METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints are well aware of the challenge they'll face Sunday when Buffalo Bills pass-rusher Mario Williams comes to town. The Saints got to know the 6-foot-6, 292-pounder up close and personal during his years with the Houston Texans from 2006-2011.
During that span, they faced Williams twice in the regular season and four times in the preseason. The Saints and Texans also got together for a week of joint practices in three straight preseasons from 2008-2010.
Veteran players and coach Sean Payton all agreed, however, that Williams is playing as well as ever now in his eighth NFL season. Williams has already racked up 10 sacks -- including a game-changer last week that forced a fumble and led to the Bills' come-from behind win over the Miami Dolphins.
Here's what the Saints have been saying about Williams this week:
Payton: “You know, he plays that weakside/outside linebacker position which can put him right or left based on your formation in the base. In the nickel snaps, he's more to our right and to his left. He's had an exceptional season. He's had sacks from inside. He's had sacks from outside. He's someone who is comfortable on either side of the tackle. So you've seen that production. He's healthy. He's long. Certainly he is a player that you have to account for because he changed the game last week, we saw in the final snaps. He's really playing well.”
Offensive tackle Zach Strief: “The scouting report? He's really big. He's a really good athlete for a guy with that kind of size. He's moving well, he's really productive this year. I think you see him, he's given a couple teams a lot of trouble. So he's a guy, you don't want him to get going.
“Obviously he's highly talented, and I think they're putting him in good positions out there to rush the passer. And he's responded. I think he's a better rusher from their left, and he's been more productive there. And obviously there's a lot of things you can do games-wise, movement, to get a guy in a good matchup, to keep him away from double teams. They've done a good job with that. And at the end of the day, he's beat a lot of blockers.
“And I think it's probably nice for him to be healthy. I think last year he dealt with some things. I think you're seeing someone playing healthy, and that helps a lot.”
Saints quarterback Drew Brees: “Yes (this is the best he's looked). We played against him a lot, practiced against him a lot when he was with the Texans at those training camps and we played against him, that type of thing. He's always been a physical presence, but over time you just develop certain skills and techniques and master certain things. And I definitely think he's gotten better as the years have gone on. He's always had that big physical presence, but he has the tools to go along with it and you see the results.”
Guard Jahri Evans: “Oh, man, he's one of those guys like (Julius) Peppers, man. He's a freak of nature. Just one of those guys who can really dominate up front and do a lot of things well. And I think it's showing in their play this year. He's just a great competitor.”