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Sully's Mailbag: Oh, for an NFL game with no punts

In case you missed it, Wednesday was the silver anniversary of the famous No Punt Game. On Sept. 13, 1992, the Bills beat the 49ers at old Candlestick Park, 34-31. It remains the only regular-season game in NFL history in which neither team punted.

I thought about that game Friday morning, while watching a replay of the Thursday night game between the Bengals and Texans. My condolences to anyone who suffered through it live. It took half an hour to skim through Houston's 13-9 win, a snoozer in which the teams combined for 16 punts.

The Thursday NFL games are often unwatchable, despite what Roger Goodell says. Coming off a brutal opening week, it did nothing to distinguish the NFL as must-see entertainment. Maybe things will even out this weekend. There are some compelling games, most notably Patriots-Saints and Green Bay-Atlanta.

On to this week's Mailbag:

Bob G asks: I was concerned about the Bills O-line (mainly right tackle) until I watched some games around the NFL. Let's face it, our O line isn't any worse than any other and better than most. I can see us scoring 20 points a game with the key being our defense holding up.

Sully: I guess there's a question in there somewhere. Yes, the Bills' offensive line is better than average. They're one of the best run-blocking teams in the league. They've led the NFL in rushing yards and average per carry two years straight, so it's hard to argue with the evidence.

There's two common themes in any NFL town: They hate their offensive line and love the backup quarterback. Most teams are suspect on the O-line. Look at the Giants and Seattle. Quarterback isn't the only position that's tough to fill nowadays. It's getting harder to find competent offensive linemen.

The Bills' O-line is average in pass protection, which will be a problem. Tyrod Taylor tends to give up on plays and run too quickly, which is another problem. Indecisive QB play can make an O-line seem worse than it is.  I recall how much better the line became when Doug Flutie replaced Rob Johnson, a sack waiting to happen, back in the day.

I agree with your premise that the Bills will average 20 points - down from a year ago - and the performance of the defense will determine whether they can be a borderline playoff contender.


Steve Tripi asks: As the top QBs age, do you think the NFL has a young QB problem? Should the league take more responsibility in growing the next generation of passers, through a minor league/spring league, or more practice time?

Sully: It's a great question, and one that speaks to my earlier point about bad games and creeping signs of declining offense. Everyone knows it has become a passing league, a quarterback-driven league, so the NFL has to be concerned about the top QBs aging out and the young generation being slow to evolve.

The 30 quarterbacks who started opening week had an average age of 30.33. Most of the top QBs are well into their 30s: Tom Brady is 40; Drew Brees and Carson Palmer 38; Philip Rivers and Eli Manning 36; Ben Roethlisberger 35; Aaron Rodgers 34. The only QBs under 32 who have played in the Super Bowl are Russell Wilson and Cam Newton.

There are promising young quarterbacks, like Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott, and a new batch coming, but they seem to take longer to grow into the job nowadays. Blake Bortles and Andy Dalton are a mess. Sam Bradford never lived up to his No. 1 overall draft position. Newton regressed last season.

It takes time. Sometimes, it never happens. But yes, it would help if the NFL had a minor-league system, where they can groom kids the way they do in the NHL and baseball. Quarterback is the toughest, most important position in sports. It's too bad young guys can't learn by playing at a lower pro level.

The NFL does have a minor league, of course. It's called major college football, which serves as a training ground for aspiring pros who aren't allowed to play in the NFL until three years out of high school and have no choice but to serve their time as "student-athletes" in a billion-dollar enterprise.

The problem is, the college game is much different from the NFL, especially at the quarterback position. A lot of guys play in spread offenses where they make quick reads. Many are dual threats. Many essentially have to re-learn the position in the NFL.

I love Deshaun Watson and thought the Bill should draft him. But watching him play as a rookie for the Texans, you can see how far he has to go. If he was a hockey player, he'd be in the AHL; a baseball player, he'd be in Double-A. In the NFL, you learn on the fly, and the product suffers.

Jim DiSalvo asks: Dareus has his issues, but we've seen him ball out. Do you feel that McDermott should be willing to put in the extra time to get everything they can out of him? We have way too many other positions of need to let a top tier player go because he's immature.

Sully: I believe that Brandon Beane would dump Marcell Dareus if he could. But they're stuck with him because of his huge salary cap hit. He's on the books for $16.4 million this year and it would be a $24 million cap hit this year and $14 million next season if they cut him. He's one of the reasons they have so many positions of need.

Dareus was mouthing the company line about every player being "one-eleventh" when they're on the field. But Dareus is one-tenth of the salary cap this season, so the Bills have a right to expect more from him than some marginal guy with a $465,000 salary.

Of course, they want him to succeed, and they'll give him every opportunity. I'm sure Dareus gets good coaching. Ultimately, it's up to him. It's mild criticism to call him "immature." I don't think Dareus loves football or cares enough about winning to put in the effort required for greatness.

@RLGoody asks: Why is Cornelius Bennett not on the Wall of Fame?

Sully: At his best, Biscuit had talent worthy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, not just the team wall. He was a two-time AFC defensive player of the year and five-time Pro Bowler. He is a current nominee for the Hall, but his greatness wasn't sustained enough for him to get into Canton.

Lesser Bills have gotten on the Wall of Fame. I've long assumed that Bennett wasn't honored because of his arrest for sexually assaulting a woman in Buffalo in 1997. Bennett served 36 days in a local jail for the assault. A ceremony putting him on the Wall would likely be protested by women's groups.

Bennett became distant from the organization for many years, but McDermott invited him to a meeting of former Bills greats shortly after becoming the new head coach. Two decades have passed. He paid for his crime. It's time Bennett's name was added to the wall.

@lissmoe asks: Do you feel this monster run the Indians are on will empty their tank for the playoffs?

Sully: Not at all. The Indians are a great team with one of the best post-season managers ever in Terry Francona. If anything, I think winning 22 in a row (as of Thursday) will propel them to greater things. They have unfinished business after losing the Series in seven to the Cubs a year ago.

They're my pick to win it all. It's not about any streak. As always, it's about starting pitching, and they have the best trio going right now: Trevor Bauer is 8-0 with a 2.38 ERA in is last 10 starts. Corey Kluber is 8-1 with a 1.67 ERA in his last nine starts. In his last 70 innings, Kluber has given up 39 hits, with seven walks and 82 strikeouts. Carlos Carrasco is 6-1, 1.77 in his last seven starts, with only five walks and 59 Ks in 48.2 innings.

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