Inside Bills Report

Quarterback Drew Bledsoe has been almost as easy to sack as ex-Bill Rob Johnson, who was run out of town because of his inability to make plays under pressure.<BR> Bledsoe has been sacked 111 times in 34 games with Buffalo - an average of 3.3 per game. Johnson was sacked an average of 3.63.

Bledsoe is coming off a seven-sack performance in a loss to Oakland and it doesn't get easier. On Sunday, the New England Patriots invade Ralph Wilson Stadium eyeing an NFL-record tying 18th consecutive win.

In four previous games against their old signal caller, the Patriots sacked Bledsoe 11 times, intercepted him seven times, held him to an average of 236 yards passing and won three times.

While it has been easy to assign blame to Bledsoe for the mounting sack totals against him - his pocket awareness and footwork have been suspect for years - his teammates are rallying to his defense.

Against the Raiders, receivers dropped "hot read" passes, his line missed blocks and let pass rushers in unabated, and his running backs failed to pick up blitzes.

"Everybody has a hand in what's going on, from the offensive line, to receivers, to running backs, I mean everybody. Each of us has done things that have hurt him," guard Chris Villarrial said. "We've got to get it done for him. Drew's a great quarterback. He's a guy who can take you to where you want to go, so we just have to get better."

Sacks can be an overrated statistic, depending on a team's ability to overcome them. So far, Buffalo hasn't been able to. Against Oakland, six of the seven sacks helped kill five drives. One killed the momentum after a fake punt, another took the Bills out of field goal range.

The Bills spent a good portion of their bye week figuring out how to be better on first and second down so they can avoid those third-and-long situations where teams are blitzing with abandon. On first down against Oakland, Bledsoe threw incomplete five times and Buffalo averaged under 4.0 yards rushing per attempt.

"If we keep it to third-and-six or less, teams can't come after you," Bledsoe said. "They know if you hit a short throw, it's a third-down conversion, and you move on. In third-and-long situations, we expect to pick those up, too, but in order to be effective in the manner we want, we can't have negative plays on first and second down."


--After watching the replay, RB Travis Henry now feels he scored on the fourth-and-goal dive play from the 1-yard line against Oakland last week. "I wasn't even down," he said. "I was on top and I reached the ball across the plane. One referee was like, 'Touchdown' and the other one came in and said 'No'. No whistle blew. I was in the crowd and I reached it over. I felt we should've challenged it. It was close." Coach Mike Mularkey said he didn't review the call because Henry couldn't convince him he was in.

--WR Eric Moulds on the offense: "Every player on the offense needs to pick up his game. We're just making mistakes that we shouldn't be making right now. We get things done in practice but it doesn't mean anything if we can't bring that to the field."

--CB Troy Vincent missed three days of practice last week after a death in his family. He is expected back to work on Wednesday.

--QB Drew Bledsoe has been almost as easy to sack as ex-Bill Rob Johnson, who was run out of town because of his inability to make plays under pressure. Bledsoe has been sacked 111 times in 34 games with Buffalo - an average of 3.3 per game. Johnson was sacked an average of 3.63.

--SS Lawyer Milloy would love nothing more than to play in Sunday's showdown with New England, his former team that cut him just days before the 2003 season opened, but it's not going to happen. Milloy, who broke his right forearm in the preseason and had surgery to insert a plate, is still far from getting medical clearance and it now appears it won't happen until after Halloween.

--DT Tim Anderson was active for the first time against Oakland, taking Justin Bannan's place. That's a good sign for Anderson, the team's third-round pick out of Ohio State. Anderson had a good training camp and the coaches feel he's deserving of some live repetitions. Anderson was drafted as insurance against Pat Williams leaving as a free agent next year.

--WR Bobby Shaw has been quiet through two games and Buffalo will need more production out of the smart-playing veteran to get out of its scoring slump. Shaw had no catches in the Bills 31-0 loss to New England in last season's final game.

--LB London Fletcher leads the Bills in tackles with 17, with one sack.



