The Texans (3-6) return home after three weeks on the road with one more win to their record and a chance to increase their victory total to four as they face off against the Buffalo Bills (3-6) Sunday. While the Bills have the same record as the Texans,
) play extraordinarily well and their offense unable to move the ball.
Head coach Dick Jauron relies on a strong defense to carry the team while the offense manages the game in order to put points on the board, a similar style to how he coached the Bears in
Here's a look at how the Bills breakdown.
**If there has been one sustained weakness for the Bills this season, it has been on the offensive side of the ball. Through nine games,
resides near the bottom of the league in two of the main offensive categories, ranking 30 th in both yards gained and points. That number could drop even more in weeks to come as their top offensive weapon, running back Willis McGahee, will miss significant time with multiple broken ribs. With McGahee out, the burden will fall on third-year quarterback J.P. Losman to become more consistent and realize the potential the Bills still think he can achieve.
Losman, the team's first round pick in 2004, was chosen to succeed Drew Bledsoe and become the club's long term solution at quarterback. Thus far, there have been only flashes of the excitement Losman generated coming out of
and many believe the time has almost run out on his era with the Bills. While his inconsistency is maddening for the team because they know he has the talent, it's the fact he tries to do too much instead of letting the game come to him that often hurts the team because it often leads to turnovers. While the quarterback has raised his completion percentage from 49 percent to 61 percent this year, Losman has thrown six interceptions this season to only seven touchdowns. General manager and former Bills head coach Marv Levy came out on Tuesday saying he supports his quarterback, but if Losman does not play well against the Texans, a change could be coming.
Losman's favorite target when he puts the ball in the air will be fellow 2004 first-round pick, wide receiver Lee Evans. At 5-10, Evans may not appear to fit the mold of a star receiver in the NFL, but if his numbers on the field are any indication, he is well on his way. With sixteen touchdowns in his first two years in the league, Evans (44 catches, 556 yards, 2 touchdowns) may not be finding the endzone as often this season, but barring injury, he will easily surpass his previous career highs of 48 catches and 843 yards. His speed, hands and route-running are all near the head of the class of NFL receivers and it looks as if he's going to continue getting better. Former Bills star Peerless Price is back with the team after two disappointing years in
offense as starter Robert Royal has only accounted for ten catches this year.
When the Bills choose to grind it out on the ground against the Texans, they will be forced to do so without a familiar face, McGahee. Taking over for him is a favorite of Jauron, running back Anthony Thomas. The "A-Train" burst onto the scene in 2001 with the Chicago Bears out of the
, rushing for 1,183 yards and seven touchdowns. Since then, Thomas has gone off track and although he did rush for over 1,000 yards again in 2003, his performances have not come close to what he accomplished his rookie year, due to injuries. When Thomas is healthy he is able to grind it out in the middle of the line picking up the tough yards for his team. He may not possess the shiftiness or speed of other tailbacks, but in the right setting, Thomas can be extremely successful just as he was in the last two weeks, rushing for 95 and 109 yards, respectively.
A unit having major struggles this year has been the Bills offensive line. The group, currently starting a college tight end, three journeymen veterans and an undrafted rookie, has yielded 30 sacks to the opponents and only allowed the offense to rush for 102 yards per game. Left tackle Jason Peters, a former starting tight end at the University of Arkansas, is showing progress and has the physical characteristics to be a player at the position (6-4, 328), but is clearly still learning the position. Left guard Mike Gandy has played mostly tackle throughout his career and has battled through injuries during his time in the league. Center Melvin Fowler was highly regarded drafted by the Browns in 2002, but never found his niche in
. On the right side, guard Chris Villarrial is a tough, consistent player who is the veteran presence among the group while right tackle Terrance Pennington is the youngest of the group trying to make a name for himself as an undrafted rookie out of
When facing an offensive unit that is struggling as much as the Bills, and is without their top offensive weapon, the best route should be to force Losman to beat you by bringing blitzes and pressuring him into mistakes. Losman has yet to show a team he can do this. With no real threat down the middle of the field and a running back who would rather run between the tackles than to the edge, the only real offensive worry would be Evans. Evans can beat single coverage so shading a safety over to his side while bringing the blitz may prove most effective.
**As is characteristic of most Dick Jauron run teams, the Bills are stout on the defensive side of the ball. Employing a Cover Two, one-gap scheme, which is a growing trend in the league, the Bills look to take away the deep passes by making the opposition patiently drive the ball down the field. The defense is also predicated upon sustaining a pass rush from the front four lineman and allowing your linebackers to work off of the defensive tackles to make most of the plays. While the stats may not show the unit's talent (21 st in total yards allowed, 12 th total points), in large part due to the offense's inability to sustain drives, there is no question that any team that allows 19 and 17 points respectively in road games to the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts, has ability.
