Coming into this season, one of the reason most prognosticators were down on Buffalo’s chances for success was the (rightfully) much-maligned Bills’ offensive line. We’ve all watched Buffalo quarterbacks get absolutely battered by the pass rush in recent seasons, and this preseason gave no indication that 2011 would be any different on that front. LT Demetrius Bell looked particularly bad. He spent the exhibition season getting torched by numerous pass rushers and almost losing his starting spot to Andy Levitre, who’s not even a tackle.
But then a weird thing happened when the real season started – somehow, this unit started fantastically. Through the first three games, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was barely touched, and RB Fred Jackson had a ton of room to run. Even Bell was playing very well, protecting Fitz’s blind side extremely well.
So of course now Bell is hurt.
Head coach Chan Gailey has announced that Bell will not play in Sunday’s contest against the Eagles after the big tackle hurt his shoulder in the fourth quarter of Buffalo’s loss to Cincinnati last Sunday.
As a result of that injury Buffalo’s left tackle Sunday will be rookie Chris Hairston, who will be making his first NFL start. And oh boy, will he have his hands full.
Fortunately for Hairston, the man he would ordinarily be lined up against will not be playing. Eagles DE Trent Cole – one of the league’s finest linemen – is not playing Sunday due to injury. Good news, because Cole is an absolute beast who is tremendous against the run and pass.
Unfortunately for Hairston, Cole’s absence likely means that DE Jason Babin will switch over to the right side of the Eagle defense and line up across from the rookie. Babin? Also awesome. In fact, he’s leading the league with seven sacks through the first four games. (As a comparison, the Bills have just three sacks as a team.)
So that’s certainly going to be a tall order for Hairston in his first NFL start. Now, I’m sure the Bills are going to help him out as much as possible. Fred Jackson will likely stay in to pass block frequently or a tight end will help on Hairston’s side. But Hairston’s still going to have to produce. If he can’t and Bell is out for a while, this season could sink fast.