It’s game two of Buffalo’s three-game jaunt through the AFC South. The Bills head to Houston this week to take on the Texans, another AFC team with two wins in their first five games.
It’s the ninth all time meeting between these two—each team has won four games in the series.
Here are the top seven storylines to follow this week:
1. ANOTHER ROAD TEST FOR JOSH ALLEN
It’ll be Josh Allen’s fifth start in the NFL, his third on the road. And the Texans veteran defense will provide more than enough of a challenge.
Allen has won two of his four starts so far, but he’s still looking to develop Buffalo’s passing attack, which is ranked last in the NFL. He’s likely to get a boost, at least in the meeting room this week, with the addition of Derek Anderson to the roster.
Anderson was signed to provide veteran leadership and NFL know-how to the Bills quarterback room. He’ll be a mentor to Allen, a role he filled in Carolina for Cam Newton for seven years.
NFL analyst Peter King, of NBC Sports and the “Football Morning in America” column, says showing Josh Allen the NFL ropes is exactly what Anderson can do.
“He is an excellent mentor type, he’s an unselfish guy,” King said on One Bills Live. “I think he’s got a lot of Josh McCown in him. He’s got a lot of Alex Smith in him.”
“He’s going to come in there and he’s going to say to Brian Daboll and he's going to say to Sean McDermott, Brandon Beane--he’s going to say to all of them, ‘Hey listen, you tell me what I can do to make this guy better.’ And he’s going to work with Josh Allen, he’s going to be there, he’s going to help him every way he can. And by the way Peterman as well. He’s going to help the whole quarterback room.”
2. CAN THE OFFENSE RELY ON STRONG RUNNING GAME NOW?
The Bills only put up 13 points in Sunday’s win over the Titans, and the team scored just one touchdown. But they may have finally hit their stride in the run game.
LeSean McCoy ran for 85 yards. Chris Ivory had 43. And they ran it when the Bills needed it most—the fourth quarter game-winning scoring drive.
Part of the explanation is volume. The Bills ran it 43 times against Tennessee and threw it just 19 times. For the season, Buffalo is an even 50-50 in runs versus pass plays called, the second highest percentage of runs in the NFL (2nd to Seattle).
It won’t be easy to run against a Texans defense ranked 8th in the league in rushing defense, but it looks like the best way for the Bills right now.
3. TEXANS HAVE QB HEALTH QUESTIONS THIS WEEK
The first injury report for the week comes out later today, and the first name most will look for is Deshaun Watson, Houston’s QB.
He’s got a chest injury, the result of several hits last Sunday night in Houston’s win over the Cowboys. Watson was sacked once in that game but was hit ten times. He also ran the ball 10 times and took some hits in the run game. He spent a short time in the trainers’ tent on the Texans sideline, but returned to the game and led his team on the game-winning scoring drive.
For the season, Watson has been sacked 18 times in the first five games. Only Buffalo’s Josh Allen has been sacked more often (19).
Of course, Watson is less than a year removed from the torn ACL he suffered in a non-contact practice drill last year. His season was over after seven games, and the Texans lost 8 of their final 9 games without him in the lineup.
4. TRE’S TOUGHEST TEST TO DATE
Second-year cornerback Tre’Davious White has been on a mission all season to make his name as a bona fide shutdown corner in the NFL. And he’s been successful, matching up against premier wideouts like Stefon Diggs of the Vikings and Corey Davis of the Titans and keeping them in check.
This week, the challenge is tougher. White is likely to line up across from Texans standout DeAndre Hopkins, who caught 96 passes last year, 13 of them for touchdowns. Hopkins is regarded as one of the league’s dynamic talents at wide receiver and the Bills have been using White to match up against opponents’ top targets this year, unlike last year, when White lined up almost exclusively on the left side.
Bills Defensive Coordinator Leslie Frazier says White has a tough assignment.
“DeAndre is one of the premier guys in our league,” Frazier says. “He’s been to a number of Pro Bowls. It’ll be a challenge. He’s a guy who finds a myriad of ways to get open, runs great routes, has great hands, understands leverage and plays the ball as well as anybody when it’s a contested throw. It’ll be a big challenge, but if we decide to go in that direction, we feel very confident that Tre’Davious will be able to get it done.”
5. WHICH DEFENSIVE ROOKIE STEPS UP NEXT?
The Bills have benefited from regular and important contributions from rookies in their recent, three and a half game defensive resurgence. Since the Chargers game, Tremaine Edmunds has taken a step forward every week at MIC LB. Ryan Lewis has started the last three games at CB and more then held his own. Nickel corner Taron Johnson gets better every week. He brings a physical dimension to the Bills secondary and came up with his first career interception last Sunday.
So, who’s next?
How about third round draft pick Harrison Phillips? He’s averaged 24 snaps per game over the last four, settling into his role in the defensive line rotation. The addition of Jordan Phillips last week should allow Harrison Phillips to concentrate on one role on the D-line, which may make him more effective.
6. FINDING ANSWERS FOR WATT AND CLOWNEY?
They’re the two biggest names on the Texans defense: J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney. Watt is tied for the league lead with six sacks through five games. And Watt has to remember fondly his last game against the Bills in Houston. He picked off an EJ Manuel pass and ran it back 80-yards for a touchdown.
Preventing Watt and Clowney from wreaking similar havoc has to be job one for the Buffalo offense this week. But it’s not all on the offensive line. Smart decisions from Josh Allen, a healthy assist from the run game, and creative solutions from the Bills brain trust will all go into the plan against Watt and Clowney.
7. DABOLL VS CRENNEL
Bills Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll and Texans Defensive Coordinator Romeo Crennel should have a pretty good book on each other. They worked on Bill Belichick’s staff in New England for three years. Crennel hired Daboll as his Offensive Coordinator in Kansas City in 2012, when Crennel was Head Coach of the Chiefs.
The Texans had the NFL’s top defense two years ago, when Crennel ran the unit. They promoted him to Assistant Head Coach last year and hired Mike Vrabel as DC. Houston’s defense gave up the most points in the NFL last year under Vrabel, who left to take over the Titans.
Crennel is back as the defensive mastermind in Houston and the Texans are responding.