On Saturday afternoon, the Texans will make their fourth appearance in a Wild Card weekend game in the last five years. This fourth matchup will feature the Texans against one of the best up and coming teams in the NFL - the Buffalo Bills. These two have never met in the playoffs as it's just the second trip to the postseason for the Bills in the last twenty seasons. Then again, it's the second appearance in the last three years as the Bills made a legendary trip to the playoffs in 2017, but lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars in a Wild Card matchup two years ago.
Here's the thing about those two trips to the Wild Card round for the Bills. There's just one offensive starter (left tackle Dion Dawkins) and four defensive starters (Jerry Hughes, Tre'Davious White, Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde) that'll start on Saturday against the Texans that started in their 2017 Wild Card game vs. Jacksonville. GM Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott re-made this entire roster over the past two seasons and that change is evident in that just five starters remain from two short years ago.
The Bills offense will feature three rookies and second-year quarterback Josh Allen, entering his first playoff start. This offensive unit has been explosive and productive at times but hasn't completely dominated games this season. Outside of the two wins over Miami, the Bills have scored 28 points or more just once. In fact, since the win over Dallas on Thanksgiving, the Bills haven't scored more than 17 points in four games and have lost three of those four contests.
So, the offense can have its moments, but the defense is one of the best in the league at all times. They're stout on the front (Star Lotulelei and Jordan Phillips), but they also have some quick interior players as well (Ed Oliver and Corey Liuget). They have as good a linebacker group as there is in the league (Tremaine Edmunds, Matt Milano and Lo Alexander). But, the star of this unit is the secondary. White is arguably the best corner in the league and hasn't given up a touchdown in coverage all season long. The safety duo of Poyer and Hyde is outstanding and there are very few back ends with a safety pair like that. This defense gives up yards grudgingly and was gashed, so to speak, by just one team all season long - the Philadelphia Eagles. When the Texans faced the Bills last year, they sacked Deshaun Watson seven times and yielded just 216 yards of total offense. So, yeah, it's going to be tough, to say the least.
Without further ado, let's get to know the AFC's fifth seed and top Wild Card team - the Buffalo Bills
2019 Schedule - Record 10-6
W, @ New York Jets 17-16
W, @ New York Giants 28-14
W, Cincinnati Bengals 21-17
L, New England Patriots 16-10
W, @ Tennessee Titans 14-7
W, Miami Dolphins 31-21
L, Philadelphia Eagles 31-13
W, Washington Redskins 24-9
L, @ Cleveland Browns 19-16
W, @ Miami Dolphins 37-20
W, Denver Broncos 20-3
W, @ Dallas Cowboys 26-15
L, Baltimore Ravens 24-17
W, @ Pittsburgh Steelers 17-10
L, @ New England 24-17
L, New York Jets 13-6
Bills Offense (in 2019):
Rushing yards per game - 128.4 ypg (8th in the NFL)
Passing yards per game - 201.8 ypg (26th)
Total offense per game - 330.2 ypg (24th)
Turnovers lost - 19 (12 INT, 7 fumbles lost)
Projected Bills Starting Offense:
QB - Josh Allen
RB - Devin Singletary
FB - Patrick DiMarco
WR - John 'Smoke' Brown
WR - Cole Beasley
TE - Dawson Knox
LT - Dion Dawkins
LG - Quinton Spain
C - Mitch Morse
RG - Jon Feliciano
RT - Cody Ford
Other Key Offensive Pieces:
RB - Frank Gore
WR - Isaiah McKenzie
WR - Robert Foster
TE - Tyler Kroft
Keys to Stopping the Bills Offense:
1. Realize that no play is done until the Bills ball carrier is down on the ground, starting with Allen, the 6-5, 235 lb., gun-slinging playmaker. These Bills don't go down easily on first contact.
2. Force the ball out of Allen's hand before he's ready to throw it. In other words, hasten the decision-making process for the second-year starting quarterback. Also, when Allen is on the move, NEVER quit in coverage because that's when he's probably at his best. Two of the top three throws that I saw him make late in the season occurred when it appeared he was just trying to run away from the rush. Remember 2018 too… he was pressured all the way to the sideline and threw back to the middle of the field to Shady McCoy for a huge gain. When some quarterbacks are on the run, the play is just about over. When Allen's on the run, the adventure is just beginning.
3. Singletary is a key to everything they do offensively. In the last six games, he had 14+ carries and was targeted 19 times in the passing game, including eight targets against the Baltimore Ravens.
4. Beasley is an issue, a major one. The Texans faced him last year when he was playing in Dallas, but he wasn't Dak's go-to guy then. He is that for Allen, in particular out of bunch sets in the red zone or down on the goal line. Think Julian Edelman and treat him as such in the slot.
5. With a nickname like 'Smoke', there's little secret to John Brown's game. Down. The. Field. The Patriots chose to double him at times and he ran by both guys. Anticipate his deep routes and stay on top throughout the play.
Bills Defense (in 2019):
Rushing yards allowed per game - 103.1 ypg (10th in the NFL)
Passing yards allowed per game - 195.2 ypg (4th)
Total offense allowed per game - 298.2 ypg (3rd)
Turnovers generated - 23 (14 INT, 9 fumble recoveries - Bills are +4 in TO margin)
Projected Bills Starting Defense:
DE - Trent Murphy
DT - Jordan Phillips
DT - Star Lotulelei
DE - Jerry Hughes
LB - Matt Milano
LB - Tremaine Edmunds
Nickel - Taron Johnson
CB - Levi Wallace
S - Jordan Poyer
S - Micah Hyde
CB - Tre'Davious White
Other Key Defensive Pieces:
DT - Ed Oliver
DE - Shaq Lawson
DT - Corey Liuget
CB - Kevin Johnson
S - Siran Neal
OLB - Lorenzo Alexander
Keys to Winning vs. the Bills Defense:
1. Do not quit on blocks until the whistle blows. That sounds like some fifth grade Pop Warner advice, but that's where the Bills get teams - they never stop coming. They are relentless to the football and that's led to sacks and forced fumbles. (Oh, and as an aside, they LOVE to attack the ball with a punch out, so ball protection must be top of mind at all times.)
2. The Patriots hit them with some 21 personnel and smash mouth in between the tackles, especially when the Patriots needed it in the fourth quarter.
3. The Bills do an excellent job playing responsibility football on quarterback run game and such, so find different wrinkles to capitalize on their discipline.
4. Pass catchers must be ready to battle for every pass at the catch point. There are going to be no free catches on Saturday, to say the least.
5. How can the Texans stretch this defense vertically? In crunch time last year, Will Fuller V beat man coverage for a key pass interference in the end zone. The number of positive deep plays the Texans can create will open up underneath areas in the passing game. The Bills linebackers are so long, athletic and disciplined that they're hard to beat in the intermediate passing game, so space is needed between them and the safeties behind them.