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Bills must stop Falcons' sack attack Atlanta's pressure could pose problems

Expect the Atlanta Falcons' defensive linemen to have their ears pinned back from the moment they walk onto the team bus this morning.

The Falcons led the NFL in sacks last season and will be eager to unleash their pass rush on quarterback J.P. Losman when they meet the Buffalo Bills in today's interconference game at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

"They're going to put pressure on you," Bills backup quarterback Kelly Holcomb said. "From what we did last week with Tampa putting pressure on us and having success with it, they're going to do the same thing. Until we handle it, until we pick it up and make some plays against it, that's what we're going to see.

"Until you put out the fire, they're going to keep bringing it."

The Bills' pass offense was confused and hurried into submission in last week's 19-3 loss at Tampa. The Buccaneers only sacked him twice, but they limited the Bills to a mere 100 net passing yards.

"Every week's a new challenge," Losman said. "This is going to be a tough one. They're good. They fly around and make plays. But they give us opportunities to make some big plays and we have to try to capitalize on it."

Falcons left defensive end Patrick Kerney ranked fourth in the NFL in sacks last year with 13. He has 43 sacks the past four years. Falcons defensive tackle Rod Coleman had 11.5 sacks last year and has 29 over the past three years, tops among all NFL interior linemen over that stretch.

The Falcons, who had 48 sacks overall, don't have to manufacture a lot of pass rush with zone blitzing because their front four brings plenty of heat. However, defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, formerly of the Green Bay Packers, frequently adds a fifth man to the pass rush.

In their season-opening win over the Philadelphia Eagles, the Falcons brought five or more to the rush front in 38 of 61 plays. In last week's loss at Seattle, the Falcons did not blitz a lot.

Injuries will impact today's matchups.

Bills right tackle Mike Williams, who would line up opposite Kerney, may not play due to a sprained ankle. Greg Jerman, the fourth-year former Dolphins backup, would play in Williams' place.

The Falcons have a banged-up secondary. Third corner Kevin Mathis is out for the year with a knee injury. Fourth corner Allen Rossum, who also is a Pro Bowl kickoff and punt returner, is questionable with a sore hamstring. Starting corner Jason Webster has a sore right knee but isn't on the injury report and should play.

Chris Cash, signed early this week after being released by Detroit, will take Mathis' place in the nickel defense. Cash started 17 games the past three years.

The Falcons' starting right defensive end, Brady Smith, also is questionable with a sore thigh. If he can't play, a fourth-round draft pick, Chauncey Davis, would take his spot.

The Falcons usually play a fair amount of man-to-man coverage and bring safety Bryan Scott up to support the run. The obvious way to attack the Bills is to stack up to stop Willis McGahee and force Losman into third-and-long situations.

"I wouldn't be shocked if we had eight guys in the box this week and every other week to follow," coach Mike Mularkey said.

Atlanta's defense ranked 14th in yards allowed last year and was 14th against the run. The Falcons moved to improve the run defense by signing middle linebacker Edgerton Hartwell from the Ravens.

Atlanta's run defense was gashed last week by Seattle's Shaun Alexander, who gained 144 yards. Most of the damage was done on sweeps and runs that Alexander bounced outside, with the help of All-Pro blocker Walter Jones. Seattle didn't find much room between the tackles.

"They like to bring No. 24 (Scott) up," Holcomb said. "That leaves guys one on one outside. Hopefully, we can win some matchups, and that will loosen them up and we can get some runs going."

Losman will have to get time to work downfield.

"They're a great front, very athletic, and they never stop," said guard Chris Villarrial, who will face Coleman. "They're always hustling to the ball. There was a play where Kerney rushed up field, turned around and made a tackle 15 yards downfield. You have to stay on top of those guys and block them to the whistle."

e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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