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Offensive line woes do in Bills.
by Rick Anderson, webmaster of Bills Thunder
November 5, 2001

HELP WANTED: Offensive linemen, preferably with at least two years NFL experience and the ability to block onrushing defensive linemen. Apply in person at Ralph Wilson Stadium, One Bills Drive, Orchard Park, New York.

That advertisement could quite possibly be seen around the country this week as the Buffalo Bills try to shore up their depleted offensive line. Sunday, the Bills sported a rag-tag O'line that quite possibly could be the worst the NFL has ever seen in its storied existence. The result in having such a porous offensive line was the battering of their quarterback Rob Johnson and a 30-14 loss at the hands of the Indianapolis Colts.

If you are a Bills fan, the following description of the Buffalo massacre is not a sight deemed suitable for those of squeamish nature. It sure wasn't a pretty sight in the Ralph Sunday, as the Colts handed the Bills their heads on a platter.

With even more injuries to the Bills starters on the offensive line, the Bills had to turn to players who were fourth and fifth in the depth chart. John Fina was out with a knee injury while Jonas Jennings was nursing a foot injury. In came two greenhorns. Jon Carman, who was on the practice squad at the beginning of the year, took over at right tackle. The Bills 5th round draft choice last spring, Marques Sullivan, started only his second game in the NFL. The Bills have been putting kids on the line all season, only to have them go down with injuries and having to go further down the line in the depth chart. Excluding Ruben Brown, the four youngsters protecting Johnson had a total of 16 NFL starts between them.

"I hope those guys will be back," Johnson said about Fina and Jennings. "They make us a better team. But we've got to go with the guys we've got."

Lining up behind center to take the snaps with that line takes a lot of fortitude. Johnson, who has been battered and tossed around like a rag doll all season, knew what he was going up against. That didn't take any of the sting out of the ferocious hits that he took. The Colts got to Johnson six times. The pressure seemed to get to the Bills quarterback, as his performance slipped from the last two games. After performing so well against Jacksonville and San Diego, Johnson threw for only 17 yards, completing just 17 out of 33.

With the current state of the Bills Holes Line, it is a wonder that Johnson has escaped a serious injury that could put him out for the rest of the season. Standing behind center is like putting his life on the line.

Colts stampede

The Colts defense, which had been giving up over 30 points along with an average of almost 360 yards a game, turned it completely around and put the clamps on the Bills offense. Buffalo could only net 68 yards in the first half. The six sacks, along with three turnovers and a blocked field goal, helped produce the Colts first 17 points.

The first Bills turnover resulted when Chad Bratze jarred the ball out of Johnson's grasp when he sacked him. Josh Williams recovered it for the Colts on the Bills 44. The Colts managed to get down to the Bills 20 and Peyton Manning lobbed a 15-yard pass to Marcus Pollard to give the Colts the first lead of the game.

The Bills actually tied the game a short while later when Nate Clements returned a punt 66 yards to paydirt. It marked the first punt returned by a player in a Bills uniform since Buffalo's 1993 opener.

The Colts got that score right back when Manning tricked the Bills D by running a pure bootleg left and he was able to break into the clear for a 33-yard touchdown. Mike Vanderjagt added a 34-yard field goal to cap the first half scoring.

Manning, who was 17-for-27 for 199 yards and one touchdown, to go along with his 33-yard jaunt, did what he had to do to beat the Bills for the second time this season. In the first game, he led an aerial assault of the Bills secondary, when he ripped them for 421 yards in the Colts 42-26 shootout.

In the second half, the Colts tacked onto their lead when Dominic Rhodes capped off a 7-play, 57 yard drive by plunging over from one yard out. The keys to setting up that score was a blocked 47-yard field goal attempt by Jake Arians, and a 43-yard Manning pass to Reggie Wayne.

Vanderjagt kicked two more field goals and the Bills finally was able to convert an offensive touchdown when Johnson tossed a 27-yard pass to Jay Riemersma late in the fourth quarter.

The Bills, who now seem destined for their worst season since the mid 80s, seem to be victims of their offensive line woes along with shoddy coaching. Gregg Williams, who presented himself before the season as a master planner, doesn't have a clue about time management. He allowed a full 9 seconds slip by before calling a time out near the end of the first half when the Bills could have used those precious seconds to their advantage. He also has the team in disarray with his coaching style.

With both the Bills and Sabres losing, this is going to be a very brutal winter in Buffalo.

Bills Talk

"I feel bad for the fans," admitted Johnson. "It's tough for them to keep coming out and cheering. We played terrible. That was awful. It's very frustrating."

Bratzke, who got a sack and had his hand in two Bills fumbles said, "Certainly it's one of the best games that we played. I don't want to say we made a statement. Let's retract that. We executed well."

With the second top rusher in the league out with a bruised knee, Edgerrin James, Indy turned to Dominic Rhodes. Rhodes was the workhorse for the Colts. He ran for 100 yards on 34 attempts and ran for a 1-yard touchdown.

"I felt like it was a coming out game for me," elated Rhodes.

Talking about his bootleg for the Colts second TD, Manning said, "I didn't call it until the last minute. I'm 4-for-4 on those things: three times in college and my first one here."

"It was a counter play," said Phil Hansen about Manning's bootleg. "He did that completely on his own. Nobody was expecting that. There were 21 guys on that field that didn't know what was going to happen."

"We were expecting to move forward from last week, but that didn't happen," said Marques Sullivan. "We have to analyze what we did wrong and just make our corrections and move on from there."

"I'd really like to tell you that we're a lot better than we showed today. We've shown better. But when it comes time for the games, we're just not consistently showing what we're capable of doing."

"We didn't play very well," said Williams. "We did not protect Rob very well early in the ball game. When you turn the ball over in short fields, we're not good enough to play on short fields.

"We didn't tackle very well. We tackled too high today. That's frustrating. But the intensity part of it, the guys were intense the whole game."

Then Williams was asked what made the Colts so successful in sacking Johnson.

"They're a stunt team," Williams replied. "They stunt and twist around and gave our young tackles fits. Our young guys did not play as well today as they had been playing. They doubled the wideouts, which when you are trying to give some protection back inside, they doubled the wideouts a couple times."

About Johnson only running twice for six yards, Williams said, "they played a little more zone coverage which took that (running room) away from him. Basically, there wasn't that much man coverage, backs turned by linebackers and defenders that allowed him to run the ball more. What they were doing was more of a zone attitude type of things. They saw he was making plays with his legs and they understood that.

"We've got to do a better job of opening it up. He was buying time with his feet. He tried it a couple of time and we made drops. We made some nice plays there, with some of those underneath routes, where those guys are scrambling with him, and we just didn't catch the ball."

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