Bills Offensive Line Showing Improvement

For years and years, the Bills offensive line has been a sore spot -- well, actually five sore spots -- in Buffalo. Not since the late 1990s when the Bills were perennial playoff contenders have they had a productive and effective offensive line.

That seems to be changing this year. In the offseason, the organization spent lavishly -- some felt a little too lavishly -- on left guard Derrick Dockery and right tackle Langston Walker to join forces with center Melvin Fowler, right guard Brad Butler and promising left tackle Jason Peters.

Halfway through the season, the investment appears to be paying off, as the Bills are getting rock solid play out of their five-man that has avoided injury and started every game together.

"We just work on the same things we do all the time," offensive line coach Jim McNally said. "They're just getting better and better and better."

J.P. Losman got the start at quarterback Sunday, and for just the second time in his 28 career starts, he was not sacked in Buffalo's 33-21 victory over Cincinnati. For the season, he and Trent Edwards have been sacked 16 times, but only 10 times in the last six games.

"I guess this is the point where we're all coming together and working as one unit," said Walker, who was labeled an underachiever in Oakland before signing a stunning five-year, $25 million free agent deal with Buffalo. "We're paid to block and give whoever the quarterback is time to throw and make good decisions. A lot of times we go in there and we take it on us, these are the five guys and we have to do our thing. We've just been doing a good job as of late."

One area of concern has been Buffalo's struggles with the run game. Before Marshawn Lynch broke free for 153 yards against a terrible Cincinnati defense, the Bills ranked just 20th in rushing and averaged only 3.6 yards per attempt. But McNally said one of the keys has been that opposing defenses haven't had to worry much about the Bills' passing game and have loaded up to stop the run.

"I don't read anything, but I think a lot of people have been very critical," McNally said. "People don't realize that there are a lot of times where there's eight guys down in the box, and it's hard to run the ball sometimes. There's a lot of line stunting and tricking going on, but they're good and they're getting better."

There were plays against the Bengals where Losman had seemingly all day to throw. Rare has it been that Losman or Edwards has been able to go through a read progression and throw to a third target, but that happened a few times.

"The offensive line has been playing great, and it's a tribute to them," Losman said. "You can get through your reads, you can go one-two-three and check it down, one-two-three, and if that wasn't there, I took off running. They were opening up lanes for the quarterback and the running back. And they're doing an excellent job.

"You should hear them in the huddle. They're leading their own way. It's like I don't have to sit there and tell them that it's third-and-1. They already know it's third-and-1, let's go. It's good to hear that from the offensive linemen. They're into the game and they understand the calls. It's a real positive right now."

NOTES:

--The Bills' Nov. 18 home game against New England, originally scheduled for an early afternoon start on CBS, has been moved to prime time on NBC as part of the NFL's flex schedule. The Bills have a chance to move to 5-4 if they can beat Miami on Sunday, and if they do, they will be hosting New England with a chance to improve their status as a playoff contender, plus derail the Patriots' perfect season. This is the first time a Bills game has been moved under the league's new flex-scheduling policy.

--CB Terrence McGee had a tough time in 2006 in pass coverage, and that was as the No. 2 man opposite Nate Clements. When Clements bolted via free agency and left McGee as the No. 1 corner, there were some serious question as to how the Bills pass defense would hold up. However, McGee has played some of the best defensive football of his career in recent weeks. He has been strong in coverage. He also had an interception last week against the Jets, his second of the year, and he broke up four passes against the Bengals while running with talented WRs Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. "It was a good day for us," McGee said. "Those guys are great receivers, so we knew it would be a challenge." In addition, he continues to be one of the league's most dangerous kickoff returners, as he averaged 27 yards on three attempts.

--Buffalo's run defense has been one of the keys to its three-game winning streak. The Bills gave up 127 yards to Baltimore, with 46 coming on one Willis McGahee TD run, and they allowed 100 to the Jets. Then against Cincinnati, they turned in a season-best performance, allowing just 28 yards. "We knew they had an explosive offense, great run and passing ability, and we knew we had to shut down one of the two," SLB Angelo Crowell said. After giving up an average of 177 rushing yards per game in losses to Denver, Pittsburgh and New England, the Bills have allowed an average of just 78 yards in the last five games. That includes holding the Jets to 60 yards in their first meeting, and Dallas to 76 yards. One of the reasons for the improvement is that the Bills have gotten healthier and have played with the same starting lineup four weeks in a row, but another is the play of Crowell. He had 14 tackles against the Bengals and has a team-high 72 for the season.

--If the Bills can go down to Miami and beat the winless Dolphins, they will be above .500 for the first time this season, and it will be just the third time since 2002 that they have been above .500 this late in a season. The team has finished above .500 just once in this millennium. The Bills went 9-7 in 2004, when they won six games in a row late in the year to get into playoff contention. But with a chance to get into the postseason in Week 17, they lost to the Steelers at home in a game when Pittsburgh played a bevy of backups. "I have never been through a first half of a season like this for all the reasons that you're aware of," coach Dick Jauron said, referencing all of Buffalo's injuries, its QB controversy, and its losses to Denver and Dallas on last-play field goals. "They just kept believing that they had a chance and could win. It's been a pretty good journey to this point."


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