3TFO: Bills @ Texans, Week 9
It’s hard to not be reminded of the league’s greatest comeback when Buffalo plays Houston, but we’re certainly a long ways away from the Bills’ Super Bowl run and Warren Moon running the run and shoot for the Houston Oilers.
Instead it’s the offseason darling Buffalo Bills travelling to take on the Houston Texans who may just be the best team in the AFC. The Bills remain in the middle of the pack in the parity ridden conference. Despite some glaring team weaknesses, they still have a chance to make a late season run. In addition to boasting a historically bad run defense, Buffalo needs better play from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick who has been among the league’s worst this season.
In Houston, the Texans have a playoff bye on their mind as they lead the AFC with a 6-1 record. They’re also coming off a bye week of their own after destroying the Baltimore Ravens 43-13 two weeks ago. The Texans have been carried by QB Matt Schaub’s strong play, along with the usually efficient running game, but it’s defensive end J.J. Watt’s dominance that has the entire league buzzing. He’s bypassed Defensive Player of the Year talk to put himself into MVP consideration. The Bills have had two weeks to gameplan for him, so we’ll see what they have in store for the best defensive player in the league.
Let’s take a look at the other matchups that will shape this AFC battle.
Bills Run Defense vs. Texans Running Game
It looks like a fantasy football dream matchup for Arian Foster owners this week as the Texans go up against a Bills defense that has allowed a league-worst 176.9 yards per game on the ground including 6.0 yards per carry. While the Texans zone blocking scheme has them at sixth in the league with 140.9 rushing yards per game, Foster’s production has taken a hit this year as his Elusive Rating of 14.3 is a far cry from last year’s mark of 28.0. He’s had the benefit of running behind two of the better run blockers in the league in center Chris Myers (+7.3 run block) and left tackle Duane Brown (+7.8 run block). Watch for Myers’ ability to get to the second level as Foster loves to make his cut right off of his blocks, as he did on nearly half of his carries against the Ravens.
On the other side, Buffalo has not gotten the expected production out of their defensive line with the weakest links being defensive tackle Marcel Dareus and DE Mark Anderson. Dareus’ -9.0 run stop grade stems mostly from a horrible game in Week 5 against the San Francisco 49ers, but he also ranks 36th out of 57 qualifying defensive tackles with his run stop percentage of 5.7. He was expected to progress after an encouraging rookie season, but the production just hasn’t been there to this point. In Anderson, it’s not a complete surprise that he’s struggled against the run as last year’s success appears to have been an anomaly. He’s graded at -6.5 against the run with a run stop percentage of 4.6, good for 26th out of 35 qualifying 4-3 defensive ends. If the Bills are going to solve their problems stopping the run, it simply has to start up front with Dareus and Anderson.
Bills Offensive Line vs. Texans Pass Rush
Lost in the defensive end Watt’s record setting season is the lack of production from the pass rushers surrounding him. Watt’s gaudy numbers (+25.6 pass rush, 19.1 Pass Rush Productivity, 10 batted passes) have carried a team that his struggled to get pressure from the outside linebacker position. OLB’s Brooks Reed and Connor Barwin rank near the bottom at the position in PRP at 6.9 and 5.7 respectively and more will be needed from them as Watt has to take a step back from his superhuman seven-game stretch. Rookie OLB Whitney Mercilus has had a slow start to his career in a backup role, but against the Ravens he picked up a sack and four hurries in only 14 pass rushes. With that type of production, we may see Mercilus build on his 78 snaps played so far this season.
The Bills have seen some attrition to one of the league’s best pass blocking units as they’ve fallen to third with a cumulative Pass Blocking Efficiency (PBE) of 86.4. They’ve missed right guard Keith Urbik (+3.5 pass block) in recent weeks, but he’s back practicing this week. He’ll team with C Eric Wood (+2.2 pass block) and LG Andy Levitre (+8.3 pass block) in the quest to neutralize Watt. Levitre’s 98.5 PBE is currently tied for fourth in the league among guards.
Andre Johnson vs. Bills Secondary
Though he’s seen a slight drop off in production this season, WR Andre Johnson remains a difficult cover for any defensive back. His 2.19 Yard per Route Run (YPRR) is below his normal full season standard, and well below the 3.09 mark he posted in nine games last year (including playoffs). However, he still ranks 14th in the league here in 2012. One major difference this year is the Texans’ reluctance to use him as a deep threat. Only 14% of his targets have been beyond 20 yards, compared to 23% in 2011.
This may not be the week to bring back the deep ball as the Bills feature our top coverage safety in Jairus Byrd (+12.7 pass coverage). Buffalo plays him deep on 75% of his snaps, so he’ll be in charge of keeping the ball in front of him. At cornerback, rookie first rounder Stephon Gilmore has recovered from a terrible debut as he currently ranks 19th at the position with 12.4 Cover Snaps per Reception. He’ll pair with second year CB Aaron Williams who ranks 21st with 11.9. Both players have had their ups and downs, but their development is one of the biggest keys to Buffalo’s success both this year and beyond.
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