Protecting the passer – whomever it may be – is a top priority for the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.
The Bills face a Kansas City Chiefs team that ranks No. 1 in the NFL in fewest points allowed and in quarterback sacks.
The timing of the matchup for Buffalo is less than ideal, to grossly understate the situation. There’s a good chance the Bills will be starting their third different player at quarterback this season.
Thad Lewis is listed as doubtful due to sore ribs and was not able to throw in Friday’s practice. Coach Doug Marrone said the team would give him more time to see if he can be ready. But the more likely scenario is undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel will get the start. He got more snaps in preparation this week than No. 3 QB Matt Flynn.
“It’s a unique situation, but you have to be ready to go with whoever’s out there,” said Bills offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. “That’s my goal. I’ve got to try to call a game to help whoever’s out there.”
The Bills have seen three QBs go down with injury, including Kevin Kolb in preseason and EJ Manuel in the fifth game.
The Chiefs are the kind of team that could make it four.
Kansas City edge rushers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali have 11 and nine sacks, respectively. Houston is tied with Buffalo’s Mario Williams for second in the NFL. Hali ranks fifth.
In addition, Kansas City employs an aggressive, blitzing scheme, much like Buffalo. Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton served with Bills chief Mike Pettine on Rex Ryan’s staff with the New York Jets. Sutton was linebackers coach.
Kansas City has 36 sacks, putting it on pace to equal the single-season record of 72 set by the legendary Chicago Bears defense of 1984.
Like the Jets and the Bills, the Chiefs often have three rushers threatening the right side and three threatening the left side.
Which side is coming, with how many, and who is dropping off into coverage?
“Put seven guys on the line and bring five every play,” Hackett said. “Play man coverage. It’s an attack defense. … They make you mess up.”
Ideally, the way to beat it is to run reasonably well and hit them with some quick catch-and-runs. Another way is to pick the right times to use maximum protection and burn the Chiefs deep.
But it requires accurate fade throws down the sideline. It’s not so easy for young quarterbacks.
The Bills stand 27th in the NFL in pass plays of 20 yards or more with 20. Buffalo is 30th overall in passing yards.
“The key is being patient, being able to run the ball, being able to throw the ball deep,” Hackett said. “They lock the corners outside. That’s a matchup they have. They say, ‘We’re going to take everything away from the inside and we’re going to make you go outside.’ I think you have to be patient with that and just take what they give you.”
The Bills rank 26th in the league in sacks allowed per pass play. Buffalo has allowed 28 sacks.
Hackett says that is no indication of how well the offensive line is playing.
“Not at all,” Hackett said. “I’d say about 15 of those sacks are truly on the quarterback.
“Young quarterbacks need to get the ball out. Young quarterbacks need to throw the ball away. Thad had two where he slid and got minus-1 yard. It’s just him trying to make a play not realizing where he’s at and not throwing it out of bounds.”
By The News’ count, the Bills’ offensive line is responsible for 12 of 28 sacks.
Six of those sacks are by offensive linemen no longer on the team (four by Colin Brown and two by Sam Young).
Left tackle Cordy Glenn has been outstanding in pass protection. He has allowed only one sack – or 1.5, depending on how one grades. Right tackle Erik Pears has received a bit more help with the presence of a tight end on his side. He has allowed more pressure overall than Glenn, but Pears still has only allowed two sacks, by News count.
Hali will line up opposite Glenn much of the time. Houston will line up opposite Pears.
Opposing defenses, including New Orleans last week, generally have blitzed more against the Bills than they showed against other foes.
“They’re going to keep doing it until you can protect the quarterback,” Hackett said.
“So that’s just a natural philosophy. If you protect it up and get a completion, they’ll get out of it, they’ll get scared.”