Bills need to jumpstart bland pass rush

Through seven games, the Bills' pass rush has been painfully mediocre. Now with Aaron Schobel ruled out of his third straight game, the task got even taller against Brett Favre and a quick-hitting Jets passing game.

They've been rare, sporadic spectacles.

Seven games, seven sacks.

The Buffalo Bills' most glaring weakness is obvious: the pass rush. The front four has only accumulated one sack per game – and only three since Buffalo's season-opener against Seattle. Aaron Schobel's been bogged down by a foot injury, and no one else has provided a consistent push.

This type of problem isn't a scab, more like an infection.

If the 5-2 Bills are to keep pace in the suddenly vibrant AFC East, Schobel and company have to harass opposing quarterbacks. Speed rushing, bull rushing, stunts, swims – every trick and trade of the position is not working. And while it's not realistic to expect Chris Kelsay to morph into Bruce Smith overnight, it would be convenient for someone – anyone – to get after Brett Favre.

Outsiders love to laud and/or heckle Favre's improvisational tendencies. Those spin-shrug-scamper-n-hurls have created a massive Favre Stereotype. But Brett Favre circa 2008 is much different than Brett Favre circa 1998.

In the twilight (we think) of his career, Favre is relying more on pre-snap reads. His ability to recognize mismatches and paper-thin windows before they transpire is unmatched. He's a 75-year-old grad student in an Intro class. Passes are coming off his hand quicker than ever, and he's been fairly successful with a ho-hum receiving corps (Favre is on pace for 3,682 yards and 34 touchdowns), despite a recent string of careless games.


Brett Favre
Getty Images

The stopwatch clicks fast in the Jets' passing game. There's not much time available to pressure Favre.

By no means does Buffalo need to rack up five-plus sacks Sunday to be effective. With Favre, all it takes is 3-4 legitimate in-the-grill hits to force an ill-advised decision and an interception (he's also on pace for 25 picks). Buffalo's front four has less sacks than four individual players (Joey Porter, DeMarcus Ware, James Harrison and Lamar Woodley) and the same amount as Mario Williams and John Abraham. With timely blitzes, maybe Kelsay or Chris Denney (in for Schobel) can get single-teamed in a 3rd and long and wreak havoc.

Then again, that might be like asking Teppo Numminen and Henrik Tallinder to anchor the Sabres' offense – the two Bills' ends just are not pure passers i.e. 34.5 sacks in 171 combined career games. And the Jets' tackle duo of D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Damien Woody has been solid this season. Both have been criticized for being overpaid and overhyped, but the two have been stalwarts on the edge. Opposing defensive ends have only totaled one sack per game through the Jets' seven games.

And for the third straight game, the Bills are devoid of their one pass-rushing weapon.

Schobel will miss Sunday's crucial AFC East clash with that strained ligament in his left foot. He got rid of his walking boot this past week, but is still not ready to suit up. Maybe head coach Dick Jauron is being cautious after seeing what happened last week (Terrence McGee's fourth-degree burn from Ted Ginn Jr.). Sounds like it, anyway.

"He's getting better," head coach Dick Jauron said. "We're not taking any chances with him. He's a terrific player and we'll need him as we move forward. We'll miss him. We've missed him every game he hasn't been on the field. But Aaron is proven - he's a proven player in this league."

Without Schobel, it'll tough treading for the Bills.

While the consummate pro has been pedestrian since inking a mega-contract two summers ago, Schobel's track record at least draws blockers away from other defensive linemen. Without him, the Jets will most likely stick with 1-on-1 pass protection on Kelsay and Denney and shade any extra help toward Marcus Stroud and Paul Posluszny.

Don't expect a pass-rush resurgence this week. Unless defensive coordinator Perry Fewell can conjure up some exotic schemes, Buffalo will most likely need to stick with its prevent-the-big-play defense another week. The Bills don't have any individual gamebreakers. No Cromarties, Marios, Merrimans, Joey Porters here. After all, Y'ar who y'ar. The Bills assignment-reliant defense doesn't necessarily permit freelancing.

But sooner or later, the Bills must get into some sort of pass-rushing rhythm, or they'll continue to steadily recede back into mediocrity.

thdunne@gmail.com


Buffalo Football Report Top Stories