizona. In the loss to the Jets, they allowed 37 first downs and 493 total yards.
“I think the first game I think the defense played really well,” Ryan said of his D. “Really gave up one big play. Other than that, I think it was a pretty solid performance week one. But we just laid an egg week two. I mean it’s as simple as that. We played poorly. We had opportunities, throwing jump balls up and they were coming down with them. It’s one of those things, one of those days but we did, we played really poor. And then the third week, we came out, we had a good game against a pretty talented team.”