The Texans last stood across the field from the Buffalo Bills on January 4th, 2020, which seems like a decade ago, yet it's been less than two calendar years. On that day, the Texans came through with a come-from-behind overtime 19-16 win, while that loss was just the start for the Bills. They went to the AFC Championship game in 2020 and have designs on doing that and more in 2021.
Now, I brought up that playoff game because it's a seminal point for each franchise. The Bills have hardly changed from that afternoon, returning 17 starters, at least eight starters on each side of the football. The Texans, in contrast, return just five starters, depending on the personnel to start the game. These two will meet in Buffalo for the first time in six years as the Bills are on a two-game winning streak (wins over teams with a combined 2-4 record) while the Texans have lost their last two games (losses to teams with a combined 5-1 record).
Bills QB Josh Allen has matured into a future league MVP while Texans rookie QB Davis Mills will start for just the second consecutive weekend. So, it's tough sledding heading up to Buffalo to take on one of the league's big dogs in their home building, with less than ideal weather on the way. So, let's get to Know Week Four's Foe - the defending AFC East champion Buffalo Bills.
2021 Schedule (2-1)
Week 1 - L Pittsburgh Steelers 23-16
Week 2 - W @ Miami Dolphins 35-0
Week 3 - W Washington Football Team 43-21
Week 4 - Houston Texans
Week 5 - @ Kansas City Chiefs
Week 6 - @ Tennessee Titans
Week 7 - BYE
Week 8 - Miami Dolphins
Week 9 - @ Jacksonville Jaguars
Week 10 - @ New York Jets
Week 11 - Indianapolis Colts
Week 12 - @ New Orleans Saints
Week 13 - New England Patriots
Week 14 - @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Week 15 - Carolina Panthers
Week 16 - @ New England Patriots
Week 17 - Atlanta Falcons
Week 18 - New York Jets
Bills OFFENSE (in 2021 regular season)
Rushing Yards Per game - 127.3 ypg (7th in the NFL)
Passing Yards Per game - 261.3 ypg (11th)
Total offense per game - 388.7 ypg (4th)
Turnovers lost - 3 (2 Fumbles lost, 1 INT)
Expected Bills starting offense for Week Four
QB - Josh Allen
RB - Devin Singletary
WR - Stefon Diggs
WR - EMMANUEL SANDERS
WR - Cole Beasley
TE - Dawson Knox
LT - Dion Dawkins
LG - Jon Feliciano
C - Mitch Morse
RG - Cody Ford
RT - Daryl Williams
Key Offensive Non-Starters
WR - Gabriel Davis
WR - Isaiah McKenzie
WR - JAKE KUMEROW
RB - Zack Moss
Italics - Rookie
ALL CAPS - New to team in 2021
Keys to winning v. the Bills offense
- He's BIG - At the 2018 Senior Bowl, I saw Bills QB Josh Allen, in person, for the first time and my jaw dropped. I remember thinking, "that dude is a QB?!?" He's massive - 6-6, 240 lb., but what makes his size such a predicament is that he can run like a receiver. When he escapes the pocket, he's as big a threat with the ball in his hands as any Buffalo Bill perimeter player, including the great Stefon Diggs. When he's in the pocket, he's as tough to bring down as any NFL QB in the league in quite some time. So, it's one thing for pass rushers to get to Allen on passing downs; it's quite another to actually get him on the ground for the sack. The Texans couldn't wrap up on Sam Darnold last Thursday night on a sack attempt that Darnold turned into one of the most important plays of the game. Allen can do THAT and WAY more.
- He's BACK - This offseason, there was so much noise about the Bills running game. Nearly every mock draft that I saw, including my own, mocked RB Travis Etienne to the Bills. Yet, the Bills didn't make one selection of a running back because they knew they still had something with RB Devin Singletary. Now, he's not leading the league in rushing, but he's averaging well over five yards per carry and has home run hitting ability like he showed against the Dolphins in Week 2 on a 46-yard touchdown scamper.
- He's ELECTRIC - The Bills traded for former Minnesota Vikings star receiver Stefon Diggs in 2020 and the Bills offense has never been the same. Diggs creates such issues with his change of direction at all levels on the field. Plus, in the two years that he's been with QB Josh Allen, Diggs has taken his game to a completely different level, impacting the Bills offense dramatically as well. In so doing, he's easily the focal point for the Bills offense, not the ONLY point, but the main one. He'll be targeted all day long, all over the field, so it's imperative to know where he's going to be on every single play, whether he's in motion or shifting, and account for his presence in the 2nd and 3rd levels of the defense.