The defensive ends for the Bills may be the most underrated group in the league. None of them have the physical abilities of a Julius Peppers or the speed of a Dwight Freeney, but they all are sound football players and do their jobs every game. The group, consisting of Aaron Schobel, Chris Kelsay, and Ryan Denney, all possess a competitive streak that coaches want in their players, but don't find as often as they like, and all are at the age of 29 or under, a clear sign that the Bills should be set at end for a few years. Kelsay (6-4, 275) is the most active in the run game making 36 tackles this season, while also being effective when attacking the quarterback making five sacks. On the other side, Schobel (6-4, 262) is not as big as Kelsay, but his responsibility, often on the weak side, is to get after the quarterback (seven sacks). Denney (6-7, 275) is a solid player that can be plugged in at either position and can be effective making 28 tackles and three sacks through nine games.
Tackles Larry Tripplett, Tim Anderson, and Kyle Williams, like the players at the end position, don't have the star power some teams possess, but have the ability to be very effective in doing what is asked of them within the Cover Two scheme. The offseason signing of Tripplett from the Indianapolis Colts was not seen as important at the time, but the Colts have suffered from his loss dropping to the worst run defense in the league so far this season.
is a blue-collar player who's going to get after it every play, even contributing with 2.5 sacks this season. Williams, a 2006 draft pick, has seen significant time in the tackle rotation this season, making 25 tackles thus far. Much of the problem in the interior of the line this season with the team giving up 4.33 yards per carry (25 th in the league), has been the lack of size of the defensive tackles and their inexperience. None of the aforementioned three players have the line-clogging body makeup that most teams desire in at least one of their tackles and all of the players are 27-years old and younger.
The top unit for the Bills is their linebacking corps. Veterans strong side linebacker Takeo Spikes and middle linebacker London Fletcher-Baker are two of the best in the business and are flanked by up-and-comer weak-side linebacker Angelo Crowell. The 29-year old Spikes (6-2, 244) is a two-time Pro Bowler who, despite coming off a torn ACL last season, is still recognized as one of the most talented linebackers in the league. A big hitter who can play the run with the best of them is a perfect fit in the Cover 2 scheme, but would most assuredly fit into any defense. Fletcher-Baker has fought the argument saying he doesn't have the size, his whole career, but hasn't let that deter him from having a successful tenure in the league. Very similar to former Saints and Panthers linebacker Sam Mills, Fletcher-Baker (5-10, 245) brought his competitive spirit as the leader on the St. Louis Rams Super Bowl Champion defense and currently with the Bills, leading the team with 84 tackles this season. With his two counterparts getting most of the attention, Angelo Crowell can get lost in the shuffle, but with the way he is performing this season, that won't last much longer. Crowell (6-1, 235), a third year player out of Virginia, has the speed and instincts to be a force at the weak-side position, racking up 66 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble this season.
As a group, the defensive backfield may not have the experience of the linebacking corps, but they have the talent to be just as good. Leading the way is cornerback Nate Clements, who may be playing his last year in
before exercising his right to become a free agent. Teams rarely throw at Clements, a Pro Bowler in 2004, because of his size (6-0, 209) and his ability to defend bigger receivers. Opposite Clements is the speedy Terrance McGee. Originally drafted as a return man in 2003 out of
Although the Bills have talent at the defensive tackle and safety positions, teams have found the most success when attacking the middle of the field and taking advantage of the youth and inexperience at these positions. Using play action passes and roll outs that may confuse the youthful Bills corps and make them contemplate what their particular assignment is would work best, something that plays right into the Texans hands because is what the offense is predicated on.
**If changes come this off-season in the Bills team makeup, it is easy to say that the special teams will not have to be addressed. In the kicking and return game, the Bills have one of the soundest units in the league. Kicker Rian Lindell has connected on 14 of 16 field goals attempts including 2 of 2 from 50 yards or more. At 29-years of age, Lindell's best years could be ahead as he has shown consistent improvement through the years. Pro Bowl punter Brian Moorman is having another great year for the Bills leaving opponents deep in their own territory and giving his coverage units enough time to get downfield, as evidenced by his 41.4 yards per kick net average.
The success on special teams is no different in the return game.
has leading kick return unit in the league at 27.1 yards per game led by McGee. McGee may not have returned a kick for a touchdown yet, but his four career scores and an 88-yard return this season prove he is well on his way. Diminutive second-year receiver Roscoe Parrish is the leader on punt returns. In addition to the 12 passes he has caught this season, Parrish has used his elusiveness and toughness to average just over ten yards a return this season.