Inside Bils Report: Bills-Texans

With the Bills offense crashing and burning to a 28th overall ranking -- 30th in points scored -- Pro Bowl wide receiver Eric Moulds is crying out for help.<BR> Though he didn't mention names, Moulds has challenged his teammates to pick up their level of play in the wake of Buffalo's fifth loss in seven games, a 10-6 debacle at Dallas that put their playoff hopes at serious risk with a 4-5 record.

The Bills host the pesky Houston Texans (3-6) on Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium, having not scored a touchdown in two games and not one in their past four road losses.

"Everybody has to look at themselves and say, 'Am I doing enough to help the team win?'" Moulds said. "If not, then get out of there and let someone else do it. We're not playing well enough to do anything right now. Seventeen quarters without a TD? That's ridiculous. There are semi-pro teams that score more."

Moulds, who missed two games with a groin tear then returned for the past two at far less than 100 percent, is struggling and taking quarterback Drew Bledsoe down with him. Moulds has 11 catches for 85 yards (7.7 average) with a long catch of 14 yards the past two games while playing at about 80 percent.

Against Dallas, young corners Terence Newman and Mario Edwards had strong days against Moulds, in large part because Moulds has limited explosiveness off the line of scrimmage. During the fourth quarter, Moulds went deep down the sideline and after Bledsoe overthrew him under fierce blitz pressure, he pulled up abruptly and had to leave the field.

Instead of being one of the NFL's most explosive pass catchers, Moulds has been relegated to short catches and even those are hard to come by. The Chiefs and Cowboys took advantage of Buffalo's inability to hit the big play deep and never let up on the blitz, Dallas sending as many as nine defenders on occasion.

Until Buffalo hits the big play, it knows teams will keep coming with the blitz. Moulds can't push Mother Nature and Buffalo's No. 2 and 3 receivers, Josh Reed and Bobby Shaw, have been major disappointments in picking up the slack.

"As a receiver, you have to be able to get off the bump and run, then be able to explode and run full speed and stop, and I think that's the biggest thing I'm having trouble with right now," said Moulds, who still leads the team in catches with 41 for 542 yards but only one TD. "The worst thing for me is that when I try to go deep or when I get tackled, I can really feel it. It's tough."

Bledsoe, who is struggling through one of the worst stretches of his 11-year career with eight interceptions and six fumbles so far, threw 15 times to Bledsoe against Dallas, completing five of them. One of the top passing hookups in 2002 is woefully out of sync.

"Eric was courageous and he made a few plays for us, but when he doesn't have that full burst that separates him from other guys in the league, it hurts him," Bledsoe said. "It means Bobby, Josh and our tight ends have to step up."

Instead of stepping up, Reed and Shaw have stepped in it.

Reed caught a total of 12 passes in losses to Kansas City and Dallas, but for just 89 yards (7.4 average) with a long of 12. Shaw, who was signed as a free agent to help ease the loss of Peerless Price to Atlanta, has been even more disappointing with just four catches for 22 yards (5.5) with a long of seven.

"We have to go with what we have," Reed said. "We can't wait to get Eric back out there at 100 percent. It has to be frustrating for him. He wants to be out there and he knows we need him. You want him completely healthy so he can do the stuff he does best, but it may not happen (this season)."

To ease the pressure on Moulds, the Bills may give more playing time to newcomers like Clarence Coleman and Sam Aiken against the Texans. But an Eric Moulds at 80 percent is still better than someone else at 100.

"Eric will draw the attention, he'll maybe draw the best cover guy a lot of times (even when he's hurt)," coach Gregg Williams said. "The other receiver will have to win now because maybe they'll get the second best (cover) guy or maybe get singled more. Eric got some single coverage (at Dallas) and he can win on those underneath routes."

Bledsoe, who has been sacked 17 times in Buffalo's four road defeats, said he expects teams to keep blitzing him, even the Texans who have just eight sacks so far.

"This league is a copy cat league and I'm sure the Texans are seeing we've had trouble with the max blitz the last couple games so I'm sure we'll see it again until we prove we have an effective answer for it," he said.

Williams said the answer is hitting that one big play down field. At Dallas, Buffalo managed a net two yards on 12 plays in the fourth quarter. In their four road losses, they haven't scored a TD in 49 possessions.

The Bills are averaging 16.6 points per game, down from 23.4 a year ago.

"We've got to make a couple of big plays and get people to loosen up on us a little bit," Williams said. "I think people will loosen up on us a little bit and we'll be able to score points that we need to score in this league to win games."

SERIES HISTORY: 2nd meeting, Bills lead series 1-0, beating the expansion Texans 31-24 last season at Reliant Stadium. The Texans are one of three NFL teams that have never played in Orchard Park, the others are the Ravens and Buccaneers. Buffalo avoided an upset loss in Houston last season by scoring the game's final 14 points on Drew Bledsoe TD passes of 23 yards to Eric Moulds and 26 yards to Peerless Price, then stopping the Texans on downs at the 12-yard line with under a minute to play. Price had a big day with nine catches for 121 yards and running back Travis Henry ran 28 times for 159 yards and 2 TDs.

NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES

--At 4-5, the Bills are far from eliminated from the playoff chase, particularly for a wild-card berth where an 8-8 mark might be good enough to win a spot in the topsy-turvy AFC. "We're back at home. We're still in the mix," coach Gregg Williams said. "We've got a lot of areas on our football team that are playing very strong and what we've got to do is get a couple of the other ones fixed and we'll be right back in the mix again."

--Texans offensive coordinator Chris Palmer, who has tutored some of the top passers in NFL history, was Drew Bledsoe's quarterback coach in 1996 in New England. He's credited with re-tooling Bledsoe's mechanics that season after Bledsoe separated his non-throwing left shoulder the year before. Bledsoe recovered to lead the NFL in completions, and took New England to the Super Bowl. "What we did in the off-season was grab my film from the scouting combine when I came out of college and went back and looked at my mechanics then and compared them to what I was doing in '95. What we found was that I was dropping the ball a little and my mechanics had fallen off a bit, so we really focused on that," Bledsoe recalled. "Since then, I've made a conscious effort to focus on my fundamentals. You go through a season, you get hit a few times, you're sore and sometimes those things can change, so I've tried to stay on top of my mechanics during the course of the season."

--Yes, it's the Jeff Posey Bowl. The Bills linebacker led the Texans in sacks last season with eight before signing with Buffalo as a free agent. Posey is seventh on the Bills in tackles with 39, with 2.5 sacks. "I'm going to have fun," Posey said. "Anytime you can play against a team you once played for, it's going to be an exciting situation. I'm still friends with some of the guys there so I'm looking forward to playing them, but getting a win and getting one step closer to our goal."

--Rookie running back Willis McGahee had to wear a University of Tennessee ball cap for a day after losing a bet with a Travis Henry. McGahee's Miami Hurricanes lost to Henry's Vols last Saturday. "It wasn't too bad. He knows they got lucky," McGahee said with a grin.

BY THE NUMBERS: 2 -- Total yards Bills offense gained on 12 plays in the fourth quarter at Dallas.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It might be the Grand Canyon, it might be something smaller, we don't know. I know I don't know, all I do is block. I'll go back, look at the film, see what I could've done better for the team. I know that whenever you lose a few games in a row, there is always a search for what it is. And usually, it's something simple. It's right in front of your face." -- Veteran guard Ruben Brown when asked how big a hole the Bills have dug for themselves by losing five of their last seven games.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Bills have lost key reserve defensive tackle Ron Edwards for the remainder of the season, placing the third-year pro on injured reserve on Wednesday after he underwent surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff.

Edwards, who had missed the last four games, tried to rehabilitate his way back into the lineup but he wasn't responding to exercise and treatments.

"He worked very hard to push through that but it just wasn't getting better so we went ahead and got (the surgery) done now," coach Gregg Williams said.

Edwards' loss hurts Buffalo's push up the middle on passing downs. The Bills have just 14 sacks. To compensate, the team can use defensive end Ryan Denney or Chris Kelsay inside on passing downs, or backup tackle Justin Bannan.

PERSONNEL/INJURY NOTES

--LT Jonas Jennings sat out practice with the same hip ailment that kept him out of the Cowboys' game and he is questionable for Sunday's game against Houston.

--LT Marcus Price will get his second straight start against Houston on Sunday if Jonas Jennings remains out with a hip flexor.

--WR Jerel Myers was cut from the practice squad.

--RB Ken Simonton was re-signed to the practice squad.

GAME PLAN: This really needn't be difficult. The Texans are an improved team on offense, are well coached under Dom Capers, and they're dangerous, judging by wins over Miami and Carolina. But Houston is 31st in defense, 29th against the run, and this is a prime opportunity for the Bills struggling offense to get well again but running the ball to their hearts delight. Cincinnati used 57 rushes, good for 240 yards, to earn a 34-27 victory last week. The Titans have a mere eight sacks so protecting Drew Bledsoe shouldn't be the problem it's been lately. Defensively, Texans' young gun David Carr, receivers Andre Johnson and Corey Bradford, and rookie RB Domanick Davis command respect. But the Bills No. 3 unit is coming off a strong game against Dallas and should be primed for a big day at home.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Bills CB Nate Clements vs. Texans WR Corey Bradford. Bradford opened last year's game with an 81-yard catch.

--Bills DT Pat Williams vs. Texans LG Todd Washington. Washington is nursing a bad shoulder. Bills need Williams to control line of scrimmage.

--Bills LBs vs. Texans RB Domanick Davis. Davis leads all rookie rushers and had three rushing TDs and averaged 6.9 yards per carry in loss to Bengals.

--Bills QB Drew Bledsoe vs. Texans secondary. There are familiar faces in the lineup in Aaron Glenn and Marcus Coleman, so Bledsoe should know what to do. Texans have given up 16 TD passes.

--Bills PR Antonio Brown vs. Texans punter Chad Stanley. Brown could be in for a frustrating day. Stanley leads the NFL with 22 punts dropped inside the 20.

INJURY IMPACT: WR Eric Moulds' groin injury has been a big blow, taking away the Bills' downfield strike capability. It's exactly what was feared when the club decided to deal Peerless Price to Atlanta rather than keep him for one more year as a franchise player. The Bills have been unable to back off the blitz by going down field with the ball, and it's to the point they may try using a healthy speed burner like Antonio Brown or Clarence Coleman to get something working.


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