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Buffalo's Big-Play Threats Looking To Bust Loose


Thus far in 2006, Buffalo's big-play weapons have not made many big plays, and that's a major reason the Bills are off to a 2-5 start.

But the Packers are aware that running back Willis McGahee and wide receiver Lee Evans have the talent and the track record to bust loose at any time. It's just up to the Packers to make sure that doesn't happen Sunday, with the Bills coming off their bye week and playing at home.

Despite yardage production that has both players in the top 10 in the AFC in rushing and receiving, respectively, McGahee and Evans have just one touchdown apiece this season. This from a pair of playmakers that combined for 34 touchdowns in 2004 and 2005 as the Bills' most dynamic offensive stars.

"There's definitely been some struggles," said Evans, the former University of Wisconsin standout. "Offensively, I don't think we've played up to our capabilities, so that's what we're trying to get back to as a team. You just keep pushing and try to turn this thing around."

Buffalo's offensive difficulties are two-fold. First, they haven't given themselves many opportunities to score with only 15 red-zone possessions through seven games, one more than the league-low. Second, they've committed 15 turnovers (nine lost fumbles, six interceptions), which is tied for sixth-highest in the league.

"It's really hard to beat people when you're contributing in terms of turnovers, and we've done that," said new head coach Dick Jauron, who will face the Packers with his third different team, having coached the Bears and Lions previously. "We just need to become a more consistent football team and a more disciplined football team."

The initial focus for the Packers, as it is every week, will be on slowing down the run. McGahee is averaging 80 yards per game (150 carries, 564 yards) but has topped 100 just once this year after posting 12 games of 100-plus yards in his first two seasons.

The Packers have been solid against the run all season, not allowing a 100-yard rusher (St. Louis' Steven Jackson came the closest with 98 yards) and will aim to keep that streak in tact.

"It all starts with McGahee," linebacker Nick Barnett said. "He's an excellent back, a north and south runner. If we can stop that north-south attack and get him going sideways, I think that will disrupt him a little bit."

Meanwhile Evans has been known as Buffalo's home-run threat, catching at least a dozen passes of 40 or more yards in his first two seasons. But his long catch in 2006 is 27 yards, and only two other receptions have gone for more than 20 yards.

That has dropped his yards-per-catch this season to 11.6 (37 receptions, 429 yards), nearly 5 full yards below his career average of 16.5 coming into the year.

Evans said part of the change is due to switching from the flanker to the split end position, but defenses also have tried to force him more underneath and not allow him to get over top of the coverage.

{sportsad300}"You can't just line up and go deep all the time," Evans said. "Defenses try to do certain things to you and take certain things away from you, and as an offense we haven't done a good job of making big plays. We've had opportunities but we haven't been able to cash in on them."

After Bills quarterbacks J.P. Losman and Kelly Holcomb split time in 2005, Jauron has handed the reigns to Losman and is willing to battle through some growing pains with the third-year QB. The Bills also have done some shifting on the offensive line to try to find the right combination.

The Packers have shown their greatest improvement defensively this season in cutting down on explosive plays that plagued them earlier. Part of that success over the past two games has come with cornerback Al Harris matched up against the opponent's best receiver, and he has made Miami's Chris Chambers (two catches, 29 yards) and Arizona's Anquan Boldin (four catches, 47 yards) essentially non-factors.

Harris is almost sure to be called upon this week to handle Evans, who believes a return to his big-play ways is just around the corner, as he gets more experience with Losman.

"Right now it's just about getting more in sync," Evans said. "We've done good things, being able to throw the ball vertically down the field in the past, so now we need to get back to that, being able to hit some big plays."

The Packers, and Harris, will be doing their best to make sure the Bills are still at least a week away from doing that.

"He does a lot of great things, catching the ball well, runs good routes, he's fast," Harris said. "We just have to do what we do - play bump-and-run coverage and run our defense."

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