By BBD Writer Eric Samulski
Losing 21-9 to one of, if not the, best team is football is not something to be ashamed of. Unfortunately for the Bills, their early season struggles made it a loss that they couldn’t afford. Now sitting at 3-5, the Bills face a near insurmountable uphill climb to try and secure one of the final playoff spots in the AFC. With a game against the division rival Patriots coming up next week it may not be long before we start to see heads roll for another disappointing season. Of course, if you believe General Manager Buddy Nix, the Bills may simply be content to finish the season and not be considered an embarrassment. Then again, that’s not assured either.
Let’s take a look back at how the Bills addressed the major concerns heading into the game. First with the negatives.
The Bills got abused by tight ends yet again
(Question #5 was: Can the Bills find a way to contain a TE?)
This is a defensive fault that cannot entirely be blamed on Dave Wannstedt. The Bills have been atrocious at containing opposing tight ends for as long as I can remember. Part of it has to do with poor decision-making by the coaching staff, like trying to make Bryan Scott a S/LB hybrid covering tight ends, or the decision to continue using man coverage on tight ends. However, another aspect is simply how poor the Bills linebackers are in coverage. This week rookie Nigel Bradham, who had been solid in coverage since entering the starting lineup, overplayed his hand on a Matt Schaub play-fake and allowed Owen Daniels to get behind him for a long touchdown. In total, Daniels had 62 yards and a touchdown, to go along with an additional 49 yards by back-up tight end James Casey. That’s 111 yards and a TD to the Texans tight ends. That’s very bad and nothing new for this linebacking corps.
Chan Gailey abandoned the run early on
(Question #1 was: Can the Bills run game get passed the Texans defensive line)
The Bills rushed the ball twelve times on Sunday. Twelve times! The Bills had the 4th ranked rushing attack coming into the game. Why Chan Gailey decided to let Ryan Fitzpatrick throw the ball 38 times when the game was still close until the 4th quarter is beyond questionable. It’s particularly indefensible given how well Spiller looked. He rushed the ball six times for 39 yards (6.5 yards a carry) and caught five passes for another 63 yards. That’s eleven touches for 102 yards. How do you not give him the ball more? The Bills were only down by one score until 11:20 left in the game. I just cannot comprehend how, down by only one touchdown, you’re not allowing your offense to do what they’ve done best all season long. It shows no understanding of the team or it’s skill set.
Offensive line struggled to produce consistently
(Question #6 was: How will Urbik and Glenn play coming off injury)
Part of this can simply be attributed to the fact that the Texans have a very good defense. They were top five against the run coming into the game and put up a very strong effort against the Bills. The Texans defensive line seemed to be in the backfield more often than not and frequently hit Buffalo runningbacks behind the line of scrimmage. Glenn and Urbik were both beaten on a few occasions, but rust is to be expected after such a long layoff. They didn’t look terrible, but it wasn’t as consistent an effort as we’re used to getting from the powerful offensive line.
Now, onto the positives…
Fitzpatrick cut down on his mistakes, but continues to be mediocre
(Question #7 was: Can Fitz avoid mistakes?)
I’ll start with this one since it’s not technically a full-on positive. I did state that Fitzpatrick needed to cut down on his mistakes in order for the Bills to compete in this game. He did that, and the Bills were in the game for much of the contest. However, Fitzpatrick also didn’t capitalize on opportunities and frequently threw behind his receivers again. He didn’t give the Bills enough of a threat in the passing game to prevent the Texans from loading the box to stop the run. So, while the lack of mistakes was good, the overall performance was very average. Which is what we’ve come to expect from him.
The Bills did a solid job against JJ Watt
(Question #2 was: Can the Bills contain Watt?)
Yes, Watt had a sack, but anytime you can hold the likely Defensive Player of the Year to four total tackles, you’re doing your part. He was in the backfield on multiple occasions, and did have an impact on the Bills running game, but they prevented him from taking over, which is something that other offenses haven’t been able to say this year.
They were able to contain Arian Foster… up until the end of the game
(Question #3 was: Will the timeshare at runningback work?)
We knew coming into the game that the Texans were going to run. The question was never if the Bills could shut Foster down, but if they could contain him enough to give the team a fighting chance. They succeeded at the latter. Foster is one of the most dynamic runningbacks in the league and the Bills held him in check for much of the game. He finished with 110 yards and a touchdown on 4.6 yards per carry, but the yards per carry numbers are heavily influenced by three long runs (24, 19 and 14 yards). Foster was also able to add 50+ yards rushing and a TD on the final two drives that he was in the game, when the Bills defense was worn down from being on the field so much due to the offenses inefficiency. So while the stats may not back it up, I think the Bills run defense did a very nice job against of the game’s premiere backs.
Wrist surgery seems to have given Mario Williams some power back
(Question #4 was: Can the Bills take advantage of the Texans pass offense?)
Mario Williams claims that his game is all about physicality and the torn muscle in his wrist was affecting his ability to produce. After this weekend, it certainly seems like he may have been right. Williams led the Bills with five tackles, including a sack, and was in the backfield on multiple occasions. He had two additional quarterback hurries and hit Schaub’s arm on a pass that would have been picked off if Aaron Williams didn’t give receivers a ten-yard cushion. Williams was pushing offensive lineman back regularly and seems to be slowly moving back to 100%. It’s no coincidence that this was also the first time the Bills defensive line has looked good in a while.
When the dust settled on Sunday, the Bills had a couple minutes to feel proud of the improvement they showed and the fight they put up. But there’s only so much you can be proud of when you’re staring at a 3-5 record and facing the Patriots on the road the following week. If the Bills lose and fall to 3-6, the season might officially be over. It’s time for the team to step up and start beating some contenders or the off-season is gonna start early again in Buffalo.