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Bills in the Trenches: Week 4 vs. Houston

How the both sides of the line of scrimmage can ride their hot streak and help the Bills move to 3-1

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It took a few weeks, but the Bills seem to have found their footing. They are poised to dominate the rest of the season after an impressive 43-21 win against the Washington Football Team.

Despite a strong performance by Washington’s defensive line, their defense simply could not stop the “mighty grizzly bear” Josh Allen. Allen had an outstanding, MVP caliber, performance with 358 yards through the air and five total touchdowns.

But Buffalo’s own front seven wasn’t exactly dominant. This Week 3 matchup featured limited pressures, some poor tackling, and not enough sacks on the stat sheet. A showing I certainly did not expect.

This weekend, the Bills host the Houston Texans. This will be the first time these two teams meet since Buffalo’s heartbreaking loss in the 2019 wildcard game. One that’ll stick in our collective craw for years. 

Just like last weekend’s game, we’ll be facing the team of a former Bills quarterback: Tyrod Taylor. However, also like last game, Taylor won’t see the field. He was injured in Week 2 against the Cleveland Browns.

Instead, the Bills will now be facing David Mills, a.k.a. “Mills Mafia”, and an underwhelming Houston Texans squad. The team is 1-2 but has been overperforming in some aspects, including the fact that they have actually won a game. 

Regardless, the Bills need to keep asserting their dominance on the National Football League, and the Houston Texans are a perfect team to do it against. 

Offensive Recap

Grade: A-

See, what did I tell you? The Bills O-line held their own against a defensive unit that was #2 in the entire league a season ago, and it showed. 

The front five didn’t allow a single sack to a very athletic defensive line. This protection allowed Allen to showcase to the entire league that he is back to his 2020 form… and teams should be scared. On top of that, the rushing attack dominated once again, as Zach Moss, Devin Singletary, Allen, and your 2020 “NVP” Mitchell Trubisky combined for 122 yards and a score.

That said, while each of the five linemen did their job, they weren’t perfect. Early in the game, Cody Ford had some serious trouble stopping Washington DT Jonathan Allen; allowing him to get in Josh’s face. 

Luckily for the Bills, it didn’t seem to bother him all that much.

Offensive Line MVP: Daryl Williams

One player that I’d love to give a shoutout to is Daryl Williams. After a sluggish first two weeks, big #75 completely shut out Chase Young. In fact, Williams did such a good job that Young was visibly angry at his own teammates… just to fail his contain on Josh and allow a rushing score.

All in all, a much better performance for the O-Line this weekend as they continue to show some marked improvement. 

Bills Offensive Game Plan

HOU Starters: LDE: Whitney Mercilus, LDT: Maliek Collins, RDT: DeMarcus Walker, RDE: Jordan Jenkins, WLB: Zach Cunningham, MLB: Christian Kirksey, SLB: Joe Thomas.

Notable Subs: DE: Jonathan Greenard, MLB: Kamu Grugier-Hill

Former Patriots executive and current Texans General Manager Nick Caserio pretty much cleaned Houston’s defensive house last offseason. He released Future Hall of Famer J.J. Watt, traded Benardrick McKinley to Miami, and let Carlos Watkins walk to Dallas. But even with the loss of some of their bigger names on D, Caserio did a pretty solid job of finding replacements.

Christian Kirksey, Maliek Collins, Joe Thomas, and Kevin Pierre-Louis are some of the new, notable players on the Texans’ defensive squad. All four had big impacts on their previous teams and were brought in to fill bigger roles in Houston.

But they haven’t been too good so far this year. 

The Texans are currently a bottom-10 team in the entire league, according to ESPN’s Team Total Defensive rankings. They struggle mightily in the passing game, though they are somewhat better against the run.

While the Bills’ run game has been sturdy these first few weeks, this is a perfect week for them to stay focused on the passing attack. Unfortunately for the Bills, Jon Feliciano has been ruled out. Expect to see a lot of Ike Boettger, a personal favorite of mine. But don’t be shocked if Ryan Bates or even Jamil Douglas starts over him.

As mentioned above, the Washington Football Team failed to even touch Josh Allen despite boasting one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. The Texans’ line is considerably worse at rushing the passer and their secondary is a bottom-five unit in the league.

Of course, when you can run the ball, you should run the ball. Moss has looked phenomenal and Singletary is steadily showing improvement over his substandard performance in 2020. This is a very exploitable defense, and the Bills’ offense should have little trouble taking advantage of it.

