It’s 2007. It’s media day at the Super Bowl and reporters surround Bears pass rusher Mark Anderson. The fifth-round pick completed the regular season with 12 sacks, the highest for a rookie since 1982. He speaks about getting to Peyton Manning, and making him uncomfortable. He’s done it all year, why not one more game.
“The word on Anderson was that he took plays off, and that at 255 pounds, he might be too light to be an effective pass rusher in the N.F.L. But Anderson dispelled those notions immediately, even after missing almost the entire preseason with a hamstring injury.”
It’s October 2010. Anderson’s been cut by the Bears. He joins the Texans after three forgettable years in Chicago. He’s had just nine sacks since that breakout rookie year. The Texans will not re-sign him in the offseason.
It’s March 2012. Anderson signs a four-year, $28 million dollar contract with the Buffalo Bills after a 10-sack campaign with the New England Patriots in 2011. “Words can’t express how I’m feeling, I’m in a blessed situation right now. I’m going to try and help the Bills, and Bills nation, and try to take it to a whole other level.”
Anderson’s four-year period in the abyss after that sensational rookie season is confounding. Clarity is provided when analyzing Anderson not as an individual, but as a product of the system and talent surrounding him.
The Bears managed 28 sacks in the year following their Super Bowl appearance, the second lowest total in the team’s 30 year history. After signing a mega deal in the offseason, DT Tommie Harris had a season to forget with rumours of personal problems plaguing him for much of the year. In 2009, the decline of Anderson’s fellow bookends, Adewale Ogunleye and Alex Brown, made matters worse. Ogunleye fractured his left fibula, and Brown’s lack of production led to his release after the season. After achieving an adjusted sack rate of 7.6% in 2007, good for fifth in the league, 2008 saw the Bears drop to five percent 5.9 percent in 2009, and finally six percent in 2010.
So what turned it around for Anderson in New England? The hoodied czar Bill Belichick turned him into a hybrid pass rusher, alternating between “hand down” and “stand up” from series-to-series. In the post season the Pats reverted to their 3-4 defence where Anderson became a starter at ROLB and excelled not only in pass rushing with 2.5 sacks in three games, but also shedding blocks to make plays against the run. More importantly, the consistently effective Vince Wilfork at the nose, defences had other things to worry about on third down, giving Anderson one job. Get to the quarterback.
It’s probably true that the Bills overpaid Anderson. On an individual basis, he simply isn’t a game breaker.
However, the variables that allowed Anderson to thrive in 2007 and 2011 can be found in Buffalo. When surrounded by elite talent, Anderson thrives. In Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams, he’ll have just that. Much like Bill Belichick, new Defensive Co-ordinator Dave Wannstedt prides himself on creating new ways to get to the quarterback. We’ll see which Mark Anderson shows up in Orchard Park.
Bills fans hope it’s the one the press crowded around on that media day in 2007.