“Aging” and “unathletic.”
Those two words raised eyebrows externally and internally. Yes, the Buffalo Bills offensive linemen heard how Bill Polian described them to The News. It was odd analysis. For one, the starters’ average age is 26.4 years old. Two, they pull regularly. Three? The Bills also happen to rush for 154.6 yards per game — No. 1 in the NFL.
Polian may wish to serve as a consultant for the Bills, but he sounded out of touch here. And on Sunday, the Bills wanted to prove it. Through Sunday’s 16-6 slog, this line gashed the Dallas Cowboys for 236 rushing yards on 40 attempts with two touchdowns.
Center Eric Wood read the article online and texted a link to guard Richie Incognito who said, heck yes, it was motivation.
“We were chirping about it a little bit,” Incognito said. “We’re in this building every day. We know what we are. We know what we’re good at. And we went out there and proved it again today.”
“A lot of text messages back and forth. You know, we noticed it. We’re professionals. And for a guy like Bill Polian — who’s had a lot of success in Buffalo and is a Hall of Famer — to talk bad about our group like that, it puts a little (expletive) in our grit.”
A lot has gone wrong for the 2015 Buffalo Bills. Offensive line play — often anemic in 2014 — should be low on the off-season priority list. Sunday was proof of that. Pro Bowler LeSean McCoy (knee) was sidelined and it didn’t matter. The right side of the line was missing and, again, it didn't matter. Midseason pick-up Mike Gillislee, who was abandoned by Miami and Arizona, ran for 93 yards. Fifth-rounder Karlos Williams added 76. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor had 67.
So the Bills rushed for 200-plus yards in back-to-back games for the first time since 1995. And on the season, Buffalo has rushed for 2,319 yards, the eighth-most in team history and most since 1992. Not bad for a team that's featured the likes of Cookie Gilchrist, O.J. Simpson and Thurman Thomas.
A mobile quarterback, a passing game dependent on the deep ball lends itself to pressure. And Polian can always simply point to his bust in Canton. But the Bills have been at their ground-and-pound best when running 30-40 times a game.
Sunday's results suggest the former team architect is dead wrong.
“I don’t see it. I don’t agree with it,” Wood said. “He’s been around the league a long time — if that’s his opinion, that’s fine. Everybody has an opinion. But I don’t think there’s too many doing the stuff we’re doing right now. A lot of that’s scheme, a lot of that’s we’ve got great skill players around us. Our production is pretty high right now.”
Simply look at all of the moving parts.
Veteran Kraig Urbik stepped in for an injured rookie John Miller. Jordan Mills started at right tackle. And even with McCoy out, the Bills ran the ball at will. The rookie Williams set a mashing, physical tone. On his 26-yard run, Miller and Mills opened up a huge lane.
Gillislee is more of a slasher. On this back's clinching 50-yard touchdown to the right side, Incognito — who has been pulling all season — pulled right to pick off linebacker Rolando McClain, Mills blocked down, wideout Chris Hogan wiped out cornerback Brandon Carr and Gillislee’s wheels did the rest.
Athleticism has actually been the most surprising, most dangerous aspect of Incognito’s game this season.
“I’m moving well,” the 6-foot-3, 319-pound Incognito said. “I’ve been doing a ton of pulling this year and playing the best football of my career.”
Going into this one, the Bills knew the Cowboys’ defense was fast. Athletic. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman described them as a “horde of locusts.” All a major change from the bulky fronts the Bills have been facing of late — “slugs,” Incognito called them. So quickness up front was a must.
Was Taylor scrambling more than they'd like? Certainly. But he also had a handful of designed runs.
Overall, left tackle Cordy Glenn said the defense knew what was coming and still couldn’t stop it.
Added Incongito, “When you’re cracking those runs and getting going, that’s when those big ones come — those two, four, six, eight yarders turn into 50-yarders eventually. So to keep swinging like that just shows the poise and the resolve of this unit.”
The linemen did not discuss Polian’s comments as a group. Wood only spoke to Incognito and Urbik himself. But how would these three characterize their group? Much differently.
Wood: “I’d say we’re pretty athletic, we’re pretty young, we’re pretty mean up front. We’re good in the run game. We have to keep getting better with protection. But that comes with a mobile quarterback. You’re going to get some more pressures. You’re going to look down the field. We don’t run a lot of quick game. But I’m proud of this O-Line.”
Incognito: “Tough. Physical. Relentless. And growing."
Urbik: “Compared to aging and unathletic? There’s two guys over 30. The rest are under 26. … I think we’re first" in the run NFL rushing. "We’re doing something right I guess. But if he says so, I guess it must be true, right?”
The Bills will never get to test this all in the postseason. Their only hope is to get to 8-8, to spoil the New York Jets' season. But it's better to find an identity late, than never.
Whether a Hall of Famer sees it that way or not.
“I think into next off-season," Incognito said, "this will be the bedrock we build our next season on.”