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O-line holds down sack total; Bills guards, tackles reap benefits of stability

Not since Joe Devlin and Ken Jones were blocking for Joe Ferguson have the Buffalo Bills been as effective at avoiding sacks as this season.

Barring a disaster in their season finale at New England on Sunday, the Bills will allow their fewest sacks in 30 years, since the 1981 season.

The Bills say a little bit of stability has gone a long way. They are in their second season under the same offensive line coach -- Joe D'Alessandris. And while they have had a bunch of injuries, six of their top seven linemen have been working together in the same system for more than a year.

"I think it's just spending another year together and another year with Joe," guard Kraig Urbik said.

"Guys know the playbook, they know what's going on," guard Andy Levitre said. "They can settle down and focus on these little things we didn't have time to cover last year because we were too busy making sure we were all on the right page."

"Everybody's on the same page," said tackle Erik Pears. "It's a collective effort, not just the linemen, but the quarterback, receivers and running backs. Whether it's backs picking up their guys or chipping guys on the edge, or the quarterback getting the ball out quick, receivers being on time, then it helps us five up front being on the same page, making the right calls and sticking to our technique."

The Bills' total of 21 sacks allowed is tied with Tennessee for the fewest in the league. In terms of sacks allowed per pass attempted, the Bills stand third, behind Tennessee and New Orleans, which has yielded 26 sacks but attempted the most passes in the league behind record-setting quarterback Drew Brees.

Buffalo's record for fewest sacks in a 16-game season is 16 in 1981. The Bills allowed 20 in 1980.

Coach Chan Gailey's quick-passing offensive scheme and the quick decision-making of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick help the Bills avoid takedowns.

"He's pretty good at reading coverage and pressures," Levitre said of Fitzpatrick. "He spends a lot of time watching film, so he knows a lot. He's pretty good at getting us on the right guys."

"Sometimes you see teams sliding away from blitz, but Fitz always puts us on the right side and we usually pick it up," Urbik said. "He gets rid of the ball, so it's a combination of all those things."

The Bills' line is stout up the middle. Center Eric Wood, who played the first nine games before getting hurt, along with guards Levitre, Urbik and Chad Rinehart, have not been vulnerable to bull-rushing. The Bills have gotten generally solid play from their tackles -- Pears on the right and Demetrius Bell and Chris Hairston on the left.

The Bills have handled most twists by defensive linemen up the middle.

"We haven't really seen it that often," Levitre said. "A couple teams will try it here and there, but once we stone it early in the game they don't come back to it. Most of the pressures they bring are three or four guys outside the tackles. That's a little harder because the tackle, guard and center have to be on the right levels to pass all the rushers off. It's definitely more of a challenge."

"I give a lot of credit to Joe D'Alessandris and [assistant line coach] Bobby Johnson and the way they work with those guys, and those guys spending time learning and getting fundamentally sound at their position," Gailey said. "It's not easy to move people around the way we've had to move them around. Fitz does a good job of getting the ball out and that helps a lot, but we've been able to run the football consistently no matter who has been in there and that's been good."

email: mgaughan@buffnews.com