Bills win broken down

It was an improvement over their first preseason game of six days before. But the August 18 6-3 win over the Eagles at Ralph Wilson Stadium was undoubtedly disastrous for the Bills because they lost three starters. Right guard Jerry Ostroski broke his right leg, center Bill Conaty injured his shoulder and rookie running back Travis Henry strained his groin.

Still, the Bills offense functioned efficiently behind Alex Van Pelt, and the presence of Pro Bowler Sam Cowart – his first appearance of the preseason – worked wonders for the defense.

Van Pelt strong Alex Van Pelt incapable? Hardly. Playing only the first half, Van Pelt was in control, completing 17 of 25 passes for 173 yards and no interceptions. There were no touchdowns, however – Buffalo was inside the Philadelphia 20 twice and only scored two field goals. But Van Pelt made some smart throws, not taking stupid risks in an effort to complete the high-percentage pass, which is the way the Mike Sheppard offense is supposed to be played. Through the first quarter Van Pelt threw nearly all of his passes to running backs and tight ends. But on the last play of that period, he found Eric Moulds on a 15-yard slant to the Eagles' 39. That led to a 37-yard Steve Christie field goal. In the second quarter, Van Pelt got the wide receivers involved more, throwing for Moulds on a 13-yard square-in pattern to start a drive at the Buffalo 32. Peerless Price made a key 11-yard grab on a third and seven from the Eagles' 37 to keep the series going. Five plays later Buffalo was up 6-0 on a 29-yard field goal. Van Pelt clearly is not strong-armed – passes into the flat are dangerous throws for him – but he's strong in the brain. And when Johnson gets hurt this season, all is not lost for Buffalo with Van Pelt as the backup, no matter what some Bills fans maintain. As for third-stringer Pete Gonzalez, people should worry if he ever got on the field. He was two of six, for 21 yards and two interceptions. Jack Hawley was one for four for 10 yards. Watch for these guys to get cut and Buffalo to scour the waiver wire for a better third-string solution.

Running backs get chunks of yardage Travis Henry had another strong outing – his first game as a starter – rushing for 31 yards on seven carries vs. Philadelphia's first team. He played one play of the second quarter – a 12-yard run off right tackle – but he left after suffering a minor groin strain. Henry is improving as a pass catcher. He caught a screen from Van Pelt and gained 10 yards after faking linebacker Carlos Emmons out of his jock and then slipping a Troy Vincent tackle. It set up a failed Steve Christie 51-yard field goal attempt. Shawn Bryson rushed for 51 yards on 10 carries, including a 14-yard run behind John Fina and Larry Centers' blocks, which brought the ball to the Philadelphia 12. Bryson still has his great speed burst, but he's not the pass catching back that Sammy Morris is or Travis Henry is showing he can be. Morris rushed for 35 yards on six carries. He also caught three passes for 28 yards, making it appear that he can be a strong third-down weapon. Overall, Buffalo rushed for 174 yards, and other than an eight-yard Pete Gonzalez scramble, all of it was by the running backs – an outcome far different than Bills fans have been used to the last few seasons.

Cowart the difference maker Middle linebacker Sam Cowart missed the Rams game with back spasms, and the defense struggled. He made the difference vs. the Eagles. His presence on third down helped Buffalo force a sack and get an interception in the first quarter, while the third-down defense in the first half was six-for-six in preventing third-down conversions. Cowart also made two stops on Eagles Pro Bowl running back Duce Staley, shutting down potential long gains. Buffalo needs Cowart to play 16 games. He's as important to the team as Eric Moulds or Rob Johnson.

Penal colony Buffalo had 16 penalties for 124 yards compared to Philadelphia's six penalties for 50 yards. Linebacker Corey Moore sacked Eagles QB Ron Powlus at game's end, but was whistled for a 15-yard face mask penalty, enabling the Eagles to try a desperate 60-yard David Akers field goal. It was an excellent boot, and it had the distance, but it was just off to the right. It certainly was a relief to Moore.

Game notes Corey Hulsey replaced Ostroski and did a good job, though he had a holding and false start penalty . . . Michael Early replaced Conaty and also did well . . . Starting rookie right tackle Jonas Jennings continues to improve. He only had one false start . . . The starting line only gave up one sack – on a third down in which the Eagles were blitzing. It forced Christie to try a 51-yard field goal, which he missed . . . The Bills defensive backs showed marked improvement from the Rams game and Browns scrimmage, limiting Philadelphia to 126 yards passing – just 50 yards in the first half. Two noticeable things: cornerback Antoine Winfield slipped on a long hitch and go to James Thrash, but Donovan McNabb overthrew the ball. Ken Irvin showed his speed matching rookie wide receiver Freddie Mitchell on an incomplete fly route pass from Koy Detmer in the second quarter . . . Buffalo sacked Philadelphia QBs five times – the two first half sacks came on big third downs . . . Buffalo's third-team defense allowed a 51-yard fourth quarter drive which was converted into a 32-yard Eagles field goal with four minutes, 19 seconds remaining.

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