Inside Bills Report: Cowboys preview

The Bills didn't go on a diet during their bye week but they will offer a slimmed-down version of their product when they resume play Sunday against Dallas as Texas Stadium. Spinning their wheels at 4-4 and coming off a 38-5 loss at Kansas City, coach Gregg Williams and his staff spent their off week analyzing every game tape.

What they came away with was a better feel for what their team does well and what it doesn't do so well. Logic dictates that they'll emphasize the good stuff -- play calls that worked well, techniques that produced results -- in the second half of the season as they work toward a playoff berth with little margin for error.

"Sometimes you narrow your scope a little bit, throw out a few things of what you have been doing and try to narrow down to what's best for the guys in each week," said Williams, who said there won't be any lineup changes coming. "There will be certain things game-plan wise that we pull out on every opponent, a new wrinkle here and there. But there'll be less of adding to the system, yes."

The Bills are a cornucopia of questions and mysteries.

Three off-seasons of rebuilding under president and general manager Tom Donahoe was supposed to yield the club's first playoff berth since 1999, but Buffalo's once high-power offense ranks 27th and its expensively remodeled defense, though highly rated at No. 3 overall in yards allowed, is 24th in sacks and tied for the AFC low with 10 takeaways.

In compiling one fewer win at the halfway mark than a year ago, the Bills are hoping that taking a step forward means taking a mini-step back. But if they are to make the post-season party, they can probably afford no more than two more losses and the finishing schedule is brutal: a combined 40-25 record.

"Our guys understand that the teams that have chances at the end of the year have to be very good in November and special in December," Williams said. "They understand that. And we discussed that at length at the start of last week and the start of this week."

Quarterback Drew Bledsoe, standing in the eye of the hurricane, appreciated the break in the schedule to collect his thoughts. With six TD passes, eight interceptions, 23 sacks and a 17th-best rating of 76.8, he's battled extreme fits of inconsistent play. He said being able to practice fundamentals last week helped him tremendously.

"One of the things I have noticed in my time in the league, you get into a season and players and coaches are so focused on schemes and devising plays to beat a particular defense that fundamentals get glossed over," Bledsoe said. "That's really one of the things that the bye week is for, to go back and look at what you're doing fundamentally, take a look at your mechanics, and try to address some of those things."

Bledsoe said the Bills could get their offense on track by doing two simple things: quit turning the ball over (AFC most 19 turnovers) and convert on third down (ranked 21st at 35.0 percent).

The Bills have also got to find a way to win a road game. They are 1-3 this season and 1-7 going back to 2002. This season's road defeats to the Dolphins, Jets and Chiefs are by a combined 85-15 score. Buffalo lost the combined sack/turnover battle 28-6 in those three losses and went 0-of-5 in the red zone. The litany of ugly numbers can go on and on and on.

"We went back and looked at ourselves and the thing that we talked about is our third-down production," Bledsoe said. "It was apparent in studying what we're doing is that there are plays out there to be made, conversions that we didn't get. Whether it was an inaccurate throw, a busted route, or a busted protection, whatever it is, the plays are there to be made and just need to make them."

The Bills are pacifying themselves in the knowledge that over the past 10 seasons, 26 NFL teams reached the playoffs after starting 4-4 or worse. Last year, half the playoff field was .500 or worse at this juncture.

"Our players, our coaches, our staff, we're together and we're working hard to get better," president and general manager Tom Donahoe said. "Nobody is satisfied with the record. We all believe we should be better than what we are, but we are what we are.

"It's my job to try and keep everybody in this building (together), to keep the ship afloat. It's eight games into the season. There's never been a season in the 100 years I've been involved in doing this that hasn't had its ups and downs. That's why, as an administrator, I don't evaluate everybody every week. It's not fair to do it, because of the nature of what we do.

"Everybody wants to define our team after eight games. Our team will be defined at the end of the year. That's when we'll be able to say, 'That's what we were.' Right now, I can't do it and I won't attempt to do it."