- He's ALONE - One thing the Texans defense did last week against the Panthers was get defensive linemen isolated in one-on-one situations with the Panther's pass protectors. There was a stretch in the game where the Texans defensive linemen won those one-on-one situations and it really bogged down the Panther's offense. That's paramount in this game as well, especially with a weapon like Allen at QB. It's one thing to scheme up open rushers with five or six-man pressures, but when four rushers can win one-on-one matchups to get to the quarterback as it happened last Thursday night, it can be a huge boost to the defense overall.
- He's UNDERRATED - Each and every week, there's one guy that worries me that not many people are paying attention to and for the Bills this week, that's TE Dawson Knox. He won't catch eight to ten balls a game, but the two or three that he does will be for first downs or touchdowns. He's ultra-athletic, so he's a tough matchup for any linebacker, and his size is an issue for safeties in coverage. Keep an eye on #88, the underrated TE for the Bills.
Bills DEFENSE (in 2021 regular season)
Rushing Yards Allowed Per game - 74.7 ypg (7th in the NFL)
Passing Yards Allowed Per game - 178.0 ypg (4th)
Total offense Allowed Per game - 252.7 ypg (4th)
Turnovers generated - 6 (3 INT, 3 Fumble recoveries - Bills are +3 in TO margin)
Expected Bills starting defense for Week Four
DE - GREG ROUSSEAU
DT - Star Lotulelei
DT - Ed Oliver
TE - Jerry Hughes
LB - Matt Milano
LB - Tremaine Edmunds
Nickel - Taron Johnson
CB - Tre'Davious White
S - Micah Hyde
S - Jordan Poyer
CB - Levi Wallace
Key Defensive Non-Starters
S - Siran Neal
DE - A.J. Epenesa
DT - Justin Zimmer
DT - Vernon Butler
DE - Mario Addison
DE - BOOGIE BASHAM (inactive last week)
DT - Harrison Phillips (inactive last week)
Italics - Rookie
ALL CAPS - New to team in 2021
Keys to winning v. the Bills defense
- Will The Goalie Travel? - There's little question that the Texans most dangerous offensive weapon is Brandin Cooks. There's little question that one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL is Tre'Davious White. But, there's always a question about whether White will travel with Cooks and follow him all over the field, Darrelle Revis-style. He's not always done that in the past, but there have been times when he has in his career. The advantage for Buffalo is if White handles that business, it allows the remainder of the secondary to focus on everything and everybody else. If he doesn't travel with Cooks play to play, it'll take a concerted Bills secondary effort to try to corral Cooks, which hasn't been easy for Texans' opponents in the last five games, dating back to last season.
- Long and Involved - I mentioned earlier that I expected the Bills to look hard at a running back in the 2021 NFL Draft, mainly Travis Etienne from Clemson. But, the Jaguars removed him from the board about six picks before the Bills. Now, maybe he would've been attractive to the Bills brass, but the guy they ultimately drafted is going to turn out to be so much more disruptive and productive - Edge Greg Rousseau. The 6-7, 250 lb. rookie from the University of Miami has Go-Go Gadget arms, quickness and athleticism, which have been evident from the first snap of his career. Interestingly enough, he didn't even play in 2020 at Miami, opting out due to COVID-19. The Bills ask him to do a bunch of different things for this defense, and he'll be a true thorn in the side of the Texans if unaccounted for on Sunday.
- Criminally Underrated - A couple of years ago, Bills LB Matt Milano was seemingly about to hit the free-agent market and I, selfishly, wanted the Texans to look at him. He's everything this new Texans coaching staff wants in a player - smart, physical, fast, dependable, versatile and disruptive, but he decided to stay with the Bills and be THAT player for DC Leslie Frazier's defense. Milano seems to be all over the field and always in the right place to aid this defense. He won't get credit as the straw stirring the Bills defensive drink, but he's certainly a major part of the recipe.
- The Best Safety Duo in the League - I don't think it's a stretch to say that Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde make up the best safety duo in the league. The continuity of playing together for those two, on top of the sheer physical talent each has, is such a key. Just watching them on tape, they don't even need to overtly communicate with one another because they already know where the other is on the field. They impact every single aspect of this game from every level of the defense because it's evident that they are more than just safeties.
- Comfortability, Part Two - Making Texans QB Davis Mills comfortable is of the utmost importance for the Texans for a second consecutive week. I might make this a key next week against the Patriots too, for the same reason. When the rookie has time to scan the field, he typically makes a good decision. That must happen against this defense repeatedly...or else.
The Texans will face the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium in Week 4. Kickoff is set for Sunday at noon CT.
Want to watch the Texans at NRG Stadium? Click here for tickets.
Check out the top photos from the Houston Texans practice on Monday.