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Texans-Bills Preview: SIX Things to Watch For

How good is our God?

NFL: JAN 04 AFC Wild Card - Bills at Texans Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

MINNESOTA (2018)

The Bills were 0-2 entering week three, on the road, taking on the supposed Super Bowl contending Minnesota Vikings, with their new $90 million guaranteed quarterback Kirk Cousins. Against a Nickle defense, sniffing the endzone, Anthony Barr slipped. Beads of black spittle erupted from the turf. That was all rookie quarterback Josh Allen needed. Mind closed. No thinking. Only instincts. He scampered out of the pocket. It was the type of foot race quarterbacks don’t win. Barr chasing, chasing, chasing, both focused entirely on the pylon. Allen leaped, decapitating the orange buoy, and turned an indoor stadium filled with natural light into a slip and slide.

Quarterbacks don’t outrun Barr, quarterbacks don’t make this sort of play. This run was a shot through my brain, and it was merely an appetizer. Later in the game, Allen pulled off something so completely ludicrous, that it had to be a dream. I didn’t think it would still be there. Something conjured up, existing in imagination only. A fun quarterback run mythologized in syrupy fantasy. My own creation myth. Brain melting, neurons collapsing, and eventually cooling, leaving pink residue stinking and sticking to the untouched parts of my skull. A complete rewiring of everything I knew. The tomb was still there. It’s all still true. On October 23rd, 2018, Josh Allen leapfrogged Anthony Barr.

I don’t watch college football. Time is our only finite resource. I can’t spend a Saturday wading through clock stoppages, gaudy traditions, never ending horn sections, to see people at places I didn’t attend relive some semblance of sour binge drinking days that will never comeback again, and probably weren’t even that good to begin with. When the NFL Draft comes around, I don’t know what their SPARQ score is, what they majored in, or how big their hands are.

Yet, from February to April, I hear and see and read about the men who graduate from Saturdays to Sundays. I’m told what to believe. Stuck with preconceived notions for months until week one decimates everyone’s vapid thoughts.

Back in 2018, I was told Josh Allen isn’t a quarterback, he should move to tight end, has miserable accuracy, and has the biggest bust potential of any potential first round quarterback.

If you have sometime, scroll through the replies.

NFL fans care about being right. Fantasy football, Twitter clips, comment sections, are all avenues to prove that you know the game. The typical go to quip to virtually antagonize someone is, ‘You don’t know football’, or some form of it. Most have lost how to love and enjoy, their hearts have spoiled, and instead only care about correctly guessing something so they can celebrate in their empty apartment.

Instead of worrying about if a player, or a team, is good or not, you should enjoy what the game provides to you in all its forms. Who wins and loses is boring. It’s definite. It has an endpoint. What makes the heart soar is what matters. There’s no limit to what you can feel.

The book of Allen is about exactly this. In his rookie year, all everyone discussed was his 52% completion percentage, or how long he held onto the ball, or his interception rate. He leapt over fucking Anthony Barr, and all anyone cared about was his DVOA, his yards per attempt, his Pro Fartball Focus rating, silly squiggles that turn the heart into a hunched back, and feelings into hollow keys that don’t talk back.

This didn’t end the following season. Despite improving as a passer and as a runner, and having another year of incubation in an organization that dedicated an entire coaching staff toward turning Allen’s vulgar athleticism into artful quarterback making, the same remarks were made. Imagine how good the Bills would be if they had a quarterback? You can’t take a sack in that situation. Look at this throw he missed. Buffalo would be a Super Bowl team if someone else was their quarterback.

Then, last year, the Bills pulled off another step in the alchemical process—they finally turned the cantaloupe into a gold bar. The heretics still couldn’t see it even after it happened. Who cares? It’s the Jets. It’s the Dolphins. The tune changed after a 35-32 win against the Rams. Allen had done it. The legs, the arm, the ability to do things no one has ever done before, was wrangled into an electric quarterback machine. Playing in a perfectly designed Brian Daboll offense, with Stefon Diggs, Gabriel Davis, and Cole Beasley around him, despite having only a mediocre defense, and no run game aside from what he accomplished himself, Allen had made the impossible transition, from fun and ridiculous, into surgical and outrageous.

Allen’s ability to find his fifth read breaking across the middle with his peripheral vision and a quick snap that hits his receiver in stride, stiff arm defensive linemen in the pocket and then deliver back footed accurate shots into the alcoves, break the sound barrier, drop deep shots into the bucket, and whiz balls on the run past the back of defenders’ heads, from angles, and arm positions, that no one has ever dreamed up, let alone put into action in the confines of reality, exist beyond the terrible constrains of our bodies, the unrelenting banal circular cycle of consciousness, and the meaningless negative biases that ensure we live a limited life.

