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Texans-Bills Preview: SIX Things To Watch For

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Matt Weston gives you SIX things to watch for when the Texans play the Bills.

Buffalo Bills v Houston Texans Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

In every single mother two bedroom apartment I grew up in I had a fire engine red bunk bed for my brother and I, and sports posters stuck with Wintergreen putty the color of DWIs onto the walls. Brett Farve threw a football in a flaming ‘G’, Wayne Gretsky grew to the size of Godzilla and terrorized a New York City night, Tim Duncan and David Robinson advertised as twin towers, Troy Aikman was doing something up there as well, and I had a poster with basketball net and every NBA logo etched on it. Some of them confused the sponge that I was. The Pistons had a flaming chess board knight. The big orange Knicks basketball scared me. Some boys in Australia grow up staring at jockey outfits and racehorse emblems. I looked at sports logos.

As strange as the NBA was, the NHL was even more preposterous. My uncle gave me a computer and NHL 97 and NHL 98. I thought the Red Wings logo was a snail, it’s not, it’s a wheel with a wing. The Canucks red and yellow and black thing was an arcade machine. I still have no idea what a Nordique could be. And Buffalo had the Sabres, but their logo was both a sword and buffaloes. Which one was it? Was the city or the team Buffalo? And the Bills? Is a bill a Buffalo? I thought Buffalo Bill killed the indians.

This question carried on when NHL 2002 came out. I became infatuated by Dominick Hasek. Who’s the man behind the mask? The man with a slinky for a spine. For a hockey obsessed fat kid rolling around all over the ice and making diving saves seemed like the greatest life. Red and black and silver and an angry Buffalo. It still didn’t make total sense. But me and Chris Gratton and Michael Peca and Miroslov Satan one-timed our way through it all.

I watched Doug Flutie play a game for the Calgary Stampede in San Antonio when the Alamodome hosted a Canadian Football named the Gunslingers. They lasted for a season I think. He eventually played for the Bills. I watched the Music City Miracle at a cafe with my Grandfather. London Fletcher, Takeo Spikes, Nate Clements, and Lawyer Milloy were my favorite hit stick flicking Madden 2005 defense. I’m still in love with the Kyle Williams, Jerry Hughes, Mario Williams, and Marcel Dareus defensive line. J.J. Watt had like twelve quarterback hits and a pick six in 2014. Houston blew it in 2015. Cecil Shorts III was the leading receiver. Why Your Team Sucks made me want to witness the debauchery at the Ralph in person, but sadly, the desire to barter a color rush Sammy Watkins jersey and slam someone through a beer pong slopped table has probably passed me by, and now, even though I could grow my armpit hair out and visit upstate New York, I like the idea of spending my entire life without ever impaling myself into that place.

For a city so far away, and inconsequential, it’s amazing how often it’s passed around my stupid little life. Other far away places like Miami, Vancouver, or Atlanta are far away and have meant nothing to me, and Buffalo should be the same way. But Buffalo has always been there rolling around. This Sunday it will be back once again in the forefront with the Buffalo stampeding as a decal, stuck, yet still in motion, and I’ll still be wondering why in the world they’re called the Bills.

HIT IT

1.) Josh Allen Is Something, And That Something Isn’t A Quarterback

There’s a difference between the best, the greatest, and your favorite. The best is who is the best right now. The greatest takes in account history and all that time. And your favorite is what you enjoy to watch or listen to or see. So Patrick Mahomes is the best quarterback in football. Tom Brady is the greatest. And my favorite quarterbacks are Case Keenum, which is a welcome that’s about worn out after the side scrambling inaccurate turnover heaving time he’s had in Denver so far, Phillip Rivers, a hollering red faced maniac who throws soft little side arm passes that are always completed after perfectly climbing the pocket, and Josh Allen.

See Allen isn’t a quarterback. He’s a baby deer. Long legged and sprinting in fear at the first site of anything. Jolting without looking. Leaping over fences.

Running into objects. Getting his head caught into things. There has never been a quarterback this bad who’s this much fun to watch.

Allen is a quarterback by the position he plays only. He lines up behind the center. He receives the snap and distributes it to the running back. He throws the football. But Allen isn’t a quarterback. See, to be a quarterback, you have to actually complete passes. Allen doesn’t do this. Allen has completed 53.35% of his passes. The average completion percentage in this post-modern NFL where nothing means anything and the offense faces zero repercussions for their actions is 63.0%.

Allen throws incompletions from under center, from the shotgun, off of play action, and while on the run. He throws the ball very hard and very far, but it goes to no one. What happens when a tree falls in the forest? The only thing he does well is run a bootleg where it looks like he’s going to throw the ball, but he’s not a quarterback, so he doesn’t, so he instead outruns everyone to score. Quarterbacks don’t freeze linebackers with a good pursuit angle. Allen isn’t a quarterback.

There’s a beauty to watching him play though. It isn’t sad and disparaging. It’s like watching some test tube super human defrost and try to learn the rigors of humanity. He’s 6’5” 237 pounds, runs 40 yards in 4.7 seconds, but is still struggling to learn the alphabet and only knows the word mama. I imagine Sean McDermott as the Shredder screaming, “BABY. HE’S A BABY!”

