Welcome to Week Six of the NFL season. Here at 300 Level Media, we will attempt to inform and educate our readers about the Buffalo Bills’ upcoming opponent and what each team might do to emerge victorious.
The Bills’ sixth game of the 2018 season will take place in Houston as they take on the Texans. Here’s what to watch for:
BILLS’ SECONDARY GETTING HEALTHIER
Last week’s contest against Tennessee saw the Bills’ defense limit the Titans to just 221 net yards of offense and improve to being the sixth-ranked unit in the NFL. However, their secondary was banged up, as they were down to just one healthy starting safety (Jordan Poyer).
Luckily for Buffalo, they will be getting some reinforcements back this Sunday in the form of Micah Hyde and Rafael Bush. It will be just what the doctor ordered, as they need to add to their nine turnovers through five games while facing a strong Texans passing game.
Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier will likely attack Houston quarterback DeShaun Watson with a healthy dose of Cover 2 and Cover 4 – zone coverages that can help the Bills’ defensive backs keep their eyes on the ball – and some coverage concepts that include keeping a safety in the box in order to limit the damage done by Watson’s legs.
BRIAN DABOLL, THOUGH LIMITED, STILL BEING CREATIVE
The Bills’ coaching staff likely realized long ago what has been painfully obvious to most observers – that their wide receiver corps is among the worst in the league. So in order to have a productive passing game, they needed to get their tight ends and running backs more involved.
Which has happened. Brian Daboll – who used to be Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel’s offensive play-caller when the latter was Kansas City’s head coach in 2012 – ran the ball much more last week than had been the case earlier in the year. A run/pass ratio of 43 to 19 led to a combined 128 yards from LeSean McCoy and Chris Ivory, and a close home win.
The passing game has also seen an increased usage of their backs and tight ends. Buffalo Bills reporter Chris Brown noted earlier this week that, according to Anthony Staggs of Pyromaniac.com, the yards that McCoy, Ivory, Charles Clay and Jason Croom have accumulated through the air have been the sixth and seventh-most in the league.
TEXANS’ OFFENSE LIKE DÉJÀ VU TO BILLS FANS
With a large contingent of ex-Patriots coaches littering Houston’s staff – notably Crennell, head coach Bill O’Brien, special teams coach Brad Seely and assistant special teams coach Wes Welker – there are bound to be some similarities to their work in New England.
Take their passing game. Typically one in which relies on matchups, option routes and the positioning of opposing defenders, it’s a system that has been proven to work time and again. The biggest beneficiary of the system has been wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who despite not being the fastest or quickest wideout in the league, succeeds with good route-running ability and excellent hands.
However, with the drafting of DeShaun Watson last year, O’Brien decided to ease in his rookie with misdirection concepts taken directly from his old playbook at Clemson. The results have been outstanding so far. Watson has accumulated more than 1,500 passing yards and more than 200 rushing yards this year – the only quarterback in league history to do so through five games.
They haven’t been without their struggles though. The Texans have allowed 18 sacks – second in the NFL to Buffalo’s 19 – and Watson has been hit 54 times. Houston also has the second-worst red zone offense in football.
HOUSTON’S DEFENSE DIFFICULT TO PREPARE FOR
With the return of all-world defender J.J. Watt and linebacker Whitney Mercilus from injury – and the presence of former first overall pick Jadeveon Clowney – Houston has three extraordinary pass rushers who can’t be blocked one-on-one. Their abilities currently help the Texans rank eighth in the NFL in run defense, and also allow Crennel’s fabled “diamond” nickel front to generate tons of pressure in the pocket. (For more on this type of defense, read Andy Benoit’s 2017 NFL preview at: https://www.si.com/nfl/2017/08/29/houston-texans-defense-new-england-patriots-nfl-preview).
The one weakness in Houston’s defense is in their secondary. Cornerback Kevin Johnson is out for the season with concussion issues and nickel corner Aaron Colvin has been injured since Week Four. Safety Kareem Jackson has to play there again despite switching positions in the spring and Jonathan Joseph and Shareece Wright have also dealt with ailments. Safety Tyrann Mathieu – despite his trademark versatility – lacks the burst and quickness he used to have, due to multiple knee surgeries.
Crennel and Seely – whose special teams have been traditionally strong – each have had tremendous success while in the NFL. Each coach started their careers in the league more than 30 years ago, and have combined for 16 appearances in conference championship games, 11 Super Bowl appearances and eight Lombardi trophies.
713 HAS ROOTS IN 716
Once again, the opposition has some connections to the Buffalo Bills. Texans general manager Brian Gaine spent last season as the Bills’ vice president of player personnel before succeeding current executive vice president of football operations Rick Smith in Smith’s old role.
Texans’ offensive line coach Mike Devlin was a fifth-round pick by the Bills in 1993 out of Iowa and spent three seasons in Orchard Park – with the highlight of his time there appearing in Super Bowl XXVIII. Defensive line coach Anthony Weaver spent the 2013 season in the same position in Buffalo, and assistant defensive backs coach D’Anton Lynn was a defensive assistant on Rex Ryan’s staff in 2015 and ’16.
Running backs coach Danny Barrett spent three years as the University at Buffalo’s quarterbacks coach from 2007-09.
C.J. Leak, the Texans’ assistant director of pro personnel, spent part of the 2006 season on the Bills’ practice squad and was also a member of Buffalo’s player personnel department for eight years (2008-15), working in various capacities.