How Does Manny Lawson Fit into the Buffalo Bills Defense?

Updated: March 13, 2013

The Bills made their first splash (any time you sign a player in free agency, it’s always a SPLASH) of the 2013 NFL offseason by bringing in LB Manny Lawson, leaving the Buffalo Bills Tank Tyler away from having each member of the 2005 NC State Defensive line under contract at some point or another. Speaking of which, I wonder if Mario Williams had anything to do with signing.

In any event, I took a quick look at a few of Lawson’s games in an effort to determine what role the signee will play in defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s defense. In Cincinnati, Lawson was primarily the Sam (strong side linebacker) in Mike Zimmer’s 4-3 defense, and would generally be the first linebacker off the field in nickel situations, due to his average coverage ability. However, often times while in base set against a pass, Lawson would play traditional linebacker coverage, like manning the tight end or underneath zone coverage. Lawson didn’t excel at this, but his 4.4 speed allowed him to keep up with his assignment, unlike Chris Kelsay trying to do the same a few years ago.

Fortunately, the the Bills via Pettine probably won’t ask Lawson to quite as much in coverage. Looking at the Jets defense the past few years, Lawson probably will play a similar role to Calvin Pace. Rush the passer, play some zone flat coverage, set the edge. It’s not a perfect comparison, as Pace has about 20 pounds on the 240lb Lawson, but that also gives Lawson a speed rushing dimension that Pace never was known for. However, if depth becomes an issue as it is prone to for Buffalo, Lawson can play a more traditional ILB position, although probably won’t excel at it.

The best aspect about Lawson is his versatility to provide some added muscle at linebacker while still possessing the ability to line up in a 3 point stance as a nickel speed rusher. Continuing the theme of multiplicity we’ve seen with the Bryan Scott re signing, Lawson should only further Pettine’s ability to show different looks.