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WEEK OFF GIVES BILLS MENTAL EDGE OVER LIONS

Overview

Could there have been a better time than last week for the Buffalo Bills to grab a little R&R?

The physical and emotional demands of their 37-35 victory over Indianapolis left them needing not only a chance to recover, but also to ponder all that went wrong to put them in the 26-point hole from which they somehow escaped.

The Bills figure to have the right mix of confidence and concern to face the rest of their schedule.

On the other hand, today's opponent, the Detroit Lions, can't help but still feel giddy after last week's victory over the Super Bowl-champion Green Bay Packers. Nor can they avoid thinking ahead to next week's clash with another NFC Central rival, the red-hot Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After the various strengths and weaknesses are pondered (Can the Bills' defense cope with Barry Sanders and an explosive passing game? Can the Bills' offense minimize its mistakes enough to actually play with a lead?), this game just might come down to which team has the best frame of mind.

Coach Marv Levy certainly didn't have the Bills ready for Indianapolis. His counterpart today, Bobby Ross, has bristled at questions about how the Lions could look so bad one week, in losing to New Orleans, then look so good, as they did vs. the Packers.

When the Bills have the ball

The Lions' front four is not large enough to control the line of scrimmage to allow them to play their two-gap scheme with consistent authority. Unless responsibilities are handled with perfection, the unit is ripe to give up huge gains.

The Lions do a lot of zone blitzing, which helped generate strong pressure on Packers QB Brett Favre. Todd Collins will try to beat the blitz with a quick passing game while looking for WR's Andre Reed and Quinn Early to knife into seams in the coverage.

Detroit's best player up front is LE Robert Porcher, a good pass-rusher with enough quickness to consistently get around the corner. Porcher's tendency to free lance sometimes causes him to lose containment, but it also puts him in position to disrupt the offense and make big plays.

The Lions' best run-stuffer is their largest player on the line, 291-pound T Luther Elliss, who can overpower most OG's and has good pursuit. Elliss lines up on alternate sides of NT Mike Wells, who at 287 pounds is solid but not quite as stout as the Lions would prefer.

RE Kerwin Waldroup makes up for whatever he lacks in skill with non-stop hustle, but can be a liability vs. the run.

Weakside LB Reggie Brown, who is probably the best athlete on the Lions' defense, has returned a fumble for one TD and an interception for another. He is very physical against the run, provides good pass coverage, and plays sideline to sideline.

MLB Stephen Boyd is highly aggressive and strong at the point of attack, but won't do much if his DTs can't prevent him from tangling with too many blockers.

None of the LBs is all that proficient in pass coverage, so the Bills will likely try to isolate them in coverage with screens and other short throws to RBs Thurman Thomas and Antowain Smith.

Like Favre, Collins is also likely to pick on raw rookie LCB Bryant Westbrook, who was beaten several times last week. RCB Corey Raymond is reckless at times and has a knack for giving up big plays.

Veteran FS Mark Carrier is a reliable center fielder who uses his experience to overcome any erosion of his skills. SS Van Malone gets himself in trouble with over-aggressiveness, making him susceptible to play-fakes.

When the Lions have the ball

The Lions will line up in their two-back set and try to pound the Bills' defense into oblivion -- or at least soften their fierce pass-rush -- by consistently running Sanders.

After a slow start, Sanders looked like his old self with 139 yards vs. Green Bay. He could take advantage of the Bills' fast-flowing defense because of his excellent inside explosion, especially on draw plays.

Ross went to two backs in order to give Sanders a blocking back, Tommy Vardell in regular situations and more powerful Cory Schlesinger in short-yardage/goal-line situations. But if the circumstances call for it, he won't hesitate to resort to the one-back, three-receiver look that was Wayne Fontes' trademark.

If the Bills can stop the run, they will look to apply as much heat as possible on left-handed QB Scott Mitchell, who when pressured will throw off his back foot and/or put the ball up for grabs. He doesn't always show great vision in the pocket, and will often force throws because of his habit of locking onto one WR -- usually 6-foot-4 Herman Moore, who makes tough receptions over the middle and is a terror pulling down passes in the red zone. The Bills will probably use plenty of bump-and-run vs. WR Johnnie Morton, who struggles to get off the line of scrimmage but is deceptively fast and has a big-play flair when he hangs onto the ball.

TE David Sloan is a good run-blocker with good hands and the ability to stretch the middle of the field.

The strength of Detroit's line is the interior. C Kevin Glover has great intelligence and quickness, but does not bring much power to his one-on-one blocking, which should make for a long day vs. mountain-like NT Ted Washington. LG Mike Compton is a mauler in the running game, while RG Jeff Hartings is ultra-tough and good at moving the pile.

DE Bruce Smith could have success vs. LT Ray Roberts, who doesn't have great athletic ability or the footwork to get outside fast. The weakest link is RT Larry Tharpe, who is protecting Mitchell's blind side by default because rookie Juan Roque is not ready to play. Tharpe is stiff and shows little natural athletic ability, which should make things easy for LOLB Bryce Paup and LE Phil Hansen.

Audibles

Bills are 7-1 in games following a bye. . . . Sanders has rushed for 100 yards in 7 of 9 career games vs. AFC East opponents.

Outlook

Bills hang on to win another close one, 23-20.

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