Donahoe said he's seen good things from his team, but something has kept the Bills from consistently playing to their potential.

"It's not any one thing," Donahoe said. "Sometimes you can say it's the players, sometimes you can say it's the coaches, sometimes it's a combination. The thing I like and I see is that the attitude is still very positive."

BY THE NUMBERS: 28 -- Combined number of sacks and turnovers in Buffalo's last three road games, all losses.

QUOTE TO NOTE:

"I'm proud of Drew. I'm happy I had an association with him and was there at the start for him and to see what he's become in the league. He's done a good job overall. I tell you what? I'd take him wherever I am and I'd be happy to have him." -- Cowboys coach Bill Parcells, commenting on Bills quarterback Drew Bledsoe, whom he coached in New England from 1993-96.

NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES

--Punter Brian Moorman, a Pro Bowl alternate a year ago, is battling Oakland's Shane Lechler for this season's starting bid. Moorman's 47.2 average ranks second in the league to Lechler's 49.9. Many observers not-so cynically feel Moorman was Buffalo's first-half MVP because of his ability to consistently boom the Bills' struggling offense out of trouble, putting the defense in positive field position. "He's one of the most consistent players on this football team, yes," said coach Gregg Williams.

--Bills LT Jonas Jennings and Cowboys QB Quincy Carter were teammates and roommates at Georgia and remain close. Said Carter: "That's my man. We have a very special relationship. His family will be spending some time this weekend at my house. Me and Jonas are like brothers, it'll be hard to play against him. All our lives we've been on the same team except in high school, we went against each other a couple times, but we share a special bond. Jonas is probably the best guy you want to be around in a crisis. He's one guy who's always going to keep you loose, nothing seems to bother him. What's his is yours, he's very unselfish and that's how we became such good friends. He's a guy you just like being around because he's so positive, you never hear negative words come out of him."

--Sunday's game is being dubbed the Battle of the Buckeyes. With Bills CBs Antoine Winfield and Nate Clements facing off against Cowboys wide receivers Joey Galloway and Terry Glenn, the game will certainly feel like an Ohio State scrimmage. All four players not only starred at Ohio State, they were born in Ohio and were first-round NFL picks. In 1995, Winfield was a freshman when Glenn was a junior, his final season in Columbus. "That was tough back then, coming out of high school and going against Terry Glenn," Winfield said. "Nobody in practice could guard him, even Shawn Springs. But I developed more and I've played against him a lot, like when he was still with New England."

--QB Drew Bledsoe's chilly 76.8 rating puts him 17th among NFL passers, but he found a nice way to warm up over the bye weekend. He went to the Bahamas with his wife. "We got warm for a minute," he said. "Left the kids with the parents, they went trick-or-treating with them, and we got away for a couple days and got warm."

--Good Omen Dept.: The Bills are 32-23 since 1990 in the month of November and their 10-4 record after byes is fourth best in the NFL. Of course, they're 1-3 in their last four after a weekend off.

--Something to cringe about: Buffalo hasn't gotten an interception from one of its safeties in 1 1/2 seasons. Lawyer Milloy, Pierson Prioleau, Izell Reese and Coy Wire don't have a pick yet this season. It's time to start the pool.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

It's official. The Bills, as expected, placed RB Willis McGahee on the 53-man active roster on Wednesday, Nov. 5, meaning he can practice with the team the rest of the season. When and if he plays in a game, however, is still open to much conjecture and not likely to happen this weekend at Dallas.

Even McGahee, who has always bubbled with optimism, was singing a much more cautious tune when asked what his body is telling him.

"My body? I pray on that right there," he said. "One day my body feels good, one day my body feels bad. I can't really say."

McGahee, the Bills first-round pick, blew out his left knee in the national title game last January while playing for the University of Miami against Ohio State. His recovery has been rapid and inspirational but he's still far from ready to play in his first NFL game, even though he has experienced no setbacks, like swelling in the knee joint, during his recovery.

He began practicing 21 days ago.

