It's seemed like an eternity since the Buffalo Bills were last on the field. Following the way they lost to the Tennessee Titans, however, it may be a blessing in disguise to have that much time to get back to basics and focus on an incredible challenge.
The Bills take on the top team in the AFC on Sunday, hitting the road to take on the Houston Texans.
It's important for Buffalo's playoff hopes to steal one of the next two games on the road, but do the 3-4 Bills have what it takes to pull the upset on the 6-1 Texans?
Let's take a look at 5 things to watch for, shall we?
1) Figuring Out Foster
- While the yards per carry hasn't been outrageous, Texans running back Arian Foster is amongst a short list for most talented running backs in the league. Foster gets the ball early and often, averaging 24 carries per contest, while accruing 659 yards and nine touchdowns on the season. Foster understands Gary Kubiak's zone blocking scheme quite well, and executes stretch plays and cutback runs with ease. It's not just Foster, the Texans boast an impressive array of offensive linemen, led by center Chris Myers. The Bills defensive line has to play at a much higher level, stay within their assignments and allow the linebackers to make some plays on Foster. If they don't, it could be a very long afternoon for the Buffalo defense once again.
- The biggest storyline during the Bills' bye week undoubtedly surrounded the status of Mario Williams' wrist. It's an injury he has made mention of to reporters, and at times offered it up unsolicitedly. While the extent of the injury was unknown, it seemed to be having an effect on Williams from a mental standpoint. Now with a surgical procedure behind him, Williams says it already feels loads better and is hoping to put it behind him. The Texans do have a solid offensive line, but right tackle Derek Newton has shown the tendency to get beat from time to time. The peace of mind with his wrist, combined with Williams returning to Houston for the first time since leaving as a free agent, could very well breed a more motivated Mario Williams than we've seen to this point in the season. He'll continue to wear a protective cast over his wrist. His overall effectiveness post-surgery will be watched closely.
3) O-Line: Reunited
- For the first time since the New England game, the Buffalo Bills will have two incredibly important pieces back on their offensive line. Rookie left tackle Cordy Glenn and right guard Kraig Urbik are both likely returning to the starting lineup, and not a moment too soon. Both players were dealt ankle injuries against the Patriots, and now return to the lineup when the Bills need them the most. While Chris Hairston hasn't been terrible playing at left tackle, Glenn provides an immediate upgrade. The Bills also suffered two separate season-ending injuries to reserve right guards (Chad Rinehart and Colin Brown), so Urbik will be back just in time. Those players returning give the Bills the flexibility to have Chris Hairston available for right tackle duties, which may very well be the case Sunday. The incumbent right tackle, Erik Pears, has struggled mightily throughout the season and was revealed to have been dealing with a hip injury in the first seven games. Pears is listed as doubtful for the week, which very well may be an upgrade at the position. In his limited time at right tackle, Hairston has been the more impressive player. The Bills have the potential to have their strongest offensive line at any point in the season on Sunday against the Texans.
4) The Swatting Watt
- How exactly do you deal with a 6-foot-5, 295-pound monster that is gifted athletically in every way you can imagine? That's what the NFL is trying to figure out with defensive player of the year candidate J.J. Watt. As a 3-4 defensive end, Watt has a ridiculous amount of production considering the responsibilities that his position dictates. On the season, he has 34 tackles and 9.5 sacks and a whopping 10 passes batted at the line of scrimmage. Watt forces turnovers with tipped throws, and creates anarchy in the backfield as well. Regardless of how talented the offensive lineman is in front of him, the second-year player has been borderline unblockable at times. The Bills have their hands full all over the line, because he lines up a little bit of everywhere.
5) Irresistible Force vs. Immovable Object: Fred & C.J. vs Texans D
- The Buffalo Bills pride themselves on offense with their ability to run the football. Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller have keyed the Bills to a lot of success in the ground game, and offer differing styles that throw opposing defenses for a loop when they have to prepare for the contrasting styles. However, the Bills will be going up against a Texans defense that has yet to surrender a rushing touchdown this season. When the two meet, something has to give. And if it's the Bills that give more leeway in the proverbial tug-of-war, then they'll have a very hard time establishing themselves on offense against a dominant defense.
Injuries Buffalo: OUT: OT Erik Pears (hip), DE Mark Anderson (knee) DOUBTFUL: CB Terrence McGee (knee) QUESTIONABLE: OT Cordy Glenn (ankle), DT Kyle Williams (ankle) PROBABLE: CB Justin Rogers (thigh), HB C.J. Spiller (shoulder), LB Chris White (back), DT Marcell Dareus (shoulder), DE Mario Williams (wrist), OT Chris Hairston (knee), G Andy Levitre (knee), WR Donald Jones (back), DT Spencer Johnson (ankle), DE Chris Kelsay (ankle), C Eric Wood (knee), T.J. Graham (ankle), WR Brad Smith (chest), G Kraig Urbik (ankle)
Houston: OUT: HB Ben Tate (hamstring) PROBABLE: WR Lestar Jean (knee), G Ben Jones (illness), DT Earl Mitchell (ankle), CB Johnathan Joseph (groin), LB Jesse Nading (foot), TE Owen Daniels (hamstring), G Cody White (illness), QB T.J. Yates (right elbow), G Wade Smith (knee), DE Antonio Smith (ankle), S Shiloh Keo (back), WR Kevin Walter (illness), DT Shaun Cody (back), S Quintin Demps (thumb), LB Bryan Braman (neck)
Prediction: Texans over Bills
- The Bills usually come off their bye week and play quite well under head coach Chan Gailey. However, the Texans are also coming off their bye week and have had an equal amount of time to prepare for what Buffalo might bring to the table. In the end, I think this is too daunting a matchup for the Bills' run defense to fix the problems of the past few weeks. That, combined with a stout run defense for the Texans may ultimately lead to the Bills demise.