Walker to face plenty of speed rush Sunday (Photo Source)
Last year, the Buffalo Bills' offensive line - bolstered with free agent additions and the emergence of LT Jason Peters - allowed 26 sacks en route to one of the most successful pass-blocking seasons for a Bills offensive line in over two decades. Just one year later, however, Peters is voluntarily away from the team, the line is re-shuffled, and many of the question marks that last year's line play resolved have resurfaced, unanswered once more.
Think the Seattle Seahawks aren't smiling about it? Think again.
Last year, the Seahawks boasted one of the NFL's fiercest pass rushes, registering 45 sacks during their 10-6 season, in which they won the NFC West and reached the divisional round of the NFC playoffs. Their ferocity in this department is made possible by the fact that they have three pass rushers that literally could play for any team - defensive ends Patrick Kerney and Darryl Tapp, as well as outside linebacker Julian Peterson. Combined, the three players had 31 of those 45 sacks in 2007.
Kerney is the veteran of the group; the warrior. He led the team with 14.5 sacks last year from his left end position, and he'll spend this coming Sunday lining up across from Bills right tackle Kirk Chambers. The journeyman tackle, who suffered many indignities at the hands of Osi Umenyiora in a loss to the Giants in '07, has had an effective pre-season, but hasn't faced anyone of the caliber of Kerney to this point.
Langston Walker - filling in for Peters at left tackle - might have an even more difficult assignment in Tapp. Though his 7 sacks in 2007 could be categorized as "good, but not great", Tapp seems poised to establish himself as one of the NFL's best pure speed rushers in 2008. Don't make the mistake of thinking he's just a speed rusher, however - he's got power, and he's certainly not a liability against the run. The 6'8", 366-pound Walker has played well at left tackle in Peters' absence, but his size - and the agility it saps from him - makes him a liability against quicker players.
Peterson's ability severely complicates the issue. He registered 9.5 sacks in 2007, and his ability to blitz from anywhere on the field will be the Seahawks' most dangerous defensive asset in 2008. Picture this, Bills fans: Kerney and Peterson both rushing the quarterback from the left side, with Chambers and either TE Robert Royal or one of the team's two running backs, Marshawn Lynch or Fred Jackson, to pick up Peterson (one of the game's best overall athletes). Yeah, I'm not exactly comforted by that thought either.
Scoring won't be easy
Buffalo's offense has appeared to make significant strides during the pre-season, for certain, particularly in the play-calling department - so there is certainly reason for optimism. However, the starting quarterback hasn't played live football in over two weeks, and Walker is a bit banged up. Scoring points this Sunday isn't going to be easy for Buffalo's offense. Impossible, no; easy, definitely not.
The key lies in how Buffalo's "revamped" offensive line handles Seattle's trio of superb pass rushers. Look for the Seahawks to run a lot of stunts with its athletic defensive tackles and push the line's communication skills to the brink. Buffalo's offense has enjoyed solid pass protection throughout the pre-season even without Peters, and it has remained a team strength. But the unit is far from perfect - they weren't perfect with Peters, either. Seattle's defense is the first big test; Buffalo may not have a good shot at starting their season with a win if that test isn't passed.