The St. Louis Rams' offense is no longer "The Greatest Show on Turf" as it was dubbed during the team's Super Bowl years. But the Rams will bring an attack that's still very potent to Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday.
"Their offense is very explosive, and they can light up a scoreboard," said Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Jerry Gray. "It's a real challenge on our hands."
That's especially true considering the Bills' secondary will be a little younger.
Veteran Izell Reese has been benched in favor of undrafted rookie Rashad Baker at free safety. Second-year cornerback Terrence McGee will make his seventh straight start in place of injured Troy Vincent.
"We're going to go out there and do some things to help those guys out," Gray said of Baker and McGee. "But you're also going to have to take them off the diaper because when you're playing defensive back in this league, hey, you've got to have a short memory and you've got to learn from your mistakes. The faster you can learn from them and keep working and get better, you'll be a really good player."
Baker and McGee could get a tough lesson from a Rams offense that ranks sixth in the NFL in total yards per game (381.1). Its average of 22.6 points per game pales in comparison to the prolific scoring machine the Rams were during a three-year run in which they averaged 32.7 from 1999 to 2001. But many of the key components are still in place, beginning with the coach.
Mike Martz been called the mad scientist of pro football because of the wide array of formations he uses to create mismatches and force opponents to defend the entire field.
Martz has been criticized at times for being too pass-happy and not taking full advantage of Marshall Faulk's running skills. But Martz has won 50 games, including the playoffs, since 2000 by doing things his way.
"I don't mean to sound crass, but balance, I could care less," Martz said during a conference call with Buffalo media this week. "For us with our speed and some of the skill outside, we do like to play fast and furious. It just puts a defense on its heels."
With all the weapons Martz has, it's easy to see why he loves to put the ball in the air so much.
In Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, the Rams have arguably the best wide receiver tandem in the NFL. Bruce, who holds every meaningful franchise receiving record, leads the team with 55 catches for 798 yards. Holt has 45 catches for 634 yards with a team-high five touchdowns, and his 6,630 yards since 2000 are the most in the NFL.
Faulk's workload has been reduced with the arrival of first-round draft pick Steven Jackson, but the 11-year veteran remains a tremendous all-purpose threat with 670 rushing yards (4.8 per carry) and 39 catches.
Since taking over for Kurt Warner, quarterback Marc Bulger has been one of the NFL's most efficient passers. His 2,532 yards rank third in the league.
The Rams will undoubtedly test Baker on deep throws, and he said he'll be ready for whatever gets thrown at him.
"I will be real confident because the coaches just don't throw you in that situation if they don't think you're good enough to be in that situation," he said.
The key for the Bills could be their pass rush. Bulger plays behind an offensive line that has allowed 25 sacks, tied for ninth most in the league. The Rams also run a lot of vertical routes in search of big plays. They have 32 completions over 20 yards.
"(Bulger) doesn't like to move around a whole lot, but he gets rid of the ball quickly," Bills defensive end Chris Kelsay said. "If we have good coverage and don't give him a target, then he's obviously got to hold onto it. That's where the defensive line will come into play, and we'll have to get some pressure on him and get him to the ground."
While the pass rush is important, strong safety Lawyer Milloy said the Bills' secondary must do its part by getting physical with the Rams' receivers.
"When I played them in the Super Bowl (XXXVI as a member of the New England Patriots), the No. 1 thing we wanted to do was get a hand on them," he said. "They don't like to be hit. We definitely want to get in their face and disrupt the timing of their routes."
How the Rams' receivers rank
Receiving yards per game 281.3 (3)
Receptions 207 (4)
Yards per reception 12.2 (12)
Completion percentage 65.1 (6)
Pass attempts per game 35.3 (7)
Touchdown passes 13 (T-9)
First downs 118 (5)
Big plays ( 20 yds) 35 (5)