"Behind Enemy (Side)Lines" is an ongoing series with the opposing team's beat writer. This week, Tim Graham of the Buffalo News, gives insight on the exans upcoming opponent.
This week, Ryan Fitzpatrick prepares to face his former team in the Buffalo Bills. What's the buzz in Buffalo regarding facing Fitzpatrick?
"Well, it's a difficult position for a Bills fan to be in. Ryan Fitzpatrick was beloved because he was such a character, such a great personality but he didn't perform very well on the field. I think that this head coach's loyalty to him, Chan Gailey, cost Gailey his job and really made Bills fans ready to turn the page after a certain period of time. There's apprehension because E.J. Manuel hasn't exactly been convincing in his 13 games so far as Bills starting quarterback and I think that seeing him square off against Ryan Fitzpatrick has people a little nervous because Bills fans don't want to see Fitzpatrick outperform the quarterback who's supposed to be their future. It's an interesting dynamic."
Is it easier for the Bills defense to go against him because they know Ryan Fitzpatrick or is it harder because they know Fitzpatrick is so smart?*
"Yeah, that's a great question and the defense has changed. In fact, it's changed a couple of times already since Ryan Fitzpatrick left. There was a new defensive coordinator as soon as Ryan Fitzpatrick left, Mike Pettine. Then the Bills lost Pettine to the Cleveland Browns, where Pettine is the head coach there now. They are now on Jim Schwartz so they are a couple of coordinators removed. Most of the defensive players are back but Ryan Fitzpatrick knows the strengths of these guys too. He knows what (DE) Mario Williams, and (DT) Kyle Williams, and (DT) Marcell Dareus can do up front. He doesn't know these linebackers at all; they're all new since he was gone. The secondary has turnover. They play a little different as well so there certainly is going to be a lot of coaching involved, a lot of prep needed. It's not as though Ryan Fitzpatrick is going to show up, look across the line of scrimmage, and say 'I've seen this defense in a practice a couple of years ago' because it's changed quite a bit."
The Texans former No. 1 pick, Mario Williams, returns to NRG Stadium this week. How has his game evolved in his time with Buffalo and how does he look this season?
"I wish I could give you some sort of dramatic answer or deep insight but I think Mario Williams still carries the same frustrations for Bills fans that he did for Texans fans. He shows the flashes here and there, why he was the No. 1 overall pick and why he became the highest paid defensive player in NFL history when the Bills signed him to that contract but there are too many times when you sit back and say, 'Well, I guess that's the reason why the Texans didn't want to re-sign him.' He disappears at stretches. He has one sack this year. He had a nice sack in the season opener but he hasn't been much of a factor in the last two games, but obviously, those defensive linemen play off each other and anything you do to try to neutralize Mario Williams frees things up for the other guys on the line. But really, you see the money that the Bills dedicated to Mario Williams and you wonder if it's really worth it. He's obviously a good player, Pro bowler last year, double-digit sacks but they come in bunches and with long stretches in between."
Former Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz came in this season and took over as defensive coordinator. How has he changed the Bills defense and how have the existing players fit into it?
"It's much more orthodox, more of a traditional 4-3 defense. It's a big difference from last year. Mike Pettine sent pressure from everywhere. He's from that Buddy Ryan 46-defense school where there's implied pressure even if they're not blitzing or sending three runners in on the quarterback. The quarterback may think about it or believes that it's coming and it just totally disrupts an offense. The Bills set the franchise record for sacks last year and finished second in the NFL in interceptions. That's a pretty impressive defense that Mike Pettine was able to put together in his first year. The Bills have been vulnerable against the run for a decade, at least, ranking in the high 20's, low 30's. So Jim Schwartz comes in and the emphasis is on stopping the run. They don't get as exotic with their blitzes as they did under Mike Pettine but they're much more solid, much more conservative. It's been a bit of a bend-but-don't-break defense with the exception of San Diego. San Diego really exposed the secondary last week, ran a lot of pick plays that the Bills weren't ready for, a lot of confusion in the defensive backfield but what Schwartz has done, he's really settled them down in terms of a run defense. That will be interesting to watch with the Texans and their philosophy on offense."
The Bills are known for their run game with Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. Both have had success in Buffalo's offense but how are their roles different?
"Well, C.J. Spiller is the flash and he's the starter and he gets the bulk of the carries. He's the type of guy who can break it on every down. Although, he probably runs too much sideline to sideline than even what their coaches would want. Fred Jackson is more of a do-it-all back. He's not as fast as Spiller, not as elusive, but he's much more physical. He's a fantastic blocker, he's great on third down and blitz pickup and he's sure-handed. E.J. Manuel will dump the ball to Jackson and see what he can do with it, and that happens a lot. So, they are totally different backs. When Jackson is on the field, the offense can be doing anything. It can run, it can throw, he can stay in there and block. When Spiller is out there, it's probably a run situation, but much he's much more dangerous, if that makes sense."
How has Sammy Watkins fit in and what's the chemistry between him and E.J. Manuel?
"Watkins is a phenomenal player and he showed that all throughout the summer in the minicamps, the OTAs, training camp. The preseason games, he didn't flash too much but the Bills were really conservative on offense. Didn't do a lot in the opener and then exploded and had his first 100-yard game and a touchdown in Week 2 and everybody was thinking "Buckle up. This is our guy that we traded two No. 1 picks for." The fans were excited, pumped up for Sammy Watkins' big coming out party. Then last week against the Chargers, he had zero catches through three quarters and he finished the game with two receptions, one of them in the last garbage-time drive against prevent defense. So, it's a mystery and I think that it's indicative of the Bills and the way that their offensive schemes. They learn more towards the run. They prefer to run first and throw second because I don't think they fully trust E.J. Manuel yet."
The Texans will host Buffalo on Sunday with kickoff scheduled for 12 p.m. on CBS/KHOU-11 and SportsRadio 610.