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Bell's improved play crucial to Bills' O-line success

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Posted Oct. 14, 2011 @ 10:28 a.m. ET
By Kevin Fishbain

Coming into the season, few doubted Ryan Fitzpatrick's ability to be successful in the Bills' offense or Stevie Johnson as the team's playmaking wideout. And there wasn't much of a question about Fred Jackson being effective as a runner and receiver.

What everyone thought would hold the Bills' offense back, and for good reason, was the offensive line. Not only did the O-line appear, on paper, to be the team's biggest weakness on offense, but it was considered one of the weakest units on the team.

Through five games, the Bills have the league's fourth-best rushing attack and have allowed a league-low four sacks of Fitzpatrick. The overachieving unit has excelled in run blocking and pass protection, overcoming injuries to starters, and it is a big reason for Buffalo's success. Observers consider it the biggest surprise on the team this season.

The previously much-maligned left tackle, Demetrius Bell, has yet to be flagged and has allowed only one-half sack this season while protecting Fitzpatrick's blind side. We hear that Bell has great feet and, more importantly, has put the mental lapses that plagued his first two seasons behind him. Bell is out with a shoulder injury, and the team has plugged in fourth-round rookie Chris Hairston, who held his own against the Eagles.

ORG Kraig Urbik played poorly in the preseason, especially in the opener vs. the Bears, but he has gotten better. When Urbik went down with an injury in Week Two, Chad Rinehart filled in admirably, which wasn't a surprise considering Rinehart's experience. It showed a lot about Urbik's improvement, though, that Chan Gailey put him right back into the starting lineup when he became healthy.

"If he was a starter and got hurt and he's healthy enough, then he'll go back as a starter," Gailey said last week when asked about Urbik, who has allowed one sack.

C Eric Wood and OLG Andy Levitre continue to be the rocks on the O-line, and Wood is playing better at his natural position. Levitre is undersized but very good in the second level, and that has been illustrated on screen plays, something the Bills have excelled at this season.

ORT Erik Pears was the next biggest question mark after Bell. He beat out Mansfield Wrotto for the job and has given up only one sack and has one false start.

Another thing that has helped the O-line has been Fitzpatrick, whose aid is twofold. Fitzpatrick gets rid of the ball quickly but also is adept at moving skill players around for added protection.

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