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Bills' pass D won't have easy time rebounding from 'unacceptable' performance

For the most part, the Buffalo Bills have done their best to move forward from last Sunday's victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, to be happy they escaped New Era Field with a 4-2 record, to put all of their focus and energy on this Sunday's game against the Oakland Raiders.

It's just that there are some elements of that performance that aren't as easy to push into the past as others.

The defensive linemen, for instance, can't shake those sickening numbers they allowed Jameis Winston to produce with his passing arm: 384 yards and three touchdowns.

"That's definitely not what we want on our résumé," defensive end Ryan Davis said Wednesday. "We take pride in our pass defense and our pass rush, and we feel like up front, we didn't affect him enough, whether it be because of play-action or whatever. We just didn't affect him enough, and we've got to give our guys back there some help. We take pride in that. We understand that we've got to buckle down and do our job and do it a little faster.

"A win is a win at the end of the day. We made plays when we needed to, but at the same time we know, going forward, that allowing the quarterback to throw for almost 400 yards is unacceptable. In the future, we can't win games like that."

Next up is Derek Carr, who is more than capable of matching, if not exceeding, Winston's output.

He has a big arm, which in six of the seven games through the Raiders' 3-4 start, has generated 1,341 yards and 11 touchdowns with only four interceptions. Since his rookie year in 2014, Carr has thrown for 12,535 yards and 92 touchdowns, while being intercepted only 35 times. He also has big-time weapons in Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree and Jared Cook, who have combined for 84 receptions for 1,000 yards and 10 TDs.

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The Bills' pass defense -- which has faced the likes of Atlanta's Julio Jones, Cincinnati's A.J. Green and Tampa Bay's Mike Evans the past three games -- has every reason to feel a bit uncomfortable. It has given up 712 yards through the air the past two games, and has been hit with injuries to two starters: safety Jordan Poyer (knee) and cornerback E.J. Gaines (hamstring).

Victories can cover a lot of blemishes, but they don't necessarily make them disappear.

"We understand there's a bigger picture," defensive end Jerry Hughes said. "Points being scored is certainly something that we kind of hang our hat on and we certainly try to be stingy in that department. But we understand that we've got to play better as a defensive unit and giving up that many yards at home is very uncharacteristic.

"So we understood, coming into this week, and you kind of saw it in the meeting rooms, everyone's attentive, alert. We understand that we've got to play better. Teams are coming up with game plans, ways to kind of take advantage of us, so we've got to be better. We've got to figure out our weaknesses and figure out how we can strengthen those up."

The Bills have only 13 sacks -- with six coming against Cam Newton in their Week 2 loss at Carolina -- and are 23rd in the NFL in sacks per pass. They have a mere two sacks in their last two games -- one each against Cincinnati's Andy Dalton (who threw for 328 yards and a touchdown) and Winston. They rank 26th in the league against the pass.

In Carr, they not only face an ultra-talented thrower, but also a quarterback with the league's quickest release. According to Pro Football Focus, his time to throw is 1.97 seconds, which is usually faster than a pass rusher can ever hope to get to him.

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Additionally, Carr has extremely large and highly talented blockers in front of him. The left-side tandem of tackle Donald Penn and guard Kelechi Osemele is widely considered the best in the NFL. All five are well-paid, forming the league's most expensive line.

They're also well-coached. "Coach (Mike) Tice, the offensive line coach, does a really nice job," Bills coach Sean McDermott said. "He's been in the league a number of years. There's probably not too much he hasn't seen."

As a result, the Bills' defensive linemen have been putting in extra time studying videotape to find something -- or perhaps multiple things -- that have escaped Tice's view. They've also stayed on the field after practice doing extra work to address issues that have helped lead to being shredded through the air.

"And it wasn't just the D-line that was out there: linebackers, the safeties, the corners," Hughes said. "You could certainly see the entire unit is really taking it personal, the way we played last week. Offense and special teams certainly bailed us out, but we want to be the reason why we win games, so we want to help them out as well."

One of the biggest areas needing improvement is the ability to defeat double-teams by interior blockers. Defensive line coach Mike Waufle has been making that a point of emphasis, going over techniques that allow the tackles to split through offensive linemen working in unison and into the backfield.

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Against quarterbacks who get rid of the ball as quickly as Carr, it is particularly vital to bring the first wave of pressure up the gut.

"We've got to try to collapse the pocket in the middle to give our defensive ends a chance one-on-one on the edges," tackle Jerel Worthy said. "And that's our responsibility. If we can get the guards to move back, and as the quarterback steps up, it makes it a little bit uneasy for him to throw over the top, then we've done our job.

"You've got to affect the quarterback any way you can -- get him to move his feet, get off the spot. Most quarterbacks, even the elite quarterbacks, when they're uncomfortable in the pocket and move around, you get a chance to have them miss on some throws. And that's just our game plan. We want to push the pocket, collapse the pocket, make him as uncomfortable as possible."

It's a sound plan. Of course, diagramming and discussing it are one thing. So is practicing it.

Until Sunday arrives, the Bills' pass defense will continue to have the bitter taste of being abused by Winston and his receivers while clinging to the hope that what they do against Carr and his pass-catchers will serve as pleasant mouthwash.

"It's going to be a great task," Davis said. "But knowing the group of guys that we have in our room, we're up for the task. So we're just going to dig in, keep watching the film and hopefully we can do our best to affect that quarterback."

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