Run-First Attitude Troubles Bills

Brad Childress' desire to stick with the running game could be problematic for the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. Buffalo's defense is still trying to hone up that part of its game.

Buffalo's run defense, a major sore spot during last season's 5-11 finish, has improved from 31st in the NFL to 21st through three games.

But don't get the impression anybody is feeling good or that worry isn't high heading into Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

The Vikings' running game is formidable, averaging 107.7 yards per game. But more important than the production is the run-first attitude new coach Brad Childress has instilled on what used to be a high-flying passing team under Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss.

Those players are gone, replaced by Brad Johnson and running back Chester Taylor, who has rushed 75 times for 275 yards (3.7) behind a mammoth left side of the line featuring Bryant McKinnie and prized free agent Steve Hutchinson, along with free agent fullback Tony Richardson.

Minnesota is averaging 30 rush attempts per game in its 2-1 start, and combined with playing hard-nosed defense, has been able to play three consecutive tight ball games against Washington, Carolina and Chicago. Each game was decided by three points.

The Bills have improved against the run but their smallish front is still cause for concern. Opponents are still averaging 116 yards per game and a healthy 4.4 yards per carry.

Last Sunday saw the Bills limit the New York Jets to 74 yards on 24 carries in a 28-20 defeat, a fine 3.1 average. But the numbers are deceiving. On the Jets' three long touchdown drives, they ran the ball 13 times for 52 yards (4.0 average), and twice scored on runs on first-and-goal from the 3-yard line and 5-yard line.

After cutting New York's lead to 21-13 with a field goal, Buffalo could not stop the Jets from driving 58 yards in nine plays for the clinching touchdown, with the Jets covering the final 17 yards of that drive with runs of 7, 5 and 5 yards.

"After the offense was able to score the field goal, we were down by just eight points and we didn't stop them from a defensive standpoint," linebacker London Fletcher said. "That was definitely a disappointment. You have to stop people and give the offense another chance and we didn't do that."

Red zone play, offensively and defensively, haunted the Bills. While Buffalo was going 1 of 4 inside the 20, the Jets were going 3 of 3.

"Obviously, we need to improve," coach Dick Jauron said. "We didn't finish, but certainly, we had our opportunities offensively to put up a significant number of points. We just didn't finish for whatever reason. Defensively, we have to make them kick field goals. That could have been the difference. If we make them kick a field goal in the last drive, even our last possession would be different."

The Bills have their own strong running game to throw at the Vikings; Willis McGahee leads the NFL in rushing with 311 yards and Buffalo is averaging 124.3 yards per game. But the Bills won't see enough of the ball if Minnesota gets its ground game on track.

In a 19-16 loss to Chicago last week, the Vikings ran 24 times for 97 yards (4.04 average) on one of the best defenses in the league, with Taylor finishing with 74 yards on 20 carries.

"I think it comes back to consistency," Bills defensive end Ryan Denney said. "We're tough at times, then we let two or three big runs. Those add up. We can't allow that."

SERIES HISTORY: 11th meeting. Vikings lead 7-3 and are 4-2 in games played at Buffalo. Last meeting was in 2002, a wild 45-39 overtime victory by the Bills in Minneapolis. New Bills quarterback Drew Bledsoe and Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper combined for 94 pass attempts for 744 yards and six touchdowns without a single interception. Bledsoe threw for a career-best 463 yards and wide receiver Peerless Price caught a career-high 13 passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner in overtime on a 48-yard strike from Bledsoe. Minnesota seemed on its way to a 39-36 victory but Mike Hollis' 54-yard field goal — which hit the crossbar and skipped over — tied the game as regulation time expired. Buffalo scored TDs on offense, defense and special teams.

NOTES

  • The Bills will see two old friends on Sunday, CB Antoine Winfield and DT Pat Williams, two former stalwarts on defense who joined the Vikings as free agents. Winfield and Williams, who have performed at very high levels for Minnesota, have no love lost for Buffalo's former general manager, Tom Donahoe, or coaches, Gregg Williams and Mike Mularkey. But their feelings about the Bills organization have changed now that Marv Levy is back in charge, particularly for Williams, who got his NFL start under Levy in 1997 as an undrafted player. "All them dumb a---s are gone," Williams told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "If they were still there, I would have a problem with (the Bills). But they got Marv (Levy) running things, and they're trying to get things back on line." Williams was an immensely popular player with the Bills, lived year-round in Buffalo, and never wanted to leave. But Donahoe chose not to resign him with a competitive offer after the 2004 season. The Bills' defense collapsed from No. 2 in the NFL to No. 29 without Williams anchoring the middle with Sam Adams.

  • Since the Bills had more pressing needs at offensive and defensive tackle, the selection of WR Roscoe Parrish was considered a luxury pick for the Bills in 2005. But he's sure fun to have around. Parrish's 51-yard TD dash against the New York Jets last week showed the kind of explosiveness he brings to the table — he took a quick pass from J.P. Losman on a hot read — and just burned past the entire New York secondary. The Bills continue to look for ways to get the ball in the hands of the 5-foot-9 Parrish, who is 168 pounds soaking wet. "We never know what plays we're going to run," Parrish said. "We just took what the defense gave us and we ran the right one on the touchdown. When I turned around and I just gave it all I had."

  • Reporters are discovering that coach Dick Jauron doesn't stay up late lamenting play calls that didn't work out. He was second guessed for days about the Bills' fake punt try against the Jets that wound up with holder Brian Moorman throwing an incomplete shovel pass to tackle Jason Peters. The field goal try would've been from 53 yards with the wind. "I really don't (regret it)," Jauron said. "There are things we talk about before the game, where we can kick it from, where we can't, where we feel comfortable. We all know what the wind was like out there. I like the play, it just didn't work."

  • In the NFL, when a running back rushes for more than 100 yards, his team usually wins. That's not been the case lately for the Bills, who are 1-4 the last five times Willis McGahee has topped the century mark. His career-high 150-yard rushing day against the Jets last week was for naught as was the team's 475 yards of total offense, the most in four seasons. "It's a bad feeling, but you have to put it behind you," McGahee said. "Our offense put up a lot of numbers but it doesn't mean anything when you don't get the win."

  • The Bills are considering relocating their press box at Ralph Wilson Stadium and converting the prime space located only about 60 rows from the field into money-generating luxury boxes. Similar moves have been made at Giants Stadium, the RCA Dome in Indianapolis and Dolphin Stadium in Miami. The Bills resisted touching their press facilities during a 1999 renovation that added 76 suites but are now seeking ways to maximize revenue streams to help pay for the league's new collective bargaining agreement with players. The Bills may land $20 million in state aid for the project and other improvements.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 8. Number of times Bills have had a 100-yard rusher, 100-yard receiver and 300-yard passer in the same game. They are 7-1 when that happens after last week's loss to the New York Jets.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "You have to understand this is a marathon. Here we are sitting 1-2, but there are a lot of 1-2 teams in the NFL that make the playoffs. All we have to focus on is winning the next game." — Bills free agent DT Larry Tripplett, a regular participant in the playoffs while a member of the Indianapolis Colts the past four seasons.


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