PASSING OFFENSE: D -- Drew Bledsoe, coming off his worst season, has done nothing to silence his critics. His numbers are decent looking (60 percent completion rate, 2 TDs, 1 interception) but he still can't consistently make plays under pressure, and was sacked seven times by the Raiders while short-hopping three passes throwing off his back foot. The Bills worked an entire off-season devising ways to keep Bledsoe (NFL-high 49 sacks last year) off of his back, including a scheme that emphasizes quick throws and drops. But lack of production on first and second down (2.7 per rush, 9 incomplete passes, 4 sacks) has put Bledsoe into too many third-and-longs. On four situations of third-and-10 or longer, the coaches played it conservative and called draws, a damaging assessment of the confidence they have in Bledsoe to make a big play in the passing game. Top receiver Eric Moulds has played decently after a groin injury, and leads the club with 10 catches for 116 yards, but he's also had a costly fumble and several drops. Rookie Lee Evans has three catches for 77 yards, including a long of 65 against the Raiders in a prevent mode. The Bills line can't sustain its blocks long enough and Bledsoe can't buy any time, meaning they can't use Evans speed to get deep.

RUSHING OFFENSE: D -- The Bills have been committed to the run, which is good, but the production hasn't been there with just 162 yards on 60 carries (2.7 average). Teams have stacked the line and Buffalo's weak passing game hasn't backed teams out of the box. As for the 1-2 threat of Travis Henry and Willis McGahee, it has yet to materialize. Henry has 44 carries for 142 yards (3.2) but McGahee has just 11 carries for 28 (2.5) and had only two touches in the Oakland loss. Buffalo has had two failed goal-to-goal, inside-the-five situations but McGahee, who has better outside speed than Henry, has been ignored. The play of the line has been very inconsistent, with that unit not generating the push needed for the tough yard.

PASS DEFENSE: D -- It's been feast or famine here. The Bills have allowed just 356 yards through the air but 129 of it came on three plays of 40-plus yards, including a 45-yarder that kept Jacksonville's winning TD drive alive on fourth down and a 43-yard touchdown by the Raiders. With SS Lawyer Milloy (broken arm) out of the lineup indefinitely, third-year pro Coy Wire has been tested and rookie Rashad Baker, the team's dime safety, was burned by Ronald Curry on the Oakland TD. Troy Vincent has been solid as Antoine Winfield's replacement at left corner and Nate Clements has one of the team's two interceptions. Clements' brain cramp against Jacksonville - when he should've batted the ball down on fourth down instead of trying for the interception in coverage against Jimmy Smith - was costly. Pass rush has been lukewarm, with only four team sacks. Leading 2003 sacker Aaron Schobel has been shut out so far.

RUSH DEFENSE: A -- The Bills are allowing just 3.2 yards per carry, holding Jacksonville and Oakland well under 100 yards. Sam Adams and Pat Williams remain one of the NFL's top inside tandems and the linebacker trio of London Fletcher, Takeo Spikes and Jeff Posey has combined for 39 tackles so far. Bills are getting good run support from the secondary as well, led by Wire and Clements with 13 tackles apiece.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Kicker Rian Lindell's miss from 42 yards proved costly in 13-10 loss to Jacksonville, but he came back to make his only attempt from 32 yards against Oakland. After missing seven kicks a year ago, Lindell still has to prove he's dependable enough to play "small ball" with. Punter Brian Moorman remains solid as a rock, averaging 42.2 yards on 10 attempts and dropping three inside the 20. Coverage units have done well, particularly kickoffs where opponents are averaging just 13.7 yards per return. The return games would be doing better if not for costly penalties that have wiped out some big plays. Terrence McGee is averaging 22.8 per kickoff and Nate Clements just 4.7 on punts, but he had a 63-yarder against Oakland nullified by a holding call.

COACHING: C -- Mike Mularkey said his players' biggest problem has been consistency and the same can be said for him and his staff. Consistency in preparation, play calling and game-day maneuvers hasn't been there through two weeks, contributing mightily to the club's two close losses. Mularkey, offensive coordinator Tom Clements, QB coach Sam Wyche and line coach Jim McNally were hired to turn the offense around, but with two TDs in two games, the results haven't been there. Clements' conservative play calling has hurt as has the inability or unwillingness to use McGahee. Mularkey should've challenged Henry's failed fourth-and-goal run against Oakland. He got cold feet and it cost him (Henry's knees never touched as he appeared to break the plane with the ball and it's believed the league office admitted the call was bad). Defensively, coordinator Jerry Gray has done well - his unit has allowed an average of 13 points per game, which should be enough to win. But melting down at crunch time isn't the sign of a complete defense. The staff should've come up with a way not to allow Jacksonville to convert three fourth downs against them on winning 98-yard drive.

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