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Bills vs. Chiefs: Buffalo's protection problems largely vs. blitz

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No NFL team has a better pass rush than the Kansas City Chiefs this season - and the Buffalo Bills are having problems protecting backup quarterback Thad Lewis. Uh oh.

In his three starts at quarterback for the Buffalo Bills, Thad Lewis has been sacked 13 times, fumbled six times (losing three of those) and been knocked on his rear end (and in the head, earning a few penalties in the process) more times than we can count. After each game, win or lose, the refrain from the fan base has been the same: the Bills need to do a better job protecting Lewis.

Which is true. Buffalo has to figure out a way to keep Lewis from taking the number of hits he's taken, or the stability he's brought to the position with EJ Manuel sidelined will evaporate into thin air as the team turns to either Jeff Tuel or Matt Flynn. Here's the thing, though: fans are also laying most of the blame for the protection issues at the feet of the Bills' offensive line. The film from Sunday's loss to the Saints shows that line of thinking as faulty logic.

Yes, Erik Pears was beaten soundly by Cameron Jordan for a sack, and Cordy Glenn was walked backwards into Lewis by Junior Galette to force a hit and an overthrow. Other than that, the Bills' offensive line was fairly competent in pass protection against the Saints. Buffalo's problems keeping Lewis clean largely stemmed from their inability to handle the blitz.

Flip through the gallery above to see what we're driving at: the Saints routinely sent five, six and even seven pass rushers at Lewis. Buffalo's backs and tight ends missed blocks. Ill-timed (and poorly executed) play fakes slowed down Lewis' ability to recognize the pressures. When Lewis did diagnose the blitzes pre-snap, he struggled to correctly identify and hit his hot reads.

This week, the Kansas City Chiefs come to town. They're 8-0 based largely on the merits of their No. 5-ranked defense, which features the league's best pass rush by a considerable margin. Paced by Justin Houston (11 sacks) and Tamba Hali (nine), the Chiefs have sacked quarterbacks 36 times in eight games, well ahead of the Bills, who have the NFL's second-highest sack total with 27. If the Bills can't shore up their ability to handle the blitz - schematically, in the game-plan (seriously, the play fakes to no one need to go), and in basic assignment football - they're going to have an immensely difficult time moving the ball against the Chiefs.