1. Rookie QB makes first road start
Texans rookie QB Davis Mills will be making his first NFL road start Sunday in Buffalo against the Bills' fourth-ranked defense.
He's coming off an efficient performance in his first career start against Carolina completing 19 of 28 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown with no turnovers. Mills' handling of the offense was such that the coaching staff believes they can run the offense in much the way they did with Taylor going forward.
"Davis with it being his first game getting a full-time start, we wanted to make sure that we kind of kept it close to the vest in what we were doing for him," said Culley. "I think what we ended up doing is we got to the point that we probably felt like we kind of went too far with trying to protect him. What we did find out coming out of this game is that he can handle a lot more than what we thought seeing the way he handled himself in this ball game. Moving forward, we'll just get back to doing the things that we had started doing in that first game and a half when Tyrod was our starting quarterback."
Mills does have road game experience after being thrust onto the field in Cleveland for the second half after Taylor's hamstring injury in Week 2.
2. Amazing changes since 2019 playoff game
While the 2019 Wild Card playoff game in Houston ended in terrible disappointment for Buffalo, the team has been on a seemingly unstoppable upward trajectory since then. Now considered one of the top teams in the conference, the Bills have done it largely by maintaining a strong measure of continuity in their lineup.
By my count there are still 17 starters from that playoff game on Buffalo's roster, and the veteran pieces they've added since like Mario Addison, Stefon Diggs, AJ Klein, Emmanuel Sanders and Daryl Williams have helped to put the team in position to contend for a championship.
That has only been enhanced by a bunch of contributing draft choices that only have a year or less of NFL experience.
The situation in Houston is far different. They've undergone a complete from the top to the bottom of the organization. A new GM in Nick Caserio, new head coach in David Culley and a vastly overturned roster that has just five starters remaining from that Wild Card playoff game.
The focus in player acquisition by the Texans was to fill the roster with dependable veteran talent.
"The first thing is the character of the guys that we brought in," said head coach David Culley. "Those guys have come from franchises they've been successful. They were in situations where obviously from a contract standpoint, regardless of whether it was money or teams needed to move on for whatever the reason was, but when Nick sat down and we started going over the free agency, obviously we had a bunch to fill. We just felt like that we targeted guys that had great character, guys that come from franchises that they had been successful, and also guys that were motivated, again, to show that they could still get it done and get it done at a high level.
And we presented an opportunity for that. And I'm thankful that we got them because I've got some really good guys on this football team who have been very helpful for us.
The hope in Houston is rebuilding the right way from the ground up can have their club back in playoff contention sooner rather than later.
3. Repeating the execution
Buffalo's execution in Week 3 was the best its been on both sides of the ball in terms of efficiency. The offense converted 60 percent of their third downs and Josh Allen completed more than 74 percent of his passes. Meanwhile Buffalo's defense held Washington to just an 18 percent conversion rate on third down. Washington was however, 2-2 in the red zone.
As mentioned above, Houston has a good red zone offense. Even rookie Davis Mills has a pair of touchdown passes in the red zone this year along with a 123.8 rating.
But the ability to force turnovers the last couple of games has helped Buffalo's defense overcome any area where they might not be overly effective.
"We've always placed a heavy emphasis on taking the football away, and you don't always know if it's going to happen, but it's happened for the last couple of weeks," said defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. "Sometimes they come in bunches, and we got three last week that resulted in 17 points. So, it's a big deal against a good football team and it'll continue to be an emphasis. And we hope to get more and more and more as the season goes on."
Houston has not been careless with the football, but their defense has forced five turnovers in their first three games. That's why Josh Allen and company are not taking the Texans lightly.
"They're going to be game-planning, they get paid on that side of the ball too, so this game plan that we're putting together, it's got to be good, and at the end of the day, we've got to go out and execute and make the right calls," said Allen. "I've got to put the ball where it needs to be, and give the guys a chance to catch the ball and run. It's a bend-don't-break defense, and they do a great job of taking the ball away, so we've got to make a huge emphasis on that this week.
