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Bills in no rush to face Dolphins' star tackle Webb
If you`re a pesky pass-rusher trying to get to Dan Marino`s blind side, be prepared to meet a Webb of resistance.
Richmond Webb, the Dolphins` Pro Bowl left tackle, has trapped more than a few defensive pests in his time.
Leslie O`Neal knows. San Diego`s sackmeister found himself entangled all day during the Dolphins` 31-0 playoff win last week. O`Neal led the AFC this season with 17 sacks, but when push came to shove last Sunday, O`Neal couldn`t muscle past Webb. O`Neal never laid a glove on Marino and was held to two tackles.``That`s probably one of the best games I`ve had,`` Webb said.
Bruce Smith knows. He has had more trouble against Webb and Miami`s line than any other team he has faced. In 14 games against the Dolphins, Smith has 3.5 sacks. In 79 other career games, he made 88.5 sacks. Smith partly attributes the disparity to Marino`s quick release, but Miami`s blockers have done well containing him.
Smith is a free-lance terror who lines up in a variety of positions, but mainly he goes against Webb, a first-round pick from Texas A&M in 1990, and Webb mainly gets the best of him.
But that concerns Webb heading into Sunday`s AFC Championship at Joe Robbie Stadium.
``It probably gives Bruce an advantage because he wants to turn the tide,`` Webb said.
Smith had some success against Webb in the last meeting, Buffalo`s 26-20 win at JRS on Nov. 16. After going sackless in his first four games against Webb (he missed two in 1991 with a knee injury), Smith finally got his first, a 7-yard sack on the first play of the second half.
On the next play, Webb was penalized for holding Smith and the Dolphins were faced with second-and-25 from their 7.
They eventually punted, an ominous start to a half that featured three Marino sacks, two Miami turnovers and no touchdowns. Smith was able to harass Marino effectively as Webb battled ankle and wrist injuries.
That game started a three-game disaster for the line. After giving up four sacks against Buffalo, the line allowed four the next week against Houston (Webb allowed two) and five against New Orleans on Nov. 29, Marino`s single-game high. The 13-sack spurt eclipsed totals from five of Marino`s previous nine seasons.
In the 24-13 loss to the Saints, linebacker Pat Swilling beat Webb on an outside rush for a blind-side sack, forcing a fumble that was recovered for a touchdown by Robert Goff.
But Webb and the line have rebounded in the last five games, allowing one sack apiece against San Francisco, the Raiders, Jets and New England and none against San Diego. Run blocking has gotten more aggressive, too; the rushing average has been 124 yards the last four games.
The line has been helped by the return of center Jeff Uhlenhake, who was sidelined by a knee injury during the sack deluge, and a healthy Webb.
``I`m not going to say the ankle was the reason; I just had some bad games and that was it,`` Webb said. ``We all knew we were playing bad and we really didn`t have an answer. We just knew we had to come together and get this problem solved. We just kept working and things worked out for us.``
Webb said the first-round bye and a break from pads helped.
``Coach (Don) Shula didn`t have us beat each other up in practice and then we had some time off, so it gave guys a chance to get aches and pains healed up and I think that showed on Sunday.``
Meanwhile, the bruises get deeper for Buffalo, including Smith. Already playing with bruised ribs, Smith bruised some on his other side in last week`s 24-3 win at Pittsburgh. He briefly left the game.
``I couldn`t believe it,`` said left guard Keith Sims. ``When he came back he looked stronger. It seemed like he was rushing harder. He`s the consummate professional.
``Richmond has played very well against him, but he`s not going to take his past success for granted. At least he knows what he`s dealing with. It`s not like he`s a mystery.``
Webb has a 25-pound weight advantage against Smith, but Smith (15 sacks, including one last week) is one of the quickest ends in the league.
``He plays with a lot of leverage, so it`s hard to lift him up and get under him,`` Webb said. ``That makes him hard to block. The only time he gets frustrated is when he`s about to get to the quarterback and the ball is released just before he gets there.``
Before Webb arrived in 1990, the Dolphins held Smith in check, but Shula said he used a first-round pick on Webb specifically with the Bills in mind.
``Buffalo has been the team to beat in the division and you go into the draft thinking about how to match up against them the best,`` Shula said. ``We felt that way in taking Richmond, for obvious reasons, versus Bruce Smith.``
Webb surprised many, including Dolphins line coach John Sandusky, with his rapid development. He started from day one and was named to the Pro Bowl in his rookie year. He has returned every year.
``Dwight Stephenson didn`t start his first year,`` Sandusky said. ``I never anticipate a lineman coming in and starting right away. But obviously when we took Richmond we felt he would be a fine player. He`s turned out to be a great player.``
So has Smith. The Pro Bowl battle in the trenches should be one of the game`s determining factors.
``Pass protection will probably be one of the keys,`` said Marino, who was sacked 28 times this season, a career-high.
Webb and Co. will be doing their best to keep Smith under lock.