Bills/49ers: Injuries, Strategy and Matchups

Last minute notes on Sunday's inter-conference battle between Buffalo and San Francisco...

Strategy and Personnel

The Bills will have five starters dinged or out for Sunday's game against the 49ers: TE Robert Royal (hamstring), DE Aaron Schobel (foot), SS Donte Whitner (shoulder), LB Keith Ellison (hamstring) and CB Jabari Greer (knee). Backup DE Copeland Bryan (foot) and LB Teddy Lehman (hamstring) are also hobbled. Buffalo can ill afford another loss if it hopes to make the playoffs but rushing players back too soon against the 3-8 49ers would be foolish given the gauntlet the team faces in December: Miami (in Toronto), at the Jets, at Denver, New England.

Royal's backups, Derek Schouman and Derek Fine, have proven their ability to contribute. For better or worse (mostly worse), the Bills have been getting by without Schobel, their best pass rusher, using Ryan Denney, Spencer Johnson and Bryan. Whitner was apparently rushed back too quickly from a separated shoulder and had to sit out last week's Chiefs game. But veteran George Wilson played OK in his place, contributing four tackles and a recovered fumble, although Tony Gonzalez went wild. The Bills will need Whitner for the stretch run and he needs to rest another week, even though he plans to handle some more contact in practice on Thursday.

Lehman's injury compounds Ellison's but it's possible both could be OK for the 49ers. And rookie Leodis McKelvin filled in splendidly for Greer, intercepting two passes against the Chiefs, returning one for a TD.

"It's not great but that's kind of the way it is," said coach Dick Jauron of the late-season injury rash. "Everybody has their injuries, and you just have to find a way to play through them and get a victory somehow."

PLAYER NOTES

-- TE Robert Royal is nursing a hamstring pull suffered last week against Kansas City and has been ruled out of Sunday's game.

--DE Aaron Schobel, who has missed six games with a foot injury, did not practice. He's doubtful for Sunday's game at Kansas City and his season appears to be inching closer to being scrapped all together.

--SS Donte Whitner is practicing on a limited basis this week due to his tender right shoulder. It's partly a pain tolerance issue and signs are leading towards him playing Sunday against San Francisco.

-- CB Jabari Greer, who suffered a sprained knee against Cleveland and missed the Kansas City game last week, will not play against San Francisco.

--LB Keith Ellison, who has been playing on a tender ankle, re-injured the joint in last week's win at Kansas City. He's day to day for Sunday's game against San Francisco.

--DT John McCargo was placed on injured reserve.

--TE Jonathan Stupar was promoted from the practice squad to Buffalo's active roster.

--LB Teddy Lehman, a key backup, has a hamstring injury and did not practice. He's day-to-day.

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-WR Mike Jefferson, who had a stint on Dallas' practice squad and played his college football at Montana State, was signed to the practice squad. His number is 19.

GAME PLAN: The Bills (6-5) have little margin left for error if they intend to make the playoffs, and just as they did a week ago in Kansas City, need to be focused and prepared to take care of business against a less-than-formidable opponent in the 49ers (3-8). Buffalo can take its pick in attacking San Francisco weaknesses: Pressure young QB Shaun Hill (team has allowed 40 sacks). Fly to the ball (49ers have 27 turnovers). Have Trent Edwards throw (San Francisco's 29th-ranked secondary allows 244 yards per game). The running back duel between Marshawn Lynch and Frank Gore on what will be a cold, maybe slick weather day will go a long ways toward determining the outcome. Basically, the Bills should have no problem winning at home against a team that has traveled across the country, not with renewed playoff hopes after last week's 54-point explosion against the Chiefs. They shouldn't take the 49ers too lightly, though. San Francisco leads the NFL with 52 plays of 20 yards or more (running and passing), so it has the capability of punching back.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Bills depleted LB corps vs. 49ers RB Frank Gore, who leads his team in rushing yards (860, six TDs) and catches (36 for 331 and one TD).

--Bills CB Leodis McKelvin, coming off a two-interception game, vs. 49ers veteran WR Isaac Bruce (34 catches, five TDs), whom the 49ers will want to match up against the rookie who will likely start for a second week with Jabari Greer hobbled.

--Bills WR Lee Evans, who has four 100-yard games, vs. 49ers CB Nate Clements, the ex-Bill who is playing well with two picks and 42 tackles.

--Bills RBs Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson picking up blitzes by 49ers LBs Parys Haralson and Manny Lawson, who have combined for 7.5 sacks.

INJURY IMPACT: With Keith Ellison (ankle) and backup Teddy Lehman (hamstring) nursing injuries, Buffalo enters Sunday's game against the 49ers thin at the linebacker spot. Safety Bryan Scott has been getting repetitions at linebacker and would be available to play if Ellison and Lehman are sidelined or less than effective.


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