There’s no such thing as a sinner. There are only those who have yet to atone. Learn how to live in grace. Let him into your heart. There is only one true God. Life is too short to ignore him any longer.

HIT IT

1. IMAGINE JOSH ALLEN IN A DAVID CULLEY OFFENSE

Two weeks into the season, and the expected narrative had already reverberated throughout the NFL, Has Josh Allen regressed? Even after a MVP caliber season, and morphing into a franchise quarterback, those with forked tongues will never rest. This lasted for all of two weeks. After T.J. Watt decimated Darryl Williams, raining hell from the right side, and an early lead let Buffalo put the top down in Miami, things were finally put back into place. Against the Football Team, Allen completed 32 of his 43 passes for 358 yards, and had 5 total touchdowns.

It was a vintage 2020 performance. Daboll’s route concepts consistently chewed holes into the fabric of Washington’s zone coverage. Washington was in cover three with the safety acting as the flat defender. Allen stared the flat, yanking the safety, and zipped the curl.

Against cover four, and a presnap two high shell, both Emmanuel Sanders and Cole Beasley ran digs above the first level of the zone coverage. Allen opted for the shallower one for an easy completion right after evading a Chase Young rip around the edge.

In the redzone, against cover two, Allen fakes the hand off. It yanks the linebackers down. Rapid and immediate, he hits the seam to Dawson Knox.

Washington didn’t want to play man. They were worried about Allen consistently taking off and beating them with feet instead of wings. So they sat in their zone coverages and were immolated time and time again.

Even in man coverage, Washington couldn’t hang. Their cornerbacks aside from William Jackson III struggled with the Bills secondary options. Sanders, Beasley, and Knox combined for 241 receiving yards. Whenever Washington switched to cover one, Allen found his matchups right where he wanted them.

The single high safety is shaded toward Stefon Diggs. With twin wide receivers left, and from the shotgun, Allen has Sanders on a vertical route from the slot against Kendall Fuller. His feet are stuck and in place. Sanders breezes past him, proving the value of a third wide receiver who can scorch fourth and fifth cornerbacks, and Allen hits him on the move, easy, and in front of the safety.

Against cover one robber, Allen has Dalton Knox (#88) spread out wide against Cole Holcomb (#55), who has had problems in coverage this year. Out there, Holcomb may have safety help. Allen doesn’t permit this. Immediately after checking left, he touches a pass down the sideline, on Knox’s back shoulder, where he sticks it in with both feet. No safety can run over to defend that.

Outside of the structure of the offense, Allen created on his own. Daboll provides the canvas and the paints for Allen. The offense is sometimes only a jumping off point. A loose set of guidelines. Against cover two, Allen checks the flat, and everything is covered. He leaves the pocket, and once he sees Landon Collins’s head turned around, he puts one on the run, to the edge of the endzone, for an absurd score.

Washington struggled to create a pass rush. Even when it was there it didn’t really matter. They sacked Allen zero times, and hit him six times. You have to do better than that. Brazen and metallic, brutal clangs of pad and bone don’t redirect passes. Allen consistently bounded away, in control, away from erratic bodies, reset his feet, and directed the ball exactly where it needed to be.

As wonderful as all this is, my personal favorite Allen throw, is always the drag that suddenly comes into the picture. His feet moves in unison with his brain. His cleats show his mind ticking through his progressions. He sees the drag, knows its uncovered, checks for something deeper, suddenly, after only glancing, he rips it across his body and meets his receiver at an exact place in space and time.

If you are reading this you are probably a Texans fan. This Sunday is probably going to be brutal, it’s probably going to be terrible. You won’t be wear your Battle Red tie with pride with your camera on, pants off, during your Zoom meeting. That doesn’t mean this game will be inconsolable. Enjoy and savor Josh Allen. Let the light come in. Just because your Texans won’t be able to contain him, doesn’t mean you should write off the beauty of his creation.

2. LET EM’ HANG

Since losing Tyrod Taylor, the Texans have scored 19 points in 6 quarters with Davis Mills at the helm. Head coach David Culley said they are going to open the offense up, whatever that means, after running a please don’t die on primetime offense last week.

