By BBD Writer Eric Samulski
On a positive note, the Bills didn’t lose last week. After seeing their playoff hopes take a serious hit after a last minute loss to the Titans, the Bills entered the bye week needing to make a lot of changes on both sides of the ball. Defensive Coordinator Dave Wannstedt was planted firmly on the hot seat, and Chan Gailey wasn’t too far behind. The Bills had been plagued by poor tackling, mismanaged defensive schemes, and poor play from the quarterback position. If they hope to salvage the season they have to come out of the off week and prove that the coaching staff was able to address these critical issues. Even a loss that shows improvement and competitive fire would be a step in the right direction.
They might be able to achieve that minor goal if they can find the answers to the following questions…
Question One: Can the Bills run game get passed the Texans defensive line?
Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller have been the most consistent players on the Bills offense this season. Now fully healthy again, both backs are running hard and gaining consistent yardage in every game. The Bills currently rank 4th in the NFL with 150.3 yards per game, and Spiller is still first amongst starting runningbacks with 7.3 yards per carry. However, the Bills will come out of the bye and face the toughest test they’ve had all season against the league’s 4th best run defense. The Texans have gotten solid play from their defensive line and have yet to allow a run of 20+ yards this season. In fact, they are the only team in the NFL that hasn’t surrendered a twenty-yard run. It will be tough sledding, but if the Bills stand any chance to win this game, they need to find a way to break a big play.
Question Two: Can the Bills offensive line contain JJ Watt?
JJ Watt has unquestionably been the breakout player of the year so far. He’s 3rd in the NFL amongst defensive lineman with 34 total tackles and has also totaled 9.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries. But what’s possibly the most impressive is that he has twenty quarterback hurries and ten passes batted down at the line of scrimmage. Usually defenders excel in one category because they either decide to go for the sack or knock the pass down at the line. Watt has been able to do a little bit of everything this year and could be a real challenge for the Bills offensive line. However, a small glimmer of hope is that the Bills line struggles more against speed rushers, so they might have the skill set to limit Watt’s damage.
Question Three: Will Mario Williams show up to play against his former team?
Mario Williams has been a disappointment this year. I don’t think that can be questioned. Before the bye week, the explanation came out that Williams has been dealing with a wrist injury that has prevented him from working out or using his hands to fend off offensive lineman. For a player that uses his physicality to his advantage, it’s a major issue, which is why Williams underwent a minor wrist procedure during the week off. He claims that he’ll be ready to go this week, and Bills fans are anxious to see how he can respond when he goes up against the team that felt comfortable letting him hit free agency.
Question Four: Can the Bills keep Foster and the Texans run game in check?
This is the match-up that could be a disaster for the Bills. The Texans are the 6th ranked rushing attack and make their living by pounding the ball on the ground with Arian Foster. They lead the league with an average of 35.4 carries per game and are second in the NFL with 11 rushing TDs. The Bills run defense on the other hand is giving up 6.0 yards per carry. The Bills also give up the most rushing plays of twenty or more yards. If the Texans run the ball their average of 35 times, that would mean they would gain 210 yards on the ground. They need to step up on Sunday or the team stands no chance of winning.
Question Five: Can the Bills finally find a way to contain a TE?
This was a question I brought up last game, before the Bills played Jared Cook, but it still remains an issue. The Bills are terrible against athletic tight ends. Their linebackers have really suffered in coverage, and Bryan Scott, their hybrid S/LB, has been a disaster. Now they face Owen Daniels, the tight end with the 4th most yards receiving in the NFL. Daniels can make big plays, with six over twenty yards, and is an asset in the red zone, with four touchdowns this year. The Texans aren’t a big passing team, so the Bills are likely to get them into a few 3rd and longs during the game. If they do that, they cannot let Daniels get open for conversions. It keeps the Texans offense on the field and kills any chance at gaining momentum.
Question Six: How will Urbik, Glenn, and Brooks play coming off of injuries?
For the past three games the Bills have been without starting left tackle, Cordy Glenn, and starting right guard, Kraig Urbik. Both are expected to return this week. With back-up guard, Chad Rinehart, set go to on the injured reserve, the Bills need Urbik back more than ever. The offense makes it name but running the football, so they need his power to open running lanes. Glenn is similarly important because he was establishing himself as a truly solid left tackle before his ankle injury. Chris Hairston has filled in admirably, but he doesn’t have the athleticism that Glenn does. His return would be a boost for both the run and pass game.
On the other hand, we know Ron Brooks will not suit up after coming off of the injured reserve. However, the Bills need him to get to full speed quickly because their slot corners have been abused all season long and could use Brooks’ skill set.
Question Seven: Can Fitzpatrick avoid mistakes?
It’s been said to death, but the Bills offense goes as Fitzpatrick goes. If he can manage the game, limit his mistakes, and allow the running game to get going, the Bills can stay with most teams. If Fitzpatrick is forced to make plays with his arm, the Bills suffer. Fitzpatrick is 3rd in the NFL with nine interceptions and will face a Texans defense that has the 7th most interceptions, with nine, and the 7th most sacks, with 21. If he can take what the defense gives him and worry about moving the chains, not forcing passes, the Bills can keep the Texans offense off the field and beat them in the time of possession game. It’s their only chance.
Prediction: Texans 24 Bills 13
I still have the belief that this Bills team has too much talent to roll over and die. Coming off of the bye week, I think the Bills will make some clear improvements. However, I don’t think this team can hang with the Texans. The defense under Wannstedt just doesn’t seem to make the best use of the talent. Guys seem to be in the wrong place all the time, so I don’t think it’s just about the skill of the players. Against a team as clean and powerful as the Texans, you simply can’t give them openings. I think Arian Foster will have a solid game, and I also expect slot receivers like Kevin Walter and Keshawn Martin to perform against the Bills subpackage corners. When the game ends I think the Bills will have a solid showing, but not enough to claim a victory.