Henry is a bright spot in Buffalo loss

The special teams kickoff coverage and return units were sub-par, the quarterbacking was shoddy, the defensive backs made too many technique errors and the defense didn't force any turnovers. But before you go out and shoot yourself, know that rookie running back Travis Henry is showing that he could be a very good running back – this year – and the offensive line didn't give up any sacks.

Those are definitely marked improvements from last season.

Still, in the Bills' first preseason game, the St. Louis Rams beat them 24-10 at Ralph Wilson Stadium Sunday, Aug. 12. It wasn't a nice game.

Henry really good

When Travis Henry took off on his 25-yard touchdown run off of right tackle in the second quarter, behind excellent line blocking by right tackle Jonas Jennings and center Bill Conaty, that was the memo to Bills coaches and fans that he intends to be the team's No. 1 running back. It tied the score 7-7. Compared to Sammy Morris and Shawn Bryson, who totaled (-1) yards on 11 carries, Henry was Jim Brown. He had 47 yards on six carries. He caught two passes for 19 yards, including a 12-yarder on a second-quarter third and eight from the Buffalo 29 with less than two minutes to go. Henry played only in the second quarter.

"He looked really good," said Rob Johnson.

Bills coach Gregg Williams said Henry is going to get more playing time as the No. 1 back.

Quarterbacks mediocre again

Johnson has a jammed index finger on his throwing hand, and that is bad for his throwing. During his post game press conference, he kept the hand in his pocket, probably so the finger wouldn't be shown on TV. When he left the podium, however, he took the hand and the finger was wrapped in an ace bandage.

This could be a dilemma for the Bills. Johnson is trying to practice a new offense, but physically, he is hurting and may need some time during the preseason for the finger to heal. In the days leading up to the game, the finger was fiercely swollen, looking like a basketball player's. But Johnson vows to play with the injury.

Overall, he was inaccurate, going three for five for 13 yards. He's not yet making the quick decisions needed in the fast-paced offense. He scrambled for 15 yards on two carries – one for a third-down conversion. But he still has to have more faith that his receivers are going to catch the ball if he puts it up.

Alex Van Pelt threw a terrible interception on a first-down sideline pass intended for Avion Black with 58 seconds left in the second quarter. It was right in Aeneas Williams' hands. Van Pelt finished six for 11 for 54 yards. Pete Gonzalez relieved Van Pelt in the fourth and was zero for three. Jack Hawley was three for five for 14 yards. Hawley did better than Gonzalez, getting one first down. Gonzalez played two series and had no first downs.

Young defensive backs too aggressive

Gregg Williams classified some of the Rams' big passing plays as technique errors by the young Bills' defensive backs. Buffalo started Ken Irvin and Antoine Winfield, but they were gone after a couple of series. Enter Lance Brown and Nate Clements. Clements was the culprit on a 20-yard square-in pass in the second quarter, and Brown was the culprit the next play: a 60-yard Torry Holt touchdown to give St. Louis a 7-0 lead. Holt ran a post pattern down the middle of the field on first and 10 from the St. Louis 40 and Rams backup quarterback Joe Germaine threw a 25-yard pass to him. Brown was behind Holt so he scored with ease. In all, Buffalo gave up 12 passes of 12 yards or more – chunks of yardage that would seem unlikely a year ago.

Brown, Clements and backup and Jimmy Williams were among the players taking bad angles on the Rams' speedy receivers.

Early in the game, Irvin was victimized by Az Hakim for an 18-yard third down conversion, a throw by Kurt Warner. Winfield was not thrown on.

Pass rush mixed

The Bills managed three sacks of Rams QBs – one and a half by under tackle Leif Larsen, one by newcomer end David Bowens and a half by weakside linebacker Jay Foreman.

The team did not blitz too often and the one time it did – sending the safties in, Germaine read the play and nailed Holt for the 60-yard score.

For the defense to work, there has to be a pass rush. Speed rushers Erik Flowers and Aaron Schobel were skillfully handled by left tackle Orlando Pace. Under tackle Shawn Price ran some stunts to the outside and got to the quarterback occasionally, but not before the ball was unloaded.

The Bills did play their nickel defensive line on downs other than third down, in which Phil Hansen moved to right tackle, left end Bryce Fisher enters and nose tackle Pat Williams goes out. We might see more of that because the coach likes what Hansen does inside.

Bowens, playing left end, showed some explosiveness, getting a sack on Germaine through the inside and penetrating into the backfield enough to force a quarterback hurry later on. However, he did go offside on a third and 4 from the Buffalo 19, with the Bills leading 10-7 early in the fourth quarter. The penalty was declined because the defense gave up a 14-yard pass for first and goal. On the next play, the Rams took the lead with an up the middle run while Buffalo was in its goal line defense. That defense is hardly stout.

Special teams have highs and lows

For all the work special teams coordinator Danny Smith has done on special teams, devoting almost a third of each practice to the units and detailing every special teams situation ever faced to mankind, there were two kickoff fumbles – one by Avion Black picked up by the Rams and run in for a touchdown and a 24-10 lead with about six minutes to go. The kickoff return coverage team yielded a 31-yard average on three returns. None of the Bills' kickoffs were touchbacks.

On the bright side, Lance Brown forced a fumble on Dre Bly's first punt return of the game when he ran 18 yards up the middle, but succumbed to Brown's strip. Another bright spot was the punting. Brian Moorman had a 44.5-yard average on four punts – only two of which were returned – and Jay Taylor had a 42.3-yard average, including a coffin corner kick that pinned the Rams at their 3. Three of the Bills' eight punts were fair caught. In all, after the Bly return, the punt unit played well.

Game notes

The offensive line did not allow a sack, though there were several pressures. Right tackle Jonas Jennings shook off a holding penalty on a third and four and settled in to provide the key block on Henry's touchdown run. With Jon Carman injured and Robert Hicks not up to the challenge, it appears Jennings is going to be the starting right tackle . . . The Bills had only three passes caught by wide receivers – two by Eric Moulds for 13 yards and one by Reggie Germany for eight yards . . . Avion Black had a 31-yard punt return.


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