It seemed impossible. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers rammed a newly minted Cadillac right down the pipe of the Buffalo Bills, moving as fluidly as Liquid Plummer and unblocking the middle.
The Bills didn't know how to respond. They don't have many defensive flaws, and few teams in recent memory ever ran on them like this. So forgive the Bills for being a little uneasy after the defense gave up 128 yards rushing to Carnell "Cadillac" Williams and 191 rushing yards total to the Bucs last week with the Atlanta Falcons' Warrick Dunn, T.J. Duckett and Michael Vick bobbing in town for Week 3.
"They can come at you in different ways," said Bills defensive coordinator Jerry Gray. "You've got a guy like Dunn who is small but has a lot of speed. Duckett is a big guy who can pound it between the tackles. And of course, you have to account for Vick. It's going to be a challenge for our defense to stop these guys. After last week, I think our guys will be ready to play better than they did in Tampa."
Only once last season did a team rush for more than 191 yards on the Bills. New England gained 208 on Nov. 14 in a 29-6 Buffalo loss. Then they were gashed last weekend by a rookie.
"We didn't tackle very well," said Bills defensive end Chris Kelsay. "One of the things that we do well in our
base defense is that we line up pretty well and play our gaps pretty good. But as soon as we start moving around there's a few of us out of gap and out of sync and they took advantage of those mistakes. They did everything right and we did everything wrong."
The Bills aren't the mirror image of the line that finished seventh in the league in rush defense. Take away tackle Pat Williams, and it has a different look. The pass rush will also be under pressure when Dunn, Vick and Duckett bring tight end Alge Crumpler and wide reliever Michael Jenkins with them to Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday. Michael Clayton and Brian Griese were just enough to win for the Bucs, meaning the defense in Week 3 has to be far better against a group that led the league in rushing in 2004.
"Last week, and you can cut the pie honestly, it wasn't a good day collectively for our defense," said Bills free safety Troy Vincent. "Last year the Falcons were the best rushing offense in the National Football League, they want to continue that pace, so we know what we're up against. We know that we're to have to play sound run defense to win."
Last season Atlanta had seven rushes of 30 yards or more including a 60-yarder by Dunn and a 58-yard dash by Vick against Arizona. The trio combined for 2,517 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns in '04.
"It forces you to adjust," Vick said. "You've got to prepare for T.J., and his style. Warrick and his style and the things I can account for. It just puts a burden on a defense. It makes them have to work that much harder to be alert for different things, and that's to our advantage."
Whatever adjustments the Bills make have to start up front. If the Bills can apply pressure, that eases the weight on the secondary. But the Bills cannot blitz too much or Vick will leak into the open field, where he becomes the most dangerous player in the NFL. Strong safety Lawyer Milloy, if he's healthy, may be used as a fourth linebacker to help contain Vick. Vincent will probably creep up as well. Vick, however, has a tender hamstring which may prevent him from roaming too far outside the pocket. He is listed as probable for Sunday's game. It could simply come down to playing fundamentally sound defense.
"You have to be more disciplined in what you do," said Bills linebacker Takeo Spikes. "You have to make the plays when you're supposed to make them. When the play is presented to you, you have to make it. We have to have guys flying around the ball. It will definitely be a good game to watch this weekend."
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Milloy, who had surgery this week after breaking his right thumb against Tampa Bay, practiced on Friday but remains questionable for Sunday's game. Right tackle Mike Williams (ankle) did not practice but coach Mike Mularkey said he has improved since Thursday. Williams, who is listed as questionable, is a game-time decision as is linebacker London Fletcher (hamstring), who did practice. Mularkey said there is only a slim chance that tight end Tim Euhus (shoulder) will play. Spikes did not practice Friday and Mularkey said the veteran linebacker was given the day off.