Mario Williams had Jeremy Hill.
Until he didn’t.
Williams should have dropped Hill, the Bengals’ running back, for a big loss in the second quarter Thursday night.
The wide-9 worked how it was intended.
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It was the right call.
Williams set the edge and got upfield.
He just didn’t make the tackle. Hill shook free, darted back left and not only made it back to the line of scrimmage, but actually gained two yards.
Big picture, that play wasn’t a huge deal. On the list of Dolphins mistakes contributing to their loss to Cincinnati, that one wouldn’t crack the top 20.
But it was a snapshot of Williams’ first quarter-season with the Dolphins. Some good, but not nearly enough.
Through four games, Williams has recorded seven tackles (including just two for loss), three quarterback hits and a lone sack.
And his lack of production isn’t a function of lack of opportunity. He’s been on the field for 211 snaps this year -- the most of any Dolphins defensive lineman outside of Ndamukong Suh.
Williams was at the centerpiece of the Dolphins’ defensive makeover.
And while there’s blame to go around for their struggles, Williams hasn’t done enough to lift them up.
Still, Williams sounded no alarms early Friday morning, speaking with reporters after the Dolphins’ 22-7 loss to the Bengals. The Dolphins had just allowed six scoring drives (albeit five field goals) and surrendered more than 350 yards in the fourth time in as many games.
Williams’ stats? Zero sacks, tackles for loss or quarterback hits. In fact, the Dolphins’ only sack of the game came on a corner blitz.
And yet ...
“I feel like I've gotten better from the first game to now,” Williams said.
He needs to get much better, fast.
When the Dolphins signed Williams to a two-year, $17 million contract in the offseason, there was hope within the organization that he’d actually be an upgrade over Olivier Vernon, who left for a record-breaking deal with the Giants.
Now, there’s reason to be concerned that Williams’ poor 2015 was a leading indicator, not an anomaly.
Williams’ 2015 stat line? Five sacks, 15 tackles (including six for loss) and 11 quarterback hits.
Williams’ projected 2015 stat line? Four sacks (which would be a career-low), 28 tackles (including eight for loss) and 12 quarterback hits.
That’s a far cry from Williams’ first nine seasons; he averaged 10 sacks a year from 2006 through 2014.
And unlike in 2015, when Rex Ryan asked Williams to drop into coverage, this scheme should be tailor-made to fit his strengths.
Williams believes the sacks will come in time, but hinted that his secondary might help him out a bit.
“... If we can get guys to hold the ball a little longer,” William said of the sacks. “The ball's coming out pretty quick. The biggest thing with us is to keep chipping away and keep going at it.
Williams found no consolation in the Dolphins keeping Cincinnati out of the end zone all but once; “it still wasn't good enough for us,” he said.
The Dolphins’ defense needs to minimize big plays and force more turnovers, Williams added. Before Sunday’s slate of games, the Dolphins were tied for 28th in football with a minus-5 turnover margin.
“We've still got a lot of work to do,” Williams said. “We know the season is long. We know we can definitely get it done. We just have to do it on Sunday.”
And how does that happen?
“Don't give up,” Williams said. “That's the only way. This is the fourth game. At the end of the day, we still have a lot to play for. I'm not going to give up.”