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Scouting Report: Offensive line has its work cut out against Ware and Cowboys’ pass rush
Jackson should find more running holes today than last week
The Bills have already faced some of the league’s premier pass rushers in Jason Pierre-Paul, Jason Babin and Tamba Hali but Dallas linebacker DeMarcus Ware is peerless. Second in the NFL in sacks behind Minnesota’s Jared Allen with 12, Ware is on pace to enjoy a 24-sack season. A punishing pass rusher off the edge, Ware has excellent strength and size as well as great body control to leverage blockers in the run game. But he isn’t the only pass rusher the Bills must deal with. Linebacker Anthony Spencer is also strong off the edge and has four sacks on the season. The Bills will likely move Andy Levitre over from guard to left tackle, where he’s started the last two games. Rookie Chris Hairston is coming off a high ankle sprain and while he was active for last week’s Jets game, he didn’t play. Chad Rinehart will start at left guard.
2. Run and protect
Like the Jets, the Cowboys will throw several blitz packages against the Bills but probably won’t be as effective because defensive coordinator Rob Ryan lacks the personnel of his twin brother Rex. The Jets’ team speed defensively made it difficult for the Bills to establish anything offensively, especially the run with Fred Jackson. Jackson is averaging 5.4 yards a carry and the Cowboys have been shaky against the run so the Bills can set the tone of the game early with Jackson. That will take some of the pressure off quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who suffered his worst game of the season last week in part because of the Jets’ intense pressure. The offensive line must keep Ware and Spencer away from Fitzpatrick long enough for him to complete slants and drags to receivers Stevie Johnson and David Nelson and tight end Scott Chandler. Johnson missed practice on Friday with an illness but is expected to play.
3. Pressure Romo
The Bills will try to force Tony Romo into turnovers with pressure, although the Dallas offensive line has protected Romo well this year (15 sacks against). A week after recording 10 sacks against Washington, the Bills had only one against the Jets, an indication of inconsistency with their pass rush. The Bills have to find a way to flush Romo from the pocket and allow their veteran secondary to be opportunistic with turnovers. Two much pressure, however, will open up the run game and Dallas has a nice replacement for Felix Jones in DeMarco Murray. He’s started the last two games after Jones was sidelined with an ankle injury and has rushed for a franchise-record 466 yards over the last three games. He’s averaging 6.7 yards a carry.
4 . Don’t forget about Witten
With wide receiver Miles Austin out of the lineup with an injury, Romo may be inclined to target tight end Jason Witten more often. Considering he’s one of the game’s best at his position, that isn’t a bad option. He had four receptions for 71 yards and a TD last week against Seattle and the last three games has a combined 13 catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns. Witten is a threat up the middle and his strength and route discipline make him a challenge in the passing game. Bills inside linebackers Nick Barnett and Kelvin Sheppard are better at defending the run.
5. Stretch run
The time is now for the Bills to get in position for a playoff run. Buffalo’s next five foes are a combined 18-23. The Jets, who host the Bills on Nov. 27, are the only ones that sport a winning record (5-3). Dallas is 4-4 and the others are Miami (1-7), Tennessee (4-4) and San Diego (4-5). At 5-3 the Bills are in a three-way tie for first place in the AFC East, with New England and the Jets so with that in mind look for the Bills to display playoff-like intensity.
The Bills were embarrassed last week and not only have a sense of desperation, but also the better team.
Prediction: Bills 30, Cowboys 28.
Courtesy: Rodney McKissic | The Buffalo News