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WINDS COULD GROUND BILLS, JETS
DEFENSE FOCUSES ON STOPPING MARTIN

It will be strength versus strength, and every yard figures to be precious today when the Buffalo Bills face the New York Jets.

The Jets bring the No. 2 rushing offense to Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Bills boast the fourth-ranked defense against the run.

Both teams are likely to do a lot of slugging it out on the ground because another tempestuous day -- with winds of 15 to 25 mph -- is forecast in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

"The running game becomes a big, big deal when you're a team that's a Northeast team because of the weather conditions," Jets coach Herman Edwards told New York reporters this week. "That's why I've always said if you play in these conditions you've got to have a good runner, got to be able to run the ball and you've got to be able to stop the run."

Jets running back Curtis Martin ranks third in the NFL in rushing with 798 yards and a 4.7-yard average.

The Bills have not allowed a 100-yard rusher this year. They're holding foes to 97 yards a game on 3.5 yards a carry, which also is fourth best in the league.

"We take a lot of pride in shutting down the running game," said defensive end Chris Kelsay. "We don't care who the running back is or who the team is. Curtis Martin is a Pro Bowl running back who can make things happen on his own. He finds creases and he'll cut it back. We can't give up the big gaps where he can find them."

Since the Bills formed the defensive-tackle combination of Sam Adams and Pat Williams, Martin has had rushing games of 77, 84 and 77 yards and averaged 3.5 a carry against the Bills.

"What can you say about Sam that really hasn't been said?" said Jets guard Pete Kendall. "He's ridiculously quick for a man his size. He's powerful. He's got perhaps the quickest get-off in the league. He studies offenses, offensive lines, quarterbacks. He probably has a dozen definite keys to get off."

The Jets, however, often get defensive linemen to hesitate because they run misdirection so well and they do a better job than most teams of attacking both inside and outside in the running game.

"They have mobile linemen," said linebacker Takeo Spikes. "They have good athletes on the offensive line."

"Kevin Mawae seems like he pulls on almost every play," said defensive end Ryan Denney of the Jets' Pro Bowl center. "They use a lot of bootlegs. Most offenses try to keep you honest. They do that. If they're able to do it, you can't pull your ears back and rush."

With Martin gaining positive first-down yards, the Jets are sixth in the NFL in third-down conversions. In their 16-14 win over Buffalo a month ago, the Jets converted 8 of 14 third-down chances.

"We have to stop them on third downs," said Bills defensive coordinator Jerry Gray. "We've got to find a way to get off the field. We didn't have Lawyer Milloy last time, who I think is a big part of our defense."

Jets quarterback Chad Pennington is so accurate that he's hard to stop in third-and-short situations.

"He's smart enough to know exactly where to go with the ball, and he can run," Gray said. "If you're playing coverage and you've got your back to the quarterback, he's going to take off and run for a first down."

"He knows presnap reads and where he's going with it, and a lot of times that's not very far," said Bills coach Mike Mularkey.

The effectiveness of Pennington and Bills quarterback Drew Bledsoe may depend largely on the weather.

In the last two Bills home games, against Miami and Arizona, 11 of the 14 scoring drives were with the wind.

The winds were 20 to 25 mph against Miami, and Bledsoe was able to throw for 212 yards. He said throwing into the wind was easier than with the wind that day.

However, throwing with the wind and into it both were bad against Arizona, when winds were 20 to 30 mph with gusts up to 40 mph. Bledsoe threw for just 81 yards and Josh McCown of the Cardinals threw for 101.
e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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