Houston’s offense was a pair of flashing hazard lights, it was designed to prevent a Thursday Night embarrassment. Houston started the game running the ball against Carolina’s cover three defense with eight defenders playing the run. They toned down the outside zone, and ran more inside zone, and it still didn’t work. They couldn’t drive the first level against the enormous Carolina front.

Tytus Howard (#71) doesn’t move DaQuan Jones (#90), preventing Mark Ingram (#2) from getting past the first level, even though the rest of the play was blocked well.

Laremy Tunsil (#78) and Howard don’t move Derrick Brown (#95), and Max Scharping (#74) doesn’t pop off his block to pick up Jeremy Chinn (#31).

Houston went from being unable to reach defenders in the outside zone game and not block the second level, to not moving the first level or blocking the second level. This, plus, the occasional times when they had plays blocked well, but their running backs didn’t make anyone miss, created an Uroboros made from turd. Is it the blocking? Is it the running backs? It’s both.

The Texans ran themselves into third down holes. Rather than spread the offense out and try to go for it, Houston ran screen passes to nowhere.

Once Houston fell behind they attempted to play professional football. Mills’s arm looked noticeably better in the closed confines of NRG stadium. Fuzzy and floppy was crispy at home. He read the field high to low, and was able to find holes in the zone coverage well enough.

Mills ran into problems against man coverage when he wasn’t throwing to Brandin Cooks, and against pass pressure. The Panthers nearly always play cover one whenever they blitz. Against this defensive phenotype, Mills overreacted to the pressure, lost his footwork, and missed open throws.

Carolina brings five. The clock is ticking before the snap. Rather than throw the open drag on first and ten, taking the easy yards, he hurries, and throws a no chance attempt to Anthony Miller, who is locked down by Jaycee Horn.

Rather than step up in the pocket, Mills runs up the pocket, placing him within Shaq Thomas’s wrath. There was some exterior pressure, but it wasn’t worthy of this reaction.

You have to admire Mills’s ability to stand in the pocket, rather than rush to escape whenever pressure first shows its face. Some of this is because he’s really slow, some of it is stupid, and some of it is what every quarterback has to do to have success in this league. Until he understands where the easy throw is, and gets in control of his feet, pressure is going to get to him, even when it really shouldn’t. Here are his snaps against Carolina’s blitz packages last week.

Mills was better, but the same problems still troubled him. A lack of accuracy, mobility, and awareness. He showed something on two drives though, proving that there is more here than runs to nowhere, and screen passes. The Texans have to balance the fine line between protecting Mills, and giving him an actual offense to run that could make a game competitive. Mills has to prove something to prevent Houston from taking a quarterback early in the 2022 NFL Draft. Hopefully, the Texans will allow him to make his case. If it’s this week, or twelve weeks from now, David Culley’s offense needs to open it up eventually.

3. THE ONLY COOK IN THE KITCHEN

It’s ironic, isn’t it? After those protectors of Bill O’Brien, those dunce hat sycophants, gave us the well actually trading DeAndre Hopkins is a good thing because it will help Deshaun Watson’s progression since he won’t rely solely on one player and will be forced to read the entire field which will then open the offense up the Houston Texans are back to relying on one person to carry their passing offense. Instead of it being a top five receiver who could carry Brandon Weeden and Ryan Mallett, it’s the diminutive 5’10” Cooks. He’s accounted for 35.5%, 39%, and 46% of Houston’s targets, catches, and receiving yards. He’s the entirety of the Texans passing offense.

I was too hard on Cooks. He’s more than just a 1b. wide receiver, he’s a number one caliber wide receiver. He’s a great route runner, with rapid feet, who shuttles and zips along the sideline. Quick stops and turns back to the quarterback. Long meandering bike rides that read the zone coverage and take him to open spaces. Instant slants and outs that move the chains.

Mills’s head looks only his direction. Without Taylor in the offense, Cooks has been the only source of easy offense for Mills. The deep part of his game is missing though. The break it down and then turn it up, the out and ups, the pure verticals, those are gone. He’s here to create easy throws.

The Bills don’t need to worry about Houston’s rushing attack, or Chris Conley, or Jordan Akins. Cooks is the only source of contention for them. They can place Tre’Davious White on him and neutralize that matchup, and have either one of their safeties play the robber and drive down on his inward breaking passes. The Texans are a single dimension. If you stop Cooks you stop the Texans.

