The Houston Texans' Sunday afternoon date with the Buffalo Bills at Reliant Stadium has a little something extra going for it because of the teams' shared special bond over a single player. I'm speaking, of course, about Eric Moulds. We love you, Eric!
United by this inalienable affection, Brian Galliford, the big cheese at SB Nation's site for all things Buffalo and/or Bill (the cleverly named Buffalo Rumblings), exchanged e-mails earlier this week in anticipation of the big game. I answered a few of Brian's questions, and he was kind enough to knowledgeably respond to my queries. His learned answers to my inane questions are below.
1. While most fans thought New England would keep their perch atop the AFC East in 2012, many observers pegged Buffalo for dramatic improvement, including but not limited to snagging a wild card spot. Almost halfway into the 2012 season, Buffalo hasn't looked like the team so many of us thought they'd be. What do you attribute the lackluster results to, and do you think the Bills can right the ship this season?
BG: Those observers upped their expectations for the Bills based almost entirely on the perceived gains the team made defensively in the off-season. While it's still true that there's a lot of individual talent on this defense, collectively they're playing like hot garbage. Statistically, this defense is considerably worse than it was in 2011, when former coordinator George Edwards became the off-season's scapegoat firing. Dave Wannstedt has thus far been a step down, and the defense has been completely miserable as a result. The talent is there for the unit to get considerably better, but after a half season, it's tough to expect it at this point.
2. You know I have to ask about Mario Williams. Based on what you've seen so far, any buyer's remorse? Reasons to be encouraged? Do you believe his struggles are primarily the result of a poor Wannstedtian scheme, underachieving performances on the part of his teammates on the defensive line, or a failure on his part individually?
BG: Williams' play has been slightly disappointing; we're waiting to see how much it improves now that he's purportedly feeling better following bye week wrist surgery. The thing about a $100 million contract is that it exacerbates the level of disappointment one feels. Therefore, many fans view him as a monumental bust at this point in time - and Williams hasn't helped himself with some media commentary that's been very easy to interpret as excuse-making and blame deflection. I'm not too concerned about him long-term, but it'd be nice if he got himself into gear over the next nine games. The biggest disappointment, by far, is that he hasn't been enough of a factor for the rest of the defensive line to elevate its play.
3. Imagine that Gary Kubiak has just hired you. Kubes says, "Brian, I know that you know the Bills as well as anybody. Tell me the three (3) areas/things the Texans need to attack or do on Sunday to win this football game." You're a professional, and you insist on doing right by your new employer, if for no other reason than a crippling fear that a certain SB Nation site devoted to the Texans will rat you out if you don't. You put your allegiance to the Bills aside and answer your new employer honestly. What do you say?
BG: Run the ball, convert third downs, and drop guys into coverage as often as possible defensively. That's been the formula for quite a while, and if executed effectively, it has led to some huge blowouts at Buffalo's expense. The Bills are on pace to have the third-worst run defense in the history of the NFL, which plays into Houston's running game strength quite nicely. It's always good to keep an opposing offense off the field, but it's especially effective against Buffalo because they're not a big-play offense and they've got a mistake-prone quarterback who presses when stressed. And, speaking on that last point: pressure on Ryan Fitzpatrick is great, but if you make him sit in the pocket and wait, he'll start spraying footballs all over the field, leading to turnovers. Get that done, and you'll be all set.
4. Same scenario, except you decide that your love of the Bills conquers all and that you're going to submarine Kubes & Co. In other words, you're going to tell him three (3) areas/things the Texans need to attack or do, knowing full well that it'll be playing right into the Bills' preeminent strengths. How do you answer now?
BG: Decide that this is the week to attack a weak Buffalo secondary. Mario Williams will be a total non-factor against his former team if you throw the football all day, Kyle Williams isn't one of the most tenacious pass-rushing defensive tackles in the league, and Jairus Byrd isn't one of the best safeties in the game at all. Don't get exotic with your defensive looks; blitz conservatively, as it's not at all important to deceive Fitzpatrick - one of the poorest pre-snap diagnosticians in the league - before the play begins. Oh, and go ahead and punt low line drives straight to Leodis McKelvin. He's a terrible return man.
5. PUT YOUR NAME ON IT: The final score of Sunday's game will be Buffalo ____, Houston _____. At the end of the regular season, the Bills' record will be ___-___, which will eventually lead to Buffalo playing in ____ postseason games.
BG: The final score of Sunday's game will be Buffalo 20, Houston 41. At the end of the regular season, the Bills' record will be 7-9, which will eventually lead to Buffalo playing in 0 postseason games.
Thanks to Brian for taking the time to do this. Make sure you head over to Buffalo Rumblings to see what he and the rest of the Bills fan base are saying about Sunday's game.