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Versatility gives Bills' defense a rush Moving players keeps opponents off balance

Defensive linemen dropping into pass coverage. Defensive ends lining up at defensive tackle. Linebackers who can play defensive end. Cornerbacks and safeties as pass rushers.

The key to the Buffalo Bills' defense is its talent, but the secret to its success is its versatility.

"(We've) got a lot of players that can do a lot of things," defensive end Chris Kelsay said. "We send guys from all over the field. It's tough for offenses."

Just ask the Houston Texans. The Bills' defense was suffocating last Sunday, holding the Texans to 120 net yards and forcing five turnovers in a 22-7 victory.

Houston couldn't run and its passing game was non-existent. The Bills limited the Texans to 25 net yards passing, while recording five sacks and five turnovers (three interceptions).

The Bills' defense is loaded with veteran players. The majority of them have been together for at least three years, so they have a great feel for the system and each other. After ranking second in the NFL the last two seasons, they enter this year determined to be a history-making defense that helps end the Bills' five-year playoff drought.

"The way this past season ended, we felt there was a lot of unfinished business we needed to take care of and it started with this first game," Pro Bowl linebacker Takeo Spikes said. "We were very eager to just go out and show everybody that there was not going to be a drop-off and to prove to ourselves that in order to get to where we want to go this is the first step that needed to be taken."

The Bills' defense was so stifling that Houston quarterback David Carr said he felt helpless in the pocket. His offensive linemen seemed bewildered by the different looks thrown at them by Bills defensive coordinator Jerry Gray.

While some people may have felt sorry for Carr being thrown around the turf like a rag doll, he doesn't get any sympathy from the Bills.

"Once you have an offense down like that, in order to be a great defense (you) don't let up, don't take the foot off the pedal," Spikes said. "We're definitely not feeling sorry for anybody. You should have prepared better."

Spikes compared his mentality to that of South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, who had no problem running up the score on overmatched opponents when he was at Florida.

"A lot of people used to blame him," Spikes said. "But hey, don't get mad at me, you get mad at what went on during the week."

The Bills' defense plays a relentless style that attacks from all angles. A team's best hope is establishing a running game because being forced to throw puts it at the defense's mercy.

Gray loves to blitz and blitz often. But offenses don't always know who is coming or where the blitz is coming from. He uses everybody in his schemes in a number of ways. Kelsay played defensive tackle in most of the nickel packages, giving the Bills more quickness up the middle. Aaron Schobel, the team's best pass rusher, often drops into coverage on zone blitzes. Defensive tackle Sam Adams is a great run-stuffer, but he and fellow tackle Ron Edwards are disruptive pass rushers as well.

Spikes or fellow linebackers London Fletcher and Jeff Posey, who doubles as a defensive end, might charge into the backfield on any given down. Or Gray could send one of the cornerbacks or safeties.

Gray's pass rush schemes often create a clear path to the quarterback for someone, as was the case when cornerback Jabari Greer and Spikes flew in untouched to get sacks on Carr. Spikes also forced a turnover by knocking the ball from Carr's hand.

The most impressive aspect of the Bills' pass rush Sunday was that much of the pressure was generated by the defensive line. Schobel had two sacks and Kelsay added another as the front four spent much of the afternoon in the backfield.

"We got after them and it was good to see because we didn't do a whole lot of fire zones or blitzes like we normally do," said Kelsay, who also forced a fumble. "Jerry was just letting us rush with four guys and we were getting to the quarterback, so any time you can do that it opens your defense wide open. It brings more to the table and you can do a lot more off of it."

Because the Bills do so many things on defense, head coach Mike Mularkey said it's difficult for opposing offenses to prepare for it.

"It kind of limits you," Mularkey said. "You've got to be careful about how much you can do because there are so many different looks. It's a burden on an offense."

The Bills' pass rush is helped by outstanding coverage from the secondary, which had a big game against the Texans. Veteran free safety Troy Vincent led the way with two interceptions. Strong safety Lawyer Milloy had an interception and recovered a fumble. Cornerback Nate Clements held Texans star wide receiver Andre Johnson to three catches, while Clements' sidekick, Terrence McGee, shut out the receivers he was assigned to.

"I think they were trying to make a statement," Mularkey said of the defense. "It was a good start, but it's just one. We've got to be consistent with it."

Here's a scary thought for future Bills' opponents: As great as the defense looked last Sunday, Spikes thinks it can be much better.

"It's a good start," he said. "But it's only the beginning."

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The Bills have allowed just 344 net passing yards over the last five games dating to last season. The Dallas Cowboys hold the NFL record for the fewest net passing yards allowed over a six-game span with 350 in 1977.


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