"It's like a training camp for him right now," coach Gregg Williams said. "He's still got several practices that he needs to catch up on. He's not ready to play yet. Hopefully, if he continues to work as hard as he has been working, he'll get a chance to get into a game this year."

To make room for McGahee, RB Ken Simonton was released.

PERSONNEL/INJURY NOTES

  • WR Eric Moulds (groin), who played against the Chiefs at about 75 percent, benefited greatly from the off date and expects to be close to full strength for the Cowboys. He said he can run without fear of re-tearing the groin.
  • DT Sam Adams (ankle), who missed some practice time during the bye week, is fine and back practicing.
  • FB Sam Gash (ankle), who was less than 100 percent for the Chiefs' loss, is back to full strength and practiced on Wednesday.
  • LT Jonas Jennings, who suffered a hip flexor against Kansas City, is questionable for the Dallas game. He missed Wednesday's practice and if he plays, it will likely be a game-time decision.
  • OT Marcus Price will start at left tackle against Dallas on Sunday if Jonas Jennings (hip) can't go. Price would square off against top DE Ebenezer Ekuban, who has seven pressures.
  • DT Ron Edwards' injured shoulder continues to keep him on the sidelines. He's doubtful for the Cowboys and is facing off-season surgery.
  • DE Keith McKenzie, an eight-year pro who once was a pass-rushing threat for Green Bay and Cleveland, has been active for just one game so far. With a mere 13 sacks, some inside sources are saying McKenzie will get a shot the second half of the season as a third-down specialist.

    GAME PLAN: Even with a boat-load of mistakes, the Cowboys managed to defeat the inept Redskins last week, 21-14. It means the Bills will be facing a much-more focused Dallas club and will need to play especially well if they are to snap their 1-7 slide in road games (1-3 this year). Buffalo has to clean up its sloppiness to have a shot against a Bill Parcells-coached team -- it has 14 turnovers in its three road losses this season. Running the football lowers the risk and the Bills have got to stay committed against Dallas' No. 3-ranked run defense. Travis Henry is healthy and coming off back-to-back 100-yard games and it's time to ride him. And when they pass, struggling QB Drew Bledsoe has to make smart decisions. In Buffalo's four losses overall, he's just 7 of 17 passing for 32 yards, 1 TD and 3 INT in the red zone. The Bills must be prepared to max protect against the Cowboys blitzing if need be, but popping a couple deep balls to a healthy Eric Moulds will back off Dallas, something the Redskins could not do.

    Defensively, the Bills can't hang back and let QB Quincy Carter wait for his top-notch receivers to come free. He's still a young player who can be forced into mistakes, if he sees enough pressure. Buffalo is tied with San Diego and Cleveland with an AFC-low 10 takeaways and has got to find a way to change a game's flow, especially on the road.

    MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Bills LB London Fletcher vs. Cowboys RB Troy Hambrick -- Hambrick is a load, but he coughed up two fumbles last Sunday. Bills need more plays from Fletcher, who has forced no turnovers so far.

    Bills FS Izell Reese vs. Cowboys WR Joey Galloway -- Terry Glenn will get most of Buffalo's attention but Galloway is averaging a team-best 19.3 yards per catch and Reese has got to give his cornerbacks some help over the top.

    Bills RB Sammy Morris vs. Cowboys S's Roy Williams and Darren Woodson -- Morris has to be sharp against Dallas' blitzing duo, which has combined for three sacks, six pressures and two tackles for losses.

    Bills special teams vs. Cowboys return specialist Derek Ross -- Ross had a 100-yard kickoff return against Redskins last week called back by penalty.

    INJURY IMPACT: Reserve DT Ron Edwards is likely to miss his fourth straight game with a shoulder injury that will require surgery after the season. He's been unable to push off blockers and continues to get treatment in hopes of contributing at some point down the stretch. Edwards, who started all 16 games a year ago before the arrival of Sam Adams, is still a key reserve on passing downs and Buffalo misses his up-field push in the middle, which would help the ends, who, up to this point, have just 4.5 sacks.


  • Buffalo Football Report Top Stories