The Buffalo Bills’ defense regressed in their first season with Head Coach Rex Ryan calling the shots. The team finished the 2015 season with just 20 sacks, 56 QB Hits and 159 hurries. In 2014, ProFootballFocus credited them with 61 sacks, 51 QB Hits and 175 hurries. With a high-priced defensive line, these results were mind-boggling to Bills’ fans. However, Marcell Dareus, who signed a six-year, $96 million deal prior to the season was one of the lone bright spots, even if the stat sheet didn’t reflect that.
A year after recording 10 sacks and 32 pressures, Marcell Dareus finished the 2015 season with 51 tackles, five for a loss, two sacks and 30 total quarterback pressures. While this may not seem impressive on the surface, Rex Ryan’s scheme called on Dareus to play the nose tackle positon almost exclusively, where he was asked to two-gap and faced countless double teams. In Jim Schwartz’ traditional 4-3 front, Dareus played some nose—but more as a one-technique—and played the three-technique (typically a one-gap penetrating player) more often.
After charting Dareus’ defensive snaps, I found that he aligned directly over the center (zero-technique) on 35.7% of his snaps. This is a thankless position, as you’re responsible for both “A” gaps and need to hold your ground in order for the linebackers to clean up.
Marcell Dareus’ Run Defense
Despite being in a position that relied on the players behind him to make the tackles, Marcell Dareus racked up 40 tackles against the run—the fifth-most among defensive tackles, with 28 counting as “stops” which was sixth-most at the position.
A dominant force like Dareus is capable of making plays from a traditional nose tackle alignment, as you can see in this play against the Tennessee Titans. He tosses the center away as soon as the ball is snapped and wraps up the running back for a stop.
This time, he faces a double team—as he did on 50.5% of his defensive snaps in 2015—but it’s still not a problem. Dareus sheds the blockers and makes another stop for a loss.
Another double team by the New York Giants, the same result.
While some members of the Bills’ front seven grumbled about their roles within the scheme, Dareus wasn’t one of them. He showed passion and fire on every snap and played through the whistle, as you can see in this play against the Miami Dolphins as he chases down a running back nearly 15-yards down the field.
Marcell Dareus’ Pass Rush
While Marcell Dareus managed to record just two sacks on the season, his 30 total quarterback pressures ranked 17th among defensive tackles, and third among traditional 3-4 nose tackles. In sub-packages or obvious passing situations, Dareus got his chance to shine as a three-technique, where he saw 26.8% of his defensive snaps.
Here, Dareus is aligned as a three-technique (between the guard and tackle) on the right side of the defensive line. He’s doubled, but manages to shed the tackle as Ryan Tannehill looks to escape and records a sack.
Dareus, who stands 6’3” and weighs around 330 pounds is extremely athletic for his size and the following play shows his quickness. Aligned at the three-technique to the left side of the defensive line, Dareus loops around the offensive line as Kyle Williams drops into coverage. He delivers a shot to Marcus Mariota just as he’s getting rid of the ball and forces an incompletion.
Later in the game, Dareus wins his matchup and delivers another shot to Mariota—this time forcing an interception by Stephon Gilmore.
Dareus excels as a pass rusher due to a rare combination of speed, quickness, hand usage and power. While he doesn’t record a pressure on this play, his sheer strength and power is put on display as he overpowers Jacksonville Jaguars’ rookie guard, A.J. Cann, throwing him to the ground.
Marcell Dareus is one of the elite defensive linemen in the National Football League, regardless of what the raw statistics say. The Buffalo Bills would be wise to invest in a true nose tackle, whether in free agency or the draft in order to maximize the abilities of Marcell Dareus. Dareus’ rare combination of size athleticism allows him to fit anywhere from the zero-to-five technique defensive line positions.
Dareus played the five-technique (3-4 defensive end) at Alabama, where he excelled. Here, he’s the “contain” defensive end against an option play by Auburn’s Cam Newton. Dareus plays it perfectly and is able to bring Cam down for a sack.
Adding a nose tackle—even one to play strictly in base personnel—would allow Rex Ryan to be creative with how Marcell Dareus is used, picking matchups to exploit and getting the most out of him. As talented as Dareus was playing the nose tackle position in 2015, it’s hard to justify a $96 million deal for a player that’s going to be used primarily as a two-gap defender.