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Key to Bills' opener up in the air Both sides seek improved passing

The Buffalo Bills and Houston Texans are two teams aiming to show off better passing efficiency this year.

Which team can get more done through the air figures to be a key factor in today's National Football League season-opener at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

The Bills likely will face a Houston defense loaded up to stop running back Willis McGahee and eager to unleash a flurry of blitzes on young quarterback J.P. Losman.

The Texans will face the zone-blitzing defense of the Bills with an offensive line they hope is much improved. Houston ranked fourth-worst in the league in pass protection last year. Quarterback David Carr has been sacked 140 times the past three seasons, tied for most in the league with former Bills QB Drew Bledsoe.

All eyes in the sellout crowd of about 72,000 will be on Losman, as the former first-round draft pick makes his debut as the starter.
"I'm going to be pumped up," Losman said. "I'm going to feed off the crowd. I know they're going to be crazy. This whole city, everywhere I go, everyone is just talking about it. So I have to force myself to calm down."

Losman was so fired up in June when the Bills unveiled the throwback jerseys they will wear today that he went back into the office and watched a couple hours of game film. Is coach Mike Mularkey concerned about calming his QB down today?

"No. He's fired up for preseason games, and I'm sure he'll be excited," Mularkey said. "Even veterans, those first couple plays your heart is pumping, but once you get into the flow it's natural."

The Bills will not improve on their 9-7 finish of last year if they don't get more out of an offense that ranked 25th in yards, 27th in passing yards and 29th in red-zone efficiency.

Mularkey thinks Losman will benefit from a front five that has two new starters for certain in Mike Gandy and Bennie Anderson and may have a third if rookie Duke Preston starts in place of injured Chris Villarrial.

"I think our offensive line is better because of time together," Mularkey said. "To me the offensive line will dictate the progress of the offense -- the run game and JP's ability to stay in the pocket and make some throws."

Many expect the Bills to put a straitjacket on Losman and play ultraconservatively. Mularkey rejects the idea the Bills will be trying to play a 10-7 game.

"I'd like to think we're an attack team, not a team that's just trying to keep it close," he said.

"Coaches haven't made me feel like I have to go out there and just hand the ball off," Losman said. "You have to be smart. But then again, you have to take your chances. You have to be aggressive. You can't hesitate."

Still, Losman must keep his mistakes to a minimum.

Houston's Carr was sacked 49 times last year. The Texans return the same offensive line except for a new left tackle, Victor Riley. He was a not-so-heavily pursued free agent from New Orleans who has played the last five seasons at right tackle.

The Texans have been using a lot of three-step drops with Carr.

"They try to get the ball out of his hands," said Mularkey. "They do a number of things, whether it's what we call a 'now throw' out to the receiver and let him make somebody miss, or anything else to get it out of his hands and to the receivers who have some ability after the catch."

"What it does is prevent the rush from getting to him," Mularkey said. "It not only protects him, but at some point it frustrates a defense. You're doing everything you can to get to him, and you can't get to him because the ball's gone too fast. I told our guys to bring it, bring it and don't get frustrated by it."

email: mgaughan@buffnews.com1

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