Bills could learn a few lessons from Parcells

Forget Drew Bledsoe's disturbing recent resemblance to another quarterback who used to wear No. 11 for the Buffalo Bills. Forget about Willis McGahee doing anything other than wearing a red, white and blue running suit on Sunday at Texas Stadium. Forget Kevin Gilbride's surreal play selection.

Forget Bill Parcells' tactical mastery of the Bills, regardless of what uniforms are draped on his chess pieces or who is standing on the opposite sideline, futilely trying to counter the master's moves.

Parcells' success against Buffalo - and the rest of the National Football League - doesn't stem from trendy systems or strategic slight-of-hand, but from the simplest of football formulas.

Winners in the professional football world have won by controlling the line of scrimmage since helmets were optional. Zone blitzes, empty-backfield sets and pass-route progressions mean zip if your big guys can't push around the other team's big guys.

No matter how innovative an offensive or defensive scheme, someone is going to figure it out eventually.

That became painfully clear to Washington quarterback Patrick Ramsey during Dallas' 21-14 win over the Redskins last weekend.

Steve Spurrier's Fun 'N' Gun offense, like the run-and-gun and K-gun before it, hinges on flooding the secondary with receivers and expecting the quarterback to find and get the ball to one of them before getting decapitated.

The problem arises when five offensive linemen, without any running backs or tight ends to help them, can't stave off at least as many pass rushers. That gets particularly complicated when the defense starts sending linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties, as Dallas did repeatedly against Washington.

Even when the blitz doesn't get to the quarterback in time to sack him, he usually winds up on the ground with a new welt arising. San Francisco used the same defensive approach to derail the streaking Rams. Judging from Marc Bulger's mistake- and bruise-filled performance, the flaws in St. Louis' offense weren't all Kurt Warner's fault, after all.

Bledsoe's struggles over the last couple months have a lot to do with Buffalo's insistence on sending everybody out and leaving him to fend for himself, too.

On the flip side, frequent blitzes aren't a guarantee of defensive success, either. Buffalo blitzed almost constantly against Kansas City two weeks ago, but Trent Green's uniform was nearly spotless after guiding the Chiefs to a 38-5 romp.

That was because the Chiefs kept enough blockers around Green to absorb the Bills' blitzers. Buffalo's problems were compounded because the defensive line was once again unable to generate any sort of steady pass rush on its own.

The Bills won't have an easy time doing so on Sunday, either. Part of Parcells' genius is the simplicity of his offensive approach. Despite the lack of a franchise running back, the Cowboys lead the league in rushing attempts, even though they rank sixth in rushing yards.

Troy Hambrick leads the team with 544 of those yards, but most of the credit belongs to the front wall of Flozell Adams, Larry Allen, Matt Lehr, Andre Gurode and Ryan Young. Allen, in particular, was looking washed-up until Parcells found a way to get him playing at All-Pro level again.

A brief aside: Before Bruce Smith complains any more about how unfairly Spurrier is treating him, he should watch the game film of Adams making him look like a practice-squad washout.

Parcells' devotion to the ground game keeps pressure off quarterback Quincy Carter, whose steady performance has solidified his hold on the job he lost to Chad Hutchinson last year.

Dallas' offensive balance provides a perfect complement to its defense. The Cowboys don't have a lot of big names - only linebacker Dexter Coakley, safety Darren Woodson and defensive tackle La'Roi Glover have ever made it to the Pro Bowl. They don't make a ton of big plays, either - no individual has more than three sacks or two interceptions.

Despite that low profile, Dallas has allowed the fewest yards in the NFL. That's generally one of the more meaningless stats - after all, 2-6 Pittsburgh is No. 2, with the 4-4 Bills right behind at No. 3. But the Cowboys have the third-best defensive number that does mean something, having allowed only 130 points.

Buffalo has only surrendered 148, but the Bills' rebuilt defense hasn't been able to make a stop when it really needs one. That trend started in the fourth quarter of the loss in Miami and bottomed out in Kansas City, when the Chiefs turned all four of their red-zone possessions into touchdowns.

That's an area of the field where supremacy depends almost exclusively on control of the line of scrimmage.

Buffalo hasn't been able to establish dominance, or even adequacy, there since Week 2 in Jacksonville (unless you count the win over the increasingly pathetic Redskins, which was sandwiched between the humiliations against the Jets and Chiefs).

On offense, Gilbride's game plans haven't helped. That doesn't excuse Jonas Jennings, Ruben Brown, Trey Teague, Mike Pucillo and Mike Williams, particularly for their frequent drive-killing penalties.

At least there are ways to help them, whether through a more aggressive approach to running the football or keeping one or more potential receivers in to pick up blitzers.

Buffalo's defensive line is another story. You had to be extremely optimistic to count on a whole lot out of Ryan Denney and Chris Kelsay coming in to the season. But anticipating more improvement than Aaron Schobel has delivered wasn't out of line. And the ease with which opposing runners have gained key yards up the middle has been a most unpleasant surprise.

The key to Dallas' defensive stinginess has been the performance of its rotating defensive tackles - Glover, Willie Blade, Daleroy Stewart and Leonardo Carson. They've clogged the middle against the run and occupied the interior of opposing lines well enough to free up defensive ends Ebenezer Ekuban and Greg Ellis to apply consistent pressure, if not register huge sack numbers.

Expecting the same from free-agent pickup Sam Adams and Pat Williams heading into the season wasn't out of line. But injuries, questionable conditioning and the very real possibility that Adams has seen his best days have helped slow what opened the regular season as a swarming, playmaking defense.

In getting off to a 2-0 start, Buffalo followed a script similar to the one Parcells authored 20 years ago during his tenure with the New York Giants and still employs today. Then, for whatever reason, Gregg Williams filed it away.

Heading into the second half of a season in danger of slipping into irrelevance, digging it out might not be a bad idea.


Buffalo Football Report Top Stories