Over the course of an entire game Allen spends play by play putting together some beautiful stat lines. Box scores I’ve never seen before. They say no hand turkey or folded white paper cut into a snow flake is ever exactly alike. Neither are Allen’s stat lines. Relish the absurd. He won a game by completing less than a hundred yards. Someone finally beat out Mitchell Trubisky’s four completion game.

When these five games are measured in combination it spits out 748 passing yards, 2 passing touchdowns to 5 interceptions, 4.23 net yards an attempt, 19 sacks, -449 DYAR, -63.5%, and 135 rushing yards and 3 rushing touchdowns. The Bills have a pass offense DVOA of -72.9%, (32nd), are averaging 3.7 net yards an attempt (32nd), and have scored 63 points (32nd). It’s obvious Allen shouldn’t be playing. The Bills went into the season with Allen, Nathan Peterman, and AJ McCarron, until they traded McCarron to the Raiders for a fifth round pick. Peterman completed 32.6% of his passes in week one, was benched, and subsequently Allen is playing professional quarterback before he should be. The best part is that he’s even better than Peterman is. What a beautiful world.

Regardless, I hope Allen succeeds. I’ve never watched a quarterback this absurd before. He has all the talent in the world. He just needs to learn how to actually play quarterback. Usually this teaching takes place on the bench and in practice, but instead, in Buffalo, it takes place on the field itself. Hopefully he can learn this before he’s smashed eating grass in the center of the road and strewn across the asphalt with his guts fluttering around like an octopus. Because dammit, I really do love watching him play.

2.) Houston’s Offense v. Buffalo’s Defense Matchups

Although the Bills have the worst offense in football, their defense is pretty good again, and is better than last year. In 2017 the Bills had a fine pass defense, but couldn’t stop the run. So they brought in Star Lotulelei, and drafted linebacker Tremaine Edwards and Harrison Phillips. This season the Bills are 17th in points allowed, and are 7th in pass defense DVOA and 14th in run defense DVOA. Sure, they may have the worst offense in football, but the defense has players on it.

As a defense, it’s similar to what Carolina does. They play with two linebackers all the time. Their cornerbacks play on a sideline, not a man. The difference is they blitz. It’s not just front four pressure. The Bills actually bring defensive back blitzes and let their linebackers take some chances to bring the quarterback down.

In this game, against a good offemse, there are a lot of fun individual matchups to watch for. Jerry Hughes has 15.5 pressures, 6 quarterback hits, and 3 sacks. He’s an electric vehicle off the edge, and is a dynamic inside looper on stunts. You’d think he’d have lost some of his speed now that he’s in his 30 years, but like The Menzingers, he still has it. Both Juli’en Davenport who looks back at home at left tackle, and Kendall Lamm who’s been whatever, which is so much better than before, are going to have a rough time here. Shaq Lawson has done nothing this year. You gotta do something. And Trent Murphy is an enormous man who’s played better in Buffalo this year than he had his entire career in Washington. He has 8 pressures, 5 quarterback hits, and 2.5 sacks. He’s no longer just a guy. Whoever isn’t blocking Hughes can’t fail.

Kyle Williams is 35 years old and has played his entire career here. He’s like a school janitor that spends 40 years at the same elementary school and dies holding a mop instead of retiring. Lotulelei is fine against the run, but hasn’t provided much as a pass rusher. The interior of Senio Kelemete, Doug Martin, and Zach Fulton, will have some pianos to move with only their fingers.

Tre’Davious White, in his second year, is already one of the best defensive backs in football. He has a success rate of 73% (4th), is allowing 1.2 yards after the catch (11th), and just 4.1 yards per pass (3rd). He won’t be following DeAndre Hopkins all over the field. Instead, he’ll stick to his sideline and deal with whatever is placed in front of him. Buffalo is also 7th in DVOA against wide receiver #1 and 4th in DVOA against wide receiver #2. Whether White is covering Hopkins or Will Fuller V, it doesn’t matter, it’s a must DVD.

3.) LeSean McCoy Is Back Again

The Bills don’t have a passing offense. They have a rushing offense because they hand the ball off a lot. They have 141 rushing attempts, which ranks 11th in the league. The run game isn’t fun like it was last year and in previous years. It was fun back when Eric Wood and his mad scientist hair seeped that out of his helmet was blocking down on defensive tackles so that big bully Richie Icognito could pull around the line of scrimmage and kick out defensive tackles and ends like jams, and knock the teeth out of the linebacker’s skull. With him leading the way LeSean McCoy jittered and juked and was a fist clenched crayon doodle curling all over the field. Tyrod Taylor was always a run option too. Creating number advantages and creative run plays to attack defenses.

That was last year and the year before that and the year before that. This year the offensive line is different. The quarterback is different. The only remaining piece is McCoy.

Now McCoy hasn’t been great. But he’s all that Buffalo has. With him off the field Chris Ivory has picked up 124 yards on 45 carries, 2.8 yards an attempt and a long of 9. McCoy has picked up 170 yards on 45 carries, 3.8 yards an attempt, and a long of 27. It’s not great, but it’s a full yard better.

