The Cowboys’ DeMarcus Ware, right, has 12 sacks, three fewer than the Bills have as a team.
Whoever starts at left tackle Sunday for the Buffalo Bills — the options are Andy Levitre and rookie Chris Hairston — will spend a considerable amount of time opposite quarterback agitator DeMarcus Ware.
Indeed, Levitre and Hairston will receive their stiffest test yet trying to muzzle Ware when the Bills (5-3) visit the Dallas Cowboys (4-4) at Cowboys Stadium on Sunday.
“It’s an opportunity of a lifetime to be able and go out and compete against a guy who has shown his ability over a long period of time,” Hairston said. “It will be good to go out there and say, ‘I went against the best,’ because that’s what he’s proven time and time again.”
Time and time again, Ware has proven to be difficult to contain. The Bills defense has 15 sacks this season, only three more than Ware — who has more sacks than Kansas City and the same amount as Tampa Bay.
So who will be Ryan Fitzpatrick’s personal protector? More than likely, it will be Levitre to start.
“Probably over a 50 percent chance that he’ll play left tackle,” Bills coach Chan Gailey said. “We’re still holding hope for Hairston but I think that will be the way it is, at least to start the game.”
We know it won’t be Demetrius Bell who started the first four games of the season before suffering a shoulder injury in the loss to Cincinnati during Week Four. While Bell said his rehab is going fine and he’s felt, “better than I have in a long time,” he’s not practicing this week and his return is still to be determined.
Levitre practiced this week at both left tackle and left guard. When Hairston was injured following the New York Giants game, Levitre filled in at left tackle and played well in holding off the likes of Washington linebacker Brian Orakpo and the Jets’ Calvin Pace.
“He did a good job and it’s such a tough thing,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s so hard for him to move from inside to outside and now that he’s had a few games where he’s been out there you can see him getting comfortable. We’ll see what happens there this week, but Andy’s a really good player for us and somebody that we put a lot on his shoulders and he’s really stepped up.
If Levitre starts at left tackle, Chad Rinehart will start at left guard.
“I don’t know what [the coaches] plan is, but I’m taking reps at both,” Levitre said. “The last few weeks I’ve been playing against some of the best pass rushers in the league. It’s definitely going to be a big challenge because Ware is a good pass rusher and a great player. I feel like we have our work cut out for us every week but this is going to be a challenge for us.”
Hairston, the rookie from Clemson, missed the last two games against Washington and the Jets with a high ankle sprain. After Bell was injured, Hairston started against Philadelphia and the Giants and was activated for last week’s Jets game.
“You have to be ready,” Hairston said. “I have to get a good week of preparation in, get myself together mentally and physically so I can go out and have my best game. … You have to be on top of everything with Ware.”
Respect for Ware, who ranks second in the NFL in sacks, is league wide. New England’s Bill Belichick recently compared Ware to Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor, whom Belichick coached as the Giants’ defensive coordinator. He lauded Ware’s talent to rush and drop into coverage, adding his aptitude allows him to play multiple roles.
Not to be outdone, Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said of his centerpiece, “I mean, I saw Superman I and II but never saw the third one. I know Lawrence Taylor is obviously a fantastic player, but the best player I’ve ever seen on defense is DeMarcus Ware without a doubt.”
Ware has 12 sacks, which trails league-leader Jared Allen of Minnesota by half a sack. Last week’s game against Seattle is only the second time he didn’t record a sack in a game this year. That still leaves him on a pace for 24 sacks.
“DeMarcus Ware obviously is somebody you’ve got to have your eye on,” Fitzpatrick said. “Every play you’ve got to know where he is.”
Courtesy: Rodney McKissic | The Buffalo News