What hope remains in the Bills playoff quest, rests solely on Sunday’s home game with the red-hot Houston Texans. Buffalo can’t afford to lose another game against an AFC foe, especially one that currently holds onto an AFC Wild Card spot. For all intents and purposes this game will make or break the Bills’ season. An unfortunate number of injuries aren’t helping the cause as the defensive line has been ravaged thin and the right side of the O-line is vulnerable. The Bills have a lot to overcome in Week 13, here’s some things they must do.
1) The Bills must find a way to keep J.J. Watt out of the backfield and away from Tyrod Taylor
That’s no easy feat –limiting a player that offensive coordinator Greg Roman compared to Reggie White – and I’m not sure if there is a clear cut way to do it, without the services of RG John Miller and RT Seantrel Henderson. The biggest burden now falls on fill in tackle Jordan Mills. No doubt he’ll certainly be receiving some help from some of his fellow lineman and even running backs in pass protection. When it comes to Watt though there is no cookie cutter way to defend him because he’s just that disruptive. That was another point Roman made as well when he joked about throwing a few triple teams Watt’s way. He never takes his foot off the gas pedal, so the Bills can’t either, in their effort to block him. Buffalo is going to throw all kinds of looks and help to the right side of the offensive front, but the question is will it be enough? It better be. If not Tyrod Taylor is going to be in for a long day. In their meeting last year, Watt was able to record – by himself – nine QB hits. NINE. And everyone remembers his most impressive play of that game…
No one wants to see that happen again. How successful Buffalo’s offense will be on Sunday hinges on there ability to keep Watt contained. They better be ready.
2) The Bills must stop the run
Now, Houston isn’t a fantastic rushing team by any means – they’re averaging just 3.4 yards per attempt. However, last week against Kansas City we watched the Bills’ defense get shredded by a third string running back in Spencer Ware, who had a beat up offensive line blocking in front of him. Ware’s 114 yards were just the second most given up by Buffalo’s defense to a single back this season –only Jaguar RB T.J. Yeldon had more (115). While the defense hasn’t lived up to the preseason hype by any means, the one thing they’ve been able to hang their hat on has been stopping opponents rushing attacks. They have to get back to that trend this week against the Texans’ second string back Alfred Blue. For as well as their quarterback Brian Hoyer is playing of late, the Bills’ need to make Houston one dimensional and let Hoyer be the one who has to beat them. If Blue is able to pick up huge chunks of yardage on the ground it makes Buffalo’s secondary more vulnerable, as we saw last week in Kansas City. Now, Blue has just one, 100-yard rushing performance to his name this season – which is good news – but similar to Buffalo’s offensive line, injuries to the defensive front seven are a major concern. LB Nigel Bradham is out this week and two D-lineman Kyle Williams and Alex Carrington are done for the season. DE Mario Williams is returning in a limited role this week, but he’s basically been a non-factor all season. Whether that is because of Williams taking plays off or Rex Ryan’s schemes is up for debate, but the fact that he’s recorded just three sacks this season – a year after piling up 14.5 of them – is alarming. Anyway, that’s a discussion for another time. The bottom line is that the Bills need Mario Williams and the rest of their makeshift front seven to tighten things up and stop the Texans’ running game.
3) The Bills’ corners must bounce back from Kansas City and be ready to slow down wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins
Week 12 was clearly not the secondary’s best day – even more so for rookie, CB Ronald Darby, who gave up two separate touchdowns to receivers he was responsible for. It was the first time Darby had been scored on all season and he let it happen twice. Through their first 10 Buffalo had surrendered just 11 plays of 30 yards or more to opposing offense and had never given up more than two of them in any one game. Against the Chiefs though, Buffalo gave up five such plays, three of which went to WR Jeremy Maclin. That earned the Bills a loss last week and it will again tomorrow against an even better receiver in DeAndre Hopkins. Let’s hope that it was just one bad day for Darby and Gilmore and that they have put last week behind them. They’ve proven throughout most of the season to be reliable, coverage corners and have arguably been the most consistent part of the defense. In fact, the Bills’ corners have only given up 100-yard performances to four receivers this season – Rob Gronkowski in Week Two, Rishard Matthews in Week Three, Danny Amendola in Week 11 and then Maclin last week – while shutting down some of the league’s top receivers like Odell Beckham Jr, A.J. Green and Brandon Marshall for a combined 12 receptions for 97 yards. Also, in their second effort against Gronkowski the Bills bottled him up for just two catches and 37 yards. If Hopkins’ final stat line reads something like that at the conclusion of tomorrow’s game, then Darby, Gilmore and the rest of the secondary did their job.