Weaknesses wreck Bills' effort in Denver

Upon pondering the Bills' 28-23 loss to Denver Sept. 22, inevitably you say to yourself, "It was only a matter of time when the Bills' offensive and defensive weaknesses would cost them." If you didn't say that to yourself, you did now, because you just read this, which constitutes saying it to yourself.

The Bills are now 1-2 – two games behind AFC East division-leaders New England and Miami, who are both 3-0.

In particular, we're talking about weaknesses such as Buffalo's running game, its inability to stop the opponent's running game and its inability to force turnovers.

Of course, technically speaking, Buffalo did improve from the week before in a couple of those areas.

Against Denver, the Bills rushed for 39 yards, compared to 31 against the Vikings. And they whittled down the opponent's rushing total from 213 to 163. That's – gulp! –  progress.

But the defense couldn't force any turnovers, and as good as Bills' corners Antoine Winfield and Nate Clements are, they're both still searching for their first interception this season, and that's no way to get to the Pro Bowl.

Let's start with the weak running game.

It didn't help that Travis Henry sprained his left ankle on his first quarter fumble, which defensive tackle Chester McGlockton picked up and ran in for the 7-0 lead (see "The Big Play"). To his credit, Henry went back in, gutting it out and finishing with 35 yards rushing and 33 yards receiving. He was noticeably limping after the game and will probably appear on the Bills' mid-week injury list for the Bears game.

In general, the issue is not that Henry is terrible, but the run blocking really needs to improve.

"It's always the same story on the offensive line," said center Trey Teague. "When you have a chance to run, you have to capitalize on it. We had some inconsistencies and we weren't able to establish it when we needed to. We're not quite where we want to be yet, but I think it's a work in progress."

And though the Broncos feature some pretty massive tackles in the 334-pound McGlockton and the 309-pound Lional Dalton, the lack of a running game just wasn't because of them.

"We're pretty big up front too," said Gregg Williams. "We just got to be able to finish and our guys need to play more and continue getting playing time together. This is a young group, but they will be good before it's over with."

For the second week in a row, Buffalo nearly overcame the running game with Drew Bledsoe, who was 27 for 41 for 283 yards and two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 102.0 passer rating. With seven minutes, 40 seconds remaining in the game, Bledsoe hit Josh Reed for a four-yard touchdown, cutting the Denver lead to 21-16. Later, with one minute, 16 seconds remaining, he found Eric Moulds for a two-yard score, closing the gap to 28-23. Both were clutch scores, but perhaps Bledsoe's outstanding performances are giving Bills fans and their team a false sense that everything is OK, when in reality, this is beginning to look like Dan Marino's Dolphins.

And how many championships did they win?

Next, there is the run-stopping. Denver starter Olandis Gary went out with an ankle sprain in the first quarter, but it didn't matter. Rookie Calvin Portis totaled 103 yards rushing – his first 100-yard NFL game – which included a one-yard touchdown run that gave the Broncos a 14-0 second-quarter lead. Last week it was Minnesota reserve running back Moe Williams who killed the Bills. You just get the feeling that whomever lines up in the opponent's backfield, he or she is going to end up with a career day.

Now Denver did a fair amount of spreading the Bills out, taking strong safety Coy Wire out of the box. But the line must slow down backs more than they have been.

"We have to do a better a job in our box," said right end Aaron Schobel. "But we're playing hard, and that's the main thing. We're not down – we're down that we lost, but we're not down as a team. It's the little mistakes we have to correct."

Unfortunately, when you combine the little mistakes with an offense that doesn't begin games like it ends them, you have a football team with football players who are digging their graves out there on the football field.

"The bottom line for us offensively is that we've got to be better at starting games. We're digging holes for ourselves and leaving ourselves with problems at the end of games. It's hard to overcome those all the time," said Bledsoe.

But that's not all – this sounds like an infomercial.

There's also the inability to force turnovers. Last week Buffalo forced three against Minnesota. This week it forced none.

This big-risk, big-reward defense lusts after turnovers, the way teenage boys – well, most men in general – lust after Britney Spears. Without them – turnovers, we mean – the Bills are merely mortal. Worse than that, they're just not very good.

As for interceptions, only Chris Watson had the best chances. Broncos quarterback Brian Griese mostly picked on the ex-Bronco seemingly whenever he was in the game as the extra corner in Buffalo's nickel package. Watson did not have one of his better days.

But in the end, it was Winfield who gave up the back-breaking score. Beating a blitz, Griese threw to Rod Smith running a post pattern for the game-deciding 26-yard touchdown, putting Denver up 28-16 with two minutes, 39 seconds left. Smith had gained separation from Winfield, who claimed that Smith pushed off.

It totally stunk.

Big play

Bills' ball, first and 20 from the Buffalo 24, three minutes, 46 seconds remaining in the first quarter, game tied 0-0. Bills were in an I formation, Larry Centers at fullback, Travis Henry at tailback. They worked out of a rarely seen unbalanced formation with Jonas Jennings lined up on the right side as an extra tackle, next to right tackle Mike Williams. Tight end Dave Moore was lined up next to left guard Ruben Brown. Eric Moulds and Peerless Price were spread to the right side.

The Broncos were in a 4-3.

Bledsoe took the snap and pitched to Travis Henry. Williams was beaten by defensive tackle Montae Reagor who got the initial hit on Henry. Jennings locked up on left defensive end Trevor Pryce. Centers, the lead blocker, tried to take out middle linebacker Al Wilson, but Wilson bounced off the block and nailed Henry with his helmet. Then weakside linebacker Ian Gold came in and hit Henry, knocking the ball loose. Defensive tackle Chester McGlockton saw it, picked it up and ran it in 24 yards for the score and the 7-0 lead.

The formation, designed to overload the right side with heavy Buffalo blockers, was negated by Denver's quick line and fast linebackers. Essentially, all three Broncos linebackers converged on Henry and pummeled him.

Henry left with a left ankle sprain, but returned later in the second quarter.

"That's how you play team defense," said Reagor, "by flying around and getting to the ball. It was a great hit and a great pickup by Chester. We were just fortunate that he was able to make a play and get a touchdown. Going into the game, we knew that if we hit [Travis Henry] hard enough, he would fumble at some point."

McGlockton said, "I was going back around to make sure [Travis Henry] was going down, and the ball was just there. I picked it up, and thank God I got to the end zone without being tackled. I'm the slowest D-lineman on this team."


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