ReFo: Bills @ Texans, Week 9
In a game that was much more competitive than many expected, the outcome (predictably) came down to red-zone efficiency and turnovers. While the Texans scored two touchdowns in three trips to the red zone, the Bills settled for field goals on each of their three trips. Even with their struggles punching it in, Buffalo was down by only five heading into the fourth quarter and had a chance late, down 21-9, before Whitney Mercilus forced a fumble from a scrambling Ryan Fitzpatrick.
With the win, the Texans moved to 7-1 and extended their commanding lead in the AFC South, while the Bills dropped to 3-5, yet are still just about in the hunt in the AFC. Let’s look at some key performances for each team.
Buffalo – Three Performances of Note
Too Quick For Comfort
While the Bills defense played a pretty solid game and held the Texans to just 14 points in the first three quarters (and 21 points for the game), Fitzpatrick (+1.2) and the Bills’ offense will look at this game with disappointment after they were held without a touchdown in three trips to the red zone. This wasn’t the case of Fitzpatrick playing a horrible game – it was actually his highest-graded performance of the season. He threw no interceptions, but as evidenced by his 6.3 YPA, he generally struggled to move the offense and failed to punch it in when they did have some success.
The lack of verticality is concerning, with just 10 pass attempts traveling more than 10 yards in the air. That’s more than you’ll see from some other quarterbacks, but it’s not quite enough if they want to win games like these. And with five completions on seven intermediate attempts, he was actually pretty good when he did look downfield, though he failed to complete any of his three deep attempts (20 yards or more).
Part of the problem is that Fitzpatrick might be getting rid of the ball too quickly and not letting his routes develop enough. He spent an average of just 2.33 seconds in the pocket before releasing the ball, which was the fourth-fastest among quarterbacks in Week 9 and faster than any quarterback’s season average.
Though his team didn’t come away with the win, Mario Williams (+1.5) performed admirably in his return to Houston. Throughout the game, Williams made his presence felt, particularly against the run, where he contributed four stops to Buffalo’s efforts. He and fellow lineman Kyle Williams (+1.7), who really handled Houston’s Chris Myers for much of the game, were integral to holding the Texans under 4 yards a carry.
And while the defense wasn’t able to get much pressure on the quarterback, Williams got to him twice for a sack and hurry.
With another strong game, Jairus Byrd (+2.0) continues to make his case for a Pro Bowl appearance. For most of the year, the Buffalo safety has been making a lot of plays in coverage, where he’s picked off three passes. On Sunday, his impact was made defending the running game of the Texans. Playing all 66 defensive snaps, he posted two stops in run defense (in addition to one in coverage) as part of his four tackles. Byrd is now PFF’s third-highest graded safety and with just two missed tackles, he’s also third among safeties with a combined tackling efficiency of 22 tackle attempts per missed tackle.
Houston – Three Performances of Note
If Sunday’s game is any indication, J.J. Watt (+4.7) won’t be slowing down in the second half of the season. As usual, Watt was exceptional rushing the passer, producing a sack and an unheard of five QB hits – consider that only seven 3-4 ends recorded more hits than that in the entire 2011 season. And with four stops, his effort against the run may have been even better. Few players in the league, let alone a 3-4 end, are capable of controlling a game the way Watt has been able. This was on the display early in the fourth quarter; when the Bills needed a score to stay in the game following a Texans touchdown. Watt beat his man and got into the backfield on three consecutive plays, hitting Fitzpatrick twice, as the Houston defense forced a key three-and-out.
After a few rough games, Johnathan Joseph (+1.7) bounced back nicely versus the Bills. Though he was targeted nine times, he allowed just five catches and registered a pass defense. What was most impressive was the way he limited yardage even when he allowed the ball to be completed into his coverage. Receivers averaged 5.3 yards per catch and gained just five yards after the catch against Joseph, with a long gain of only 15. Much of his success came while covering Steve Johnson, who was limited to two receptions on six passes against Joseph.
Success in the Air
While the running game was solid as usual, the Texans did much of their damage through the air. It’s easy to do when they get the kind of performance they did from Matt Schaub (+2.9), who was solid, if unspectacular, completing more than 70 percent of his passes for 268 yards and two touchdowns. Of those yards, 118 went to Andre Johnson (+3.6), as he took advantage of the Buffalo secondary for eight catches with his best game since Week 1. Many of these catches came to the right of the numbers, an area of the field where Schaub completed 10 of 11 passes, while throwing just three to the left side.
The Texans were deadly on play-action passes as usual with Schaub completing five of five for 103 yards. The best of these came with 44 seconds remaining in the first quarter, when the play-fake allowed Owen Daniels to get behind the Buffalo defense for a 39-yard touchdown. On the season, only Alex Smith has a higher QB rating on play-action passes than Schaub.
– Arian Foster gained 111 yards on the ground, despite not breaking any tackles, with only 26 of his rushing yards coming after initial contact.
– The Bills averaged 4.9 yards per carry but rushed the ball just 16 times.
– The Buffalo defense blitzed only three times in 29 passing plays. On these plays Schaub was 2 of 2 passing for 48 yards and was sacked once.
Where the Texans are concerned, this might as well be the ‘J.J. Watt Game Ball’. After yet another dominating performance, Watt gets the honor for the sixth time in eight games.
Follow John on Twitter @PFF_JManey