Bills leaky D braces to contain Vick-led Eagles

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Bills linebacker Nick Barnett was all set to spend part of his day off at the movies this week, before experiencing a sudden change of heart.

''Killer Elite,'' the movie Barnett intended to see, would have to wait for another time. He was more interested in poring over a different kind of action-packed thriller, this one featuring Buffalo's next opponent: Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles.

''I figured I better get home and watch this film and get game ready,'' Barnett said after being held out of practice Wednesday to nurse a sore right ankle.

Extra film study might well be in order for the entire Bills defense in preparation for Sunday's game against the visiting Eagles (1-3).

Despite a surprising 3-1 start, Buffalo's new-look defense is springing familiar leaks. It has allowed 450 yards in each of its past three games, including 458 in a 23-20 loss at Cincinnati. And the Bills will have their hands full in containing the Eagles who, despite their dreadful start, have an offense that's averaging nearly 435 yards a game.

''There's some difficulty in keeping him contained,'' Barnett said, regarding Vick. ''When he's on, he's on. When he's off, he's off. So we have to try to put him off.''

The Bills have had difficulty offing anyone lately.

Despite being tied for second in the NFL with 11 takeaways (including a pair of interception returns for touchdowns), Buffalo ranks 28th in allowing an average 405 yards per game. Take away a 41-7 win over Kansas City to open the season, and the Bills have allowed 1,407 yards offense - the third-highest total in team history over a three-game stretch.

''A lot of times we're in the position to make plays, and we're just not making them,'' Barnett said. ''I'm not discouraged or frustrated. Angry? I don't know the word for it. You just know we can do it. But at the same time, dagnabit, we need to do it and I think we will.''

This is not what was expected from a defense the Bills revamped this offseason. Buffalo used seven of its nine draft picks on defensive players, including selecting hefty defensive lineman Marcell Dareus third overall.

Buffalo also re-signed linebacker Shawne Merriman in January to improve their pass rush, and added Barnett, an eight-year veteran, in training camp to offset losing Paul Posluszny in free agency.

''We've played sporadically, and that's not good for a defense,'' coach Chan Gailey said. ''We look really good at times and then we just don't play well at all at times. I think if I had to say one thing, I've seen us do it, so I know we're capable.''

The defense has had its moments, such as a four-interception outing against Tom Brady in a 34-31 win over the Patriots, a game in which the Bills rallied from a 21-0 deficit two weeks ago. Buffalo then got off to a stingy start against Cincinnati in helping build a 17-3 lead, which included safety Bryan Scott's 43-yard interception return.

The Bills then unraveled in the second half by giving up 288 yards, 16 first downs and allowing Cincinnati to score on four of its final five possessions.

The most discouraging number in the loss to the Bengals was the 171 yards rushing Buffalo allowed. It was reminiscent of a defense that a year ago allowed 200 yards rushing eight times. It was a significant step back for a unit that allowed just 347 in its first three games this season.

''It's a big concern for us, because it's not the direction we want the defense to go,'' Dareus said. ''We're trying to turn this team around, not take us back.''

If not for the high-tempo offense led by Ryan Fitzpatrick, which produced a league-leading 113 points in its first three games, and the Bills might not be in the position they're in tied for the AFC East lead.

Safety George Wilson dismissed the concerns.

''The only stat that matters is the win,'' Wilson said, referring to the 3-1 record. ''We just didn't finish this week like we've been able to the previous weeks.''

Tagged: Bills, Eagles, Nick Barnett

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