Marcell Dareus played 34 of 58 Bills defensive snaps on Sunday. That’s just 59 percent.
And that’s ok with him.
“As 1/11th (of the defense), I’m just doing my job,” Dareus said Wednesday. “I’m just doing the plays they want me to do on first [and] second down, just being cooperative playing inside of the defense, doing exactly what’s asked of me to do.”
Dareus was on the field for at least 70 percent of the snaps the last three seasons and at least 76 percent of snaps the last two. Granted, it’s the smallest of small sample sizes, but Dareus’ 1/11th through one game is a lot less than it used to be.
Sean McDermott reiterated Wednesday that the decrease in playing time is all part of the rotational system he runs with his defensive line.
“I think about what’s going to give us the best chance to win a football game. That’s keeping players fresh up front,” McDermott said. “That’s just philosophically, again, what we believe in. We’re focused on what we do and how we win.”
The numbers back up McDermott’s philosophical claims.
Over the last five seasons, no Panther has ranked higher than 15th for percentage of snaps among defensive linemen. Kawann Short played the most snaps on the Carolina D-line the last two seasons, but only ranked 24th (2016) and 34th (2015) in the league, according to Pro Football Focus.
After being sent home from the Ravens preseason game and publicly questioned by GM Brandon Beane, it seemed Dareus’ decrease in playing time might be less about a rotation and more about a time out.
Compared to his Bills teammates, the numbers lean toward the latter.
Jerry Hughes played 80% of defensive snaps last season and he played just under 80% of snaps in the opener (46 of 58).
Kyle Williams participated in 79.7% of plays in 2016 and that number only fell to 74% for the Jets game. Three more plays and he would have been even.
Dareus was 10-11 plays short of the usage rate he posted last season (76.6%) and in 2015 (77.5%).
The two time Pro Bowler and former first team All-Pro carries the team’s largest contract and highest salary in 2017. He was asked if he’s disappointed he can’t be more effective or, at least, on the field more in this defense.
“That’s a good question,” Dareus said. “It’s a new regime and the way we’re doing this, I’m only one piece of the whole puzzle. I have to play my role [to] the best of my ability. It’s not about me. I’m just going to do what I have to do for the best [interests] of the team.”
The Panthers may have rotated defensive linemen under McDermott, but Pro Bowlers didn’t get less than 60 percent of snaps.
Short made the Pro Bowl for Carolina in 2015 playing 69 percent. After proving his ability, he was on the field for 72 percent of snaps in 2016.
Greg Hardy played a whopping (relatively) 86% of snaps making 15 sacks for McDermott in 2013. From 2012-14, Charles Johnson posted 32 total sacks and was on the field for 79% (2012), 71% (2013) and 76% (2014) of the defensive plays.
The Panthers did not have three players get more than 60 percent of snaps in each of the last four seasons, so there may be a limited amount of “superstar” slots in the McDermott D-Line rotation.
It may also be an apples to oranges comparison. The Panthers never had three defensive linemen as talented and accomplished as the Bills do now. Hardly any team ever has.
Dareus admitted it’s harder to get into a rhythm playing less.
“It was a little challenging trying to get the ball rolling and working moves, wanting to get to the QB, trying to flash here, flash here, throw your fastball. Just trying to get that timing down with Kyle Williams and Jerry Hughes, things like that,” he said. “Some things you kind of have to get used to.”
He thinks the rotation will keep the Bills fresher in the fourth quarter and later in the season. It’s about doing what’s best for the team and Dareus is buying in.
“I like the rotation. I like what we got going on. I’m just going to play my role, doing the best I can.”
Even if it’s doing his best a little less often.