We'll take Bills to block

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:24 AM ET

Drew Bledsoe goes back-to-back games without suffering a sack or the pain of being picked off.

Willis McGahee has a trio of consecutive 100-yard rushing efforts and the Buffalo Bills win all three contests.

Who do these guys think they are, the Pittsburgh Steelers?

Not so fast. With a 3-5 record, the Bills have merely advanced from miserable to mediocre.

But the modest recent success has the same roots that helped the Steelers (7-1) pound out back-to-back wins over previously undefeated New England and Philadelphia.

When an offensive line seizes control of the action, football can become a simple game. It may not have the flash of quick-strike scorers such as the Indianapolis Colts and Kansas City Chiefs, but in the long run it may be better suited to success.

The run game the Steelers employed the past two weeks was a humbling proposition for those trying to stop it. In both wins, the Pittsburgh offence owned the ball for more than 40 minutes which had the double effect of keeping two pretty good offences cemented to their benches.

Ask any offensive lineman his preference -- pass blocking or run blocking -- and the answer comes easy. Fending off elaborate blitzes while a quarterback dances behind them is one of the toughest tasks in football.

PUNCHING HOLES

Punching holes for powerful running backs such as McGahee and the Steelers' Jerome Bettis is much easier.

"That's the game plan we want," Steelers guard Alan Faneca said. "It's demoralizing to a defence. The longer they are on the field, the worse it is for them."

By midway through the third quarter of a 27-3 win on Sunday, the Steelers line had the Eagles attackers gasping for air.

The Bills front hasn't reached the Steelers level, of course, but a group that was abysmal a year ago is a work in progress which is finally yielding some results.

When Mike Mularkey took over as coach and hired former CFL star Tom Clements as his offensive co-ordinator, the plan was to create a power running game for the Bills.

At first blush, the way the losses were piling up and the way defences were piling on Bledsoe, the project looked like a disaster.

But from the day training camp began, Mularkey and Clements knew it would take time. Just as it is simple to credit Bledsoe with picking it up the past couple of weeks, it was easy to hang the horns on him when he was getting jettisoned to the turf so often.

A line needs to have size, of course, but equally important is cohesion. And after eight games, the Bills system is starting to sink in. Add a dynamic back like McGahee and defences can no longer send the house in pursuit of Bledsoe.

"The coaches are actually putting it on our shoulders," tackle Jonas Jennings told the Buffalo News. "They're telling us we're going out and running the ball."

As solid as the effort was against the Jets, let's not forget two of the three Bills wins were over the lightweight Miami Dolphins and Arizona Cardinals. And before the believers can completely buy in, the Bills must make the improved act work on the road beginning with a prime-time game in New England next Sunday.

But if the Bills can employ even a modest ball-control type of offence, look out. Because with a defence capable of dominating, it has a mix that may not take them as far as the playoffs, but one that should keep them in the thick of each game they play.


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