The last time Tyson Clabo faced Mario Williams, it cost the Dolphins right tackle his starting job.
Paradoxically, it might have been the best thing to happen to him. Clabo is now playing his best football of the season.
Clabo probably won’t be sending Williams any gift baskets, however. Instead, he will spend Sunday trying to figure out how to keep one of the league’s premier pass rushers in a box.
“It’s going to be fun,” Clabo said with a wry smile Wednesday.
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But two months ago, he was in no mood for levity. He felt responsible for the Dolphins’ 23-21 loss to the Bills after getting beat twice in the fourth quarter by Williams, surrendering a strip-sack that led directly to Buffalo’s game-winning field goal.
It capped the worst stretch in Clabo’s nine-year career, a six-game run in which he allowed an astonishing eight sacks. In a dour locker room after the game, he likened it to a bad dream.
The nightmare got even worse later that week. The Dolphins traded for Bryant McKinnie, a move that was supposed to send Clabo to the bench for the rest of the season.
But the demotion lasted only a week. The Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito saga ensured that. When Martin walked out on the team, the Dolphins had no choice but to re-insert Clabo into the lineup.
The result: Improved (yet still flawed) pass protection, and wins by the Dolphins in five of their past seven games.
Since his return to the lineup, Clabo has allowed just three sacks and four quarterback hits. And although that’s still not great, it does represent a marked improvement.
“I’m doing the same things that I was doing; just doing it better,” Clabo said. “I’m going to continue to try to do that. [The Bills] are good. There’s definitely a challenge. I’m going to show up.”
Said Ryan Tannehill: “He’s not getting beat, obviously, and he’s run-blocking well to go along with good pass blocking. Obviously, I don’t know O-line fundamentals, but he’s keeping guys away from me, and he’s doing a great job of that.”
Center Mike Pouncey agreed, saying: “I just think he’s doing a good job. He’s settled in with this new offense. He did a good job finishing out the season for us.”
That’s not to say all the Dolphins’ problems have disappeared. The Patriots sacked Tannehill four times last week, and the team’s single-season sacks record will almost certainly fall in the final two weeks. They’re just two shy of the 53 allowed in 1969.
Williams alone had that many last time around.
“I think you see how good Mario can be,” Bills coach Doug Marrone said. “A lot of times people do a lot of different things to him, and he’s one of those players in the league that you have to pay attention to. If you don’t do a good job, he’s a guy who can take over a game.”
That was the case on Oct. 20. Clabo said after the game that there are only a handful of tackles in the world who can block Williams one-on-one, and didn’t back away from those comments Wednesday.
But Williams, who is third in the league with 12 sacks this season, refused to take a victory lap this week.
In a conversation with South Florida reporters Wednesday, Williams said: “Once a game is over and we won, you just have to keep moving,” he said in a conversation with South Florida reporters Wednesday.
The Dolphins surely would chip to whichever side Williams lines up Sunday if they could. But that would leave them exposed to the rest of Buffalo’s fearsome defensive line.
The Bills lead the league with 49 sacks. Jerry Hughes has nine, Kyle Williams has 8 1/2, andMarcell Dareus has 7 1/2.
“They’re a good front,” said Clabo, a free agent after this season. “They’re very talented. They rush the passer really well. It’s going to be a challenge to try to keep that catastrophic play from happening. They’re all a threat, and we have to all play well.”