Defensive Recap

Grade: B

This Bills’ defense is having a major turnaround this season, but if you’re going to tell the story of a bounceback year, maybe this isn’t the best game to start with.

They definitely did OK. I mean, it’s not like they lost the game, right? 

Matt Milano so far has proved to be worth every penny Brandon Beane gave him. The secondary locked down from start to finish, while the defensive line has been creating some heavy pressure. However, I thought there were several moments where the front seven could have capitalized, but didn’t.

One guy I am going to knock in particular is Tremaine Edmunds. Every time I see him on the field (with his size, he’s hard to miss), I feel like he’s out of place. He doesn’t get in the backfield very often, he’s not a great play identifier, and truly isn’t a great zone-coverage linebacker. Now, in his fourth year in the league, he definitely needs to figure some stuff out. 

For the rest of the line, what they really need to focus on is consistently applying pressure and getting to the quarterback, which they did. But not a lot of that ended up on the stat sheet. 

Also, another thing to point out: that 73-yard Antonio Gibson touchdown in the second quarter was just plain unacceptable. Of course, that falls on the defense as a whole, but that play just made my eyes hurt. 

Front-7 MVP: Matt Milano

Don’t need to say much here. Milano has looked like one of the league’s best linebackers through three weeks. He’s playing the best football of his young career. Seven total tackles, two tackles for loss, and a forced fumble on former Buffalo Bill Logan Thomas. I believe this is the year Milano becomes an All-Pro. 

Honorable Mention: Star Lotulelei

I knew Star was going to have a huge impact on this defense when he returned to Buffalo this season. And I was right. The man is triple-covered every game. Sure, he’s no Aaron Donald, but Lotulelei can absolutely wreak havoc on opposing offenses. On top of that, he was the only Bills player to have a sack all game in Week 3. Give credit where it’s due!

Bills Defensive Gameplan

HOU Starters: LT Laremy Tunsil, LG: Tyus Howard, C: Justin Britt, RG: Max Scharping, RT: Marcus Cannon.

Notable Subs: G: Justin McCray, T: Charlie Heck

Caserio didn’t just focus on upgrading Houston’s defense. He also brought in some very notable names on offense, including running backs Mark Ingram and Philip Lindsay, center Justin Britt, right tackle Marcus Cannon, and guard Justin McCray. (And of course Tyrod and former Bills stud-return specialist Andre Roberts.)

These additions have aided a run game that was in need of serious assistance after a terribly ineffective 2020 season on the ground; an area that ranked second to last in the entire league. They’re still not the best but are nowhere near where they were last season.

The line is anchored by former Miami Dolphins first-round selection Larmey “Gas mask” Tunsil, followed by 2020 draft picks Tyus Howard and Max Scharping, with Britt and Cannon holding down their respective positions.

On paper, it’s a pretty solid line. Tunsil is one of the best left tackles in the league. Howard and Scharping have been solid additions since they’ve joined. Cannon is a long-time vet with 10 years of NFL experience. And Britt was once considered one of the best at his position…

The five-man unit has only allowed six sacks through the first three games in 2021. But four of those came in their last game on Thursday night against the Carolina Panthers. They struggled to protect their rookie quarterback and had an incredibly difficult time running the ball, only managing 42 yards on the ground. 

So, just like last week, and the week before that, and yes, the week before that: get in the opposing quarterback’s face and stop the run. Mills is a rookie who only played in about 14 games at Stanford (with only 11 starts). That’s not to say he’s a bad quarterback, but his lack of starting experience is noteworthy. 

This week, the Bills D-line that struggled to do much against a mediocre offensive line in Week 3 has a chance to bounce back against a struggling unit blocking for an inexperienced quarterback.

This should be a good opportunity to get themselves right and get a little retribution for 2019’s disappointment.

Wrap Up

I’m not that concerned about this game. Maybe I would be a little more if a healthy Tyrod Taylor was playing, but he isn’t. With a number of players from 2019 still on the roster, I think the Bills will be bent on exacting some revenge against the Texans. For that reason, I expect a blowout win.

I never like making bold predictions because I am often terribly wrong when I do. But I think this is another week; another opportunity for the Bills to showcase their offensive and defensive firepower and solidify their status as one of the best teams in the entire league. 

Disagree with what I said? Tweet at me! @RubinsteinPete on Twitter.

Sources:

  • Depth charts courtesy of ESPN and ourlads.com
  • Offensive and Defensive rankings courtesy of ESPN
  • Statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference 

Cover the Buffalo Bills for the Buffalo Fanatics media group. Follow on Twitter @RubinsteinPete

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