4. A DRIBBLE OF YOUTH

One of the frustrating things about the current Texans, is the lack of young talent that is still seeing the field. Maliek Collins, and Jaleel Johnson are still playing over Ross Blacklock. Jonathan Greenard received 55% of the defensive snaps, but he’s still seeing his playing time eaten up by Demarcus Walker, and Whitney Mercilus.

Houston needs to get these two on the field more. Blacklock (#90) has been the team’s best interior rusher this season. He’s gotten close a few times, and finally found his way to the quarterback last week. He springs across gaps in the passing game, and the leverage he showed at TCU to defend the run, and drive blockers into the quarterback, is here once again.

Greenard (#52) played a lot of six technique, head up on the tight end, to defend Carolina’s outside zone game. It worked. He consistently drove the tight end backwards, removing the bounce, and boxed in the running back towards his teammates.

He also showed off some nifty hand usage to get around two blockers and slap the ball out of Sam Darnold’s hands.

The Texans need more from their front four pass rush. Aside from the occasional splash play, Jacob Martin, Charles Omenihu, Collins, and Whitney Mericlus, have been nonexistent. This defense doesn’t work without getting a rush from their front. Houston’s first half stops were the results of the pressure they created. When the pressure isn’t there, their cover two defense is getting split apart.

Blacklock, along with Zach Cunningham are out this week on the COVID-19 list. Houston will be without their best interior rusher, and their supposed best linebacker. It’s a shame since Blacklock has played well, and the interior of the Bills offensive line has been leaky. It’s now up to Greenard to provide some sort of allure of potential youth in this one.

5. THE BOYS ARE BACK

The Bills weren’t a complete team last season. They were carried by Josh Allen and their top passing attack. He was the entirety of their run game, Zach Moss was hurt and fumbled, and Devin Singletary lost his wiggle. They started a wide range of offensive line combinations. The defense fell from 7th in defensive DVOA to 12th, and this year, it’s back up to 2nd. Buffalo has allowed 44 points (4th), 4.9 net yards an attempt (3rd), 3.4 yards a carry (5th), only 42 first downs (2nd), and has forced 6 turnovers (4th). The Bills defense is back.

Buffalo plays a lot of man coverage, and they are one of the rare teams in the NFL who can pull it off. Aside from Levi Wallace getting eaten up at times on the outside, it’s difficult to find matchups to take advantage of. Whenever they play cover one, quarterbacks watch passes get battered to the ground, and nothing open whatsoever.

Buffalo is blitzing at a fairly high rate. They are bringing extra defenders 26.3% of the time, which is the 11th highest mark. Like Carolina, they usually blitz from cover one, and like Carolina, they have the ability to play man coverage to ensure they aren’t punished for their bite. Matt Milano blitzes to create pressure on the interior. Nothing is open. Gregory Rousseau goes from dropping back to picking up the sack.

They especially love to blitz their overhang defenders, something they discovered in their playoff win against Baltimore last year. Taron Johnson is their typical slot defender, and he’s great at screaming unblocked off the edge.

Even White has been used as a blitzer too. On run downs, cornerbacks will come from the backside of the formation to chase down the running back unblocked.

They’ve needed to blitz. Their front four rush has been better than last season, but it still hasn’t played up to its potential, aside from making Austin Jackson want to retire. It feels like AJ Epensa is the missing link here. Personally, I didn’t love him during draft time. I didn’t think he had the speed to turn the corner in the pro game to open up his inside moves, and feasted on this country’s future financial planners. He has a wide variety of pass rush moves though, and when teams have a weak spot at the tackle position, he can win in every way possible—even dipping under a tackle’s punch entirely.

When they play zone coverage, they pass off routes perfectly. Rarely do they blow a coverage and leave someone flat footed, wide open, and all on their own. Safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer make this thing run. Both are incredible at driving down on routes to play the ball. Quarterbacks can’t make blind heaves when they are under pressure. A waving arm is usually covered.

The Bills used to be a quarterback away. Now they have their quarterback. Last year the lack of run game, and defensive drop off, put the burden entirely on Allen. This season, it’s all come together. The run game has broken big plays off power run plays that counter the outside zone, Josh Allen is Josh Allen again, and the defense is back to being fearsome, terrible and brutal. Buffalo is the most complete team in the AFC, and this is good.

For this week’s game, the Bills play an awful matchup for Mills. They can blitz, they can play man coverage, they never make anything comfortable, they have the speed to clamp down on scrambles and yard after the catch attempts, and they have the big bellies on the defensive line to limit the run game. At this moment, 17 offensive points sounds like an impossibility.

6. AND IT WAS GOOD

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.