Allen has six touchdown passes and a 102.8 passer rating in the red zone thus far this season.
4. Houston run game a struggle
To effectively support a rookie quarterback, the Texans have been hopeful that their deep stable of veteran running backs would be able to help keep the offense on schedule in terms of down and distance. However, since Tyrod Taylor has been out of the lineup with a hamstring injury it's been a struggle.
Subtracting Taylor's 55 yards on five carries this season, the Texans are averaging just 2.82 yards per carry on the ground. Houston averaged just 2.5 yards per carry last week against the Panthers with just 42 yards on 17 carries.
"When we looked at the video, basically we were the enemy and not them," said Texans head coach David Culley. "In other words, we did not execute some things that we had been executing previously. We've got to make some calls that we didn't get made during that ballgame that put us in some situations that put us behind the chains. We hadn't been doing that. Basically, we've just got to go back and correct those mistakes, and I feel like we'll be back on track because we made a few more this game than we had in the previous two."
Houston has veteran backs Mark Ingram and Phillip Lindsay as their two primary ball carriers along with David Johnson as a third option. But it has proven difficult for the Texans offensive line to win consistently at the line of scrimmage.
It led to just one third-down conversion on offense last week as the Texans ran just 49 offensive plays compared to the Panthers 70.
Buffalo's defense is likely to focus on Houston's run game to force long down and distance situations much like Carolina did last week.
Scroll to see photos of the Bills as they prepare for their Week 4 game against the Houston Texans.
5. Fast starters but…
Despite a fair amount of shortcomings, Houston's offense has been relatively proficient at getting points on the board early in games. Through the first three weeks the Texans rank seventh in the league in first half scoring with 47 points scored through the first two frames this year. That's just four points fewer than Buffalo (51 points).
Part of their success can be attributed to their strong red zone touchdown efficiency. Houston has converted seven of their nine red zone possessions into touchdowns so far this season. Their touchdown efficiency (77.8%) ranks third in the AFC ahead of Buffalo (5th – 64.3%).
Houston's problems seem to crop up in the second half where their point scoring efficiency wanes. Houston's point scoring in the second half has seen more than a 50 percent drop in production to their first half efforts. They've managed just 20 points over the final two quarters in their first three games. Their 6.7 points per game average in the second half ranks 29th in the league.
"Week 2 at Cleveland Tyrod Taylor going out at halftime is why their second half struggled with Davis Mills seeing his first NFL action and he was told at halftime he was going in," said Houston Texans Insider Deepi Sidhu for HoustonTexans.com in an appearance on ‘One Bills Live.’ "On the defensive side of the ball they've had a lot of missed tackles and a lot of injuries as well. They have allowed a lot of rushing yards in the second half and the players are aware of it. It's kept them from getting as many possessions as their opponents. Plus against Carolina this past week they were 1-9 on third down and you can't sustain anything when you can't convert."
6. Extra rest for Texans
Houston is the second consecutive opponent the Bills will play that had the benefit of three additional days of rest and preparation having played on Thursday night the week prior. The Texans played Carolina on Thursday night in Week 3 dropping a 24-9 decision.
"Well, the big thing for our football team is just the extra rest," said Texans head coach David Culley. "We've had some knicks, we've had some injuries. It gives us a little bit more time to make sure we get those guys back that have been out this week."
The Texans are hoping to get playmaking S Justin Reid back from a knee injury and are hoping for starting CB Terrance Mitchell to return from a concussion. Starting LB Kamu Grugier-Hill has also been out with a knee injury, but returned to practice this week.
7. The return of Fairbairn
It looks as though Texans kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn is set to return from injured reserve to kick this weekend in Buffalo. He had been on I-R since Houston's final preseason game when he pulled a leg muscle in pre-game warmups.
Joey Slye has been the replacement kicker in his absence, but the Texans designated Fairbairn to return from I-R on Monday and released Slye on Thursday afternoon.
"This is what we targeted for him getting back," said Culley.
Fairbairn was an 87 percent field goal kicker last year (27-31) including 10-14 from 40-yards plus (71.4%).