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Bills look to open up offense Bengals struggle with pass defense

Bombs could be in the forecast Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

The Buffalo Bills are eager -- desperate, perhaps -- to inject some explosive plays into their offense.

The Cincinnati Bengals' defense has been susceptible to the big play.

The ability of the Bills to take advantage of the matchup may be a decisive factor when the Bengals visit Orchard Park.

"We're lacking in both the run and the pass, and we have been all year," Bills offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild said in regard to explosive plays. "Obviously the more you get of those, the more productive you are."

The Bills have just four pass plays of 25 or more yards. That's tied with San Francisco for last in the NFL in that category, according to the statistical service STATS.

The Bengals have allowed 34 plays of 20 or more yards, counting runs and passes, which is the way the Elias Sports Bureau counts long plays. That's the third worst total among NFL defenses.

So what we have is the unexplosive force meeting the ignitable object.

The Bengals have allowed 18 touchdown passes, tied for the most in the league. The Bills have thrown two TD passes, the fewest in the league.

Quarterback J.P. Losman, who returns to the starting lineup, hit an 85-yard touchdown pass to Lee Evans last week. Last season, Losman tied for third in the league in completions of 40-or-more yards.

"As long as we keep taking our shots in the games and even take some shots early . . . then whether we hook up on them or not, we're going to hopefully soften these guys up and see if we can get some things underneath," Losman said. "But we'll have our chances and we'll see if we can come through this week."

Losman threw only five passes in his relief appearance last week but two of them were deep balls. The other was a 40-yard sideline throw for Roscoe Parrish that hit Parrish in the arms, amid very tight coverage, and fell incomplete.

"That would have been nice to hit that one," Losman said.

The Bengals (2-5) are a disappointment this season largely because of their defense, which ranks 31st in yards allowed and 31st in points allowed.

Cincinnati gave up a 57-yard TD pass to the New York Jets four minutes into their game two weeks ago.

Last week they gave up a 42-yard completion in the first quarter when Pittsburgh's Santonio Holmes beat rookie cornerback Leon Hall. On the next play, Pittsburgh's Hines Ward beat Hall for a 21-yard touchdown.

"We haven't gotten as many turnovers defensively," said Bengals coach Marvin Lewis. "We've given up far too many explosive plays defensively and not made enough on offense."

Injuries have hurt the Bengals. Three of their top four linebackers entering the season have been out with injury. They have had to move defensive end Robert Geathers to outside linebacker. The middle linebacker is Anthony Schelegel, who was cut this year by the New York Jets.

The Bengals have used 10 of their last 13 first-day draft picks on defensive players. But some of their big picks have not worked. Defensive end David Pollock, a first-rounder in 2005, has been out since last year with a neck injury. Linebacker Odell Thurman, a second-rounder in '05, is sitting out a yearlong suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Cornerback Keiwan Ratliff, a second-round pick in '04, was cut this year. Defensive end Frostee Rucker, a third-round pick last year, has been nagged by injuries.

The Bengals ranked among the top third of the league in rushing the passer with six men last year, but they ranked only 23rd in total sacks. This year they stand 25th in sacks.

"They're talented and they're very active up front," said Fairchild. "They're on the move quite a bit. A big challenge for us is we've gone a number of weeks playing 3-4 teams, and now all of a sudden we're playing a four down (lineman) team."

The Bills' last six games have been against 3-4 defenses.

"They try to bring the pressure to you and they leave some opportunities out there," said Evans. "They try to get to you before you get to them."


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