As you can see, McCoy actually has speed and can still break tackles. This season McCoy has broken 13 tackles, and has a broken tackle rate of 23.6%. He can skip past linebackers, or penetrating defensive linemen, and get into the second level and open field.

Without him around the run game is a lot of running into the first tackle. This year Buffalo is last in second level adjusted line yards and 29th in open field adjusted line yards. As long as McCoy is on the field, this should improve.

The problem for Buffalo is they’re going up against the second best run defense in football. Houston strangles run games, leaving them limp and their neck purple. J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, Benardrick McKinney, Zach Cunningham, Whitney Mercilus, and D.J. Reader held Ezekiel Elliot, one of the elite running backs, to 54 yards on 20 carries. McCoy is great, but he’s not Elliot, and despite Dallas’s offensive line having a down year, Buffalo’s isn’t even close to Dallas’s.

So expect a lot of runs for three yards. A lot of punts. A lot of Allen incompletions and deep heaves that reach the end of the universe and then circle back around to end up where it was. And expect a lot of sacks. Allen has been sacked 19 times despite being pressured on just 29.2% of his dropbacks, and the Bills don’t have one offensive lineman who can handle either Clowney or Watt. As long as Houston doesn’t turn the ball over like Minnesota, or allow Allen to run forever, the Bills should struggle to score ten points.

4.) Redzone Woes

Bitching about Houston’s offense is still heard, it’s just different. Instead of complaining about the lack of using Deshaun Watson as a runner, jet sweeps, play action passes, route combinations, and rollouts, we are now complaining about the redzone offense. Bill O’Brien has started using and stuck by the super cool offense. Houston is moving the ball well. They are getting into the redzone. They just aren’t scoring touchdowns.

Houston has kicked 8 field goals and scored 8 touchdowns in the redzone. They have also turned the ball over twice on downs. Their touchdown rate of 36.36% is 31st in football. They can’t run or pass in the redzone either. Houston’s pass offense DVOA in the redzone is 27th. Deshaun Watson is completing 37.1% of his passes in this constricted part of the field. The NFL average is 56.6%. He’s thrown 6 touchdowns and 0 interceptions, but he’s been sacked 6 times, ending touchdown chances entirely. Sure, Ryan Griffin dropping two touchdowns last week doesn’t help, but Watson needs to be better.

The run offense is 29th in DVOA. Alfred Blue has 6 yards on 6 carries. Lamar Miller has 20 yards on 12 carries. Watson has 57 yards on 11 carries, but just 1 touchdown. The offensive line has to create vertical movement in the redzone, you can’t just get by, and they haven’t been able to. It also doesn’t help that both their running backs can’t run through tackles either.

The good news is redzone numbers are one of those high variance stats. Things this bad don’t tend to stay this bad forever, and if they do, they usually sort themselves out the following year. A good offense that has 16 redzone drives, tied 7th in the league, should also be good in the redzone. Houston hasn’t, but it should get better.

But wait, there’s more good news. The Bills have an atrocious redzone defense. The same things in the previous paragraph can be said about them. Buffalo is last in redzone DVOA, 30th against the pass and 28th against the run. They are 29th in goal to go DVOA. And they’re giving up a touchdown on 80% of all redzone trips.

If there was a game to get the redzone groove back this would be it for Houston.

5.) Already Looking Ahead

I know. I know. it’s best to live in the present. The future doesn’t exist. The past is dead. To have expectations is to set oneself up for misery. The Titans and Vikings both weren’t expecting what happened to them against Buffalo to happen. Yet, I don’t think this game is going to be close. It should be like 23-6 or 27-10 Houston. Their run defense is too good, their offense is playing like how it should, and the redzone offense should score some touchdowns in this game. It will be a blast to see Watt pad his Defensive Player of the Year case, and witness Allen running around, but the end result already looks determined. As long as Watson doesn’t turn the ball over they should be fine. Marcus Mariota should be put in jail.

I’m already looking ahead to next year. I’m ready to lose these 15 pounds and move out of my mother’s house and become the person I want to be. 2019 is my year. I’m already looking ahead to next week. At 2-3, the Texans have caught Precious and crawled out Buffalo Bill’s well, and have slipped and fallen, but made their way out of the pit like Chance. From 0-3 to 2-3, and probably 3-3, has turned a meaningless and lost season into a possible meaningful one.

After staring 0-3, I’m glad Houston will play a meaningful game that will make me feel things. This week isn’t it. Next week against the Jags is. I’m ecstatic for Jalen Ramsey-DeAndre Hopkins, Watt and Clowney against a battered tackle situation, the possible return of Leonard Fournette, A.J. Bouye proving once again that the Texans should have franchised him, and Blake Bortles throwing crossing routes. That isn’t this week. That’s next week. I’m living in the present while dreaming of the future.

6.) The Horses, All Of The, Are So Pretty

Because the question for me was always whether that shape we see in our lives was there from the beginning or where these random events are only called a pattern after the fact. Because otherwise we are nothing.

Enjoy the game everyone.