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Asking first-team 'D' to practice 3-4 counterproductive

>Question: Do you think the Bills practiced enough against the 3-4 scheme during the offseason, and what is their problem against it?

-- Steve Calkins, Detroit.

Answer: In the last 10 minutes of every single practice of training camp, the Bills' offense ran plays against a 3-4 alignment in a walk-through format. That was a good amount of work. It didn't make sense to make the first-string defense convert to a 3-4 set-up and run live against the first-team offense. They could have had a scout team run a live 3-4 in camp, but that would have been unusual. I think they got enough work against it.

I see the 3-4 problem last year as two-fold. No. 1 was physical matchups. They weren't tough enough up the middle, which is why Kris Jenkins and the Jets held them to 30 rush yards on 17 carries in the first meeting. No. 2: The pass game was worse than the run game versus the 3-4 scheme. The Bills had 119 rush yards at Miami, 161 versus Cleveland, 156 versus the 49ers.

The Bills averaged 183 gross passing yards versus 3-4 teams and 236 against 4-3 teams. Trent Edwards completed 68 percent with three interceptions against 4-3s. He hit 61.5 percent with eight interceptions against. 3-4s. Pass protection was worse versus the 3-4s. Edwards seemed more indecisive, more unsure of what he was seeing versus the 3-4s.

Edwards is naturally adept at being decisive and getting the ball out of his hands. If he's not doing that, I blame the coaches.

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>Q: What are the odds of the Bills beating the Patriots, and will the Pats win home-field advantage in the AFC?

-- Ron Patterson, Boston.

A: Give Buffalo a 10 percent chance of winning Monday. It's actually better for them to play New England in the opener, since the Pats have less of a handle on what the Bills will do. I'll have New England No. 1 in our power ranking this week, but I think the Pats are markedly less formidable than in 2007 when they went 16-0. Their secondary is vulnerable. Jarvis Green is an obvious step down from Richard Seymour at defensive end. Derrick Burgess is a talented new situational pass rusher. I'm not sure about his football character. But the defense will play with the lead a lot. San Diego and Pittsburgh have easier schedules than the Pats. I'll say the Pats go 12-4 and don't get home-field edge.

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>Q: Did the Bills blitz less after the first five games? Seems like they got more conservative as the season went on last year. Do you think they will blitz more this year?

-- Adam Harris, New York.

A: By my count the Bills blitzed a third of the time last year -- 32 percent. That's the amount they rushed five or more. The first six games (when they went 5-1), they blitzed 34 percent. So, no, it didn't change much. It varied by opponent. The games they blitzed least were at the Jets (13 percent), Oakland (15 percent) and at New England (20 percent). The games they blitzed most were Cleveland (51 percent), San Diego (45 percent) and at St. Louis (42 percent). I don't see them blitzing more, because they hope their standard four-man rush and their four-man zone dogs will be more effective with the addition of the two Aarons -- Schobel and Maybin.

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Bills beat reporter Mark Gaughan answers your football questions every Friday. Send your e-mails to mgaughan@-buffnews.com.

And join Mark today for an on-line version of Inside the NFL at 11 a.m. at the BillBoard blog at www.buffalonews.com

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