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BILLS HAVE HEALTHY RESPECT FOR PATRIOTS' SACK ATTACK

The mere mention of the New England Patriots' pass rush is enough to make Corey Louchiey wince.

As an inexperienced starting right offensive tackle for the Buffalo Bills -- and especially as someone who has taken his share of lumps trying to protect quarterback Todd Collins -- Louchiey isn't exactly looking forward to facing one of the NFL's best teams at putting passers on the ground.

"They're good," Louchiey said, shaking his head. "They're very good. Honestly, they're the real deal."

No one would argue.

After all, through five games, the Patriots have 22 sacks, most in the AFC and second only to New Orleans (24) in the NFL. Twenty one of the sacks came in the first four games when they were far more aggressive blitzing than in their loss in Denver last Monday night. The Pats became more conservative in their pass-rush out of respect for the ability of quarterback John Elway to hit big throws against man-to-man coverage. They are expected to return to their aggressive posture Sunday in Foxboro Stadium.

Another concern for the Bills is that New England's sacking success has come without its best pass rusher, defensive end Willie McGinest, who continues to be sidelined with a knee injury.

"What makes them good is that they really don't have a weakness along the front line," said Collins, who has been sacked 18 times, third-most in the AFC. "It's not like you can scheme your protection where you're just going to try to take care of one guy. They can come from all different areas.

"Plus, they have a zone-blitz package that can exploit offenses that send a lot of guys out."

In McGinest's absence, New England's two most dangerous pass rushers are outside linebacker Chris Slade -- who moves to end in passing situations -- and defensive tackle Henry Thomas. They share the team sack lead with four apiece.

Most times on passing downs, Slade will line up across from Louchiey.

"That just adds to it," Louchiey said, again shaking his head. "I know one thing, you'd better get off on the ball on time against him . . . because if you don't, you can just about hang it up.

"I learned that the hard way up in Seattle last year (when he was beaten by defensive end Michael Sinclair for two fourth-quarter sacks). Trust me, I haven't forgotten."

The offseason addition of Thomas has given the Patriots' defense greater inside strength than they had on the unit that helped them reach the Super Bowl last season.

"The acquisition of Henry Thomas makes them that much more difficult to block because he throws another screw into the whole situation," guard Jerry Ostroski said. "We played Henry a while back (1994) when he was with the Vikings, so we know what he's all about, what he does, what his strengths and weaknesses are.

"He's a good player. He really helps them out a lot."

One reason Louchiey and the rest of the Bills' offensive linemen struggled to get off the ball on time in Seattle was the roar from the Kingdome crowd. The Bills also had their problems with deafening crowd noise this year during their Sept. 14 loss in Kansas City.

Although it probably won't be quite as loud Sunday, crowd noise will again make it tough for Buffalo's blockers to hear Collins calling signals and audibles.

"It's going to be loud -- very, very loud," Louchiey said. "So it's a matter of looking at the ball (to see when it's snapped), and, at the same time, trying to focus on the guy across from you."

"It's a problem," Collins said of the crowd noise in Foxboro. "I don't think you can get as loud or a louder stadium than Kansas City, so at least we have some experience with it. But you can't change a lot of plays at the line, and it's hard to get the inflection on your voice to draw them offside."

Collins has had problems with the radio receiver in his helmet that is supposed to help him hear signals. The failure of the unit prevented him from getting a critical fourth-down call on his final play against the Chiefs.

"I don't trust it at all times," he said. "Sometimes we get it through the radio and sometimes we signal and sometimes we dummy signal to throw them off."

"It's loud in New England, but we've been there before," Ostroski said. "We had a good warm-up in Kansas City, so we'll be OK."

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