Houston's defense has it on a winning streak that's kept it in a tie atop the AFC South. Buffalo's is hindering it in its chase for a wild-card spot.
The Texans will try for a fifth straight win Sunday in a visit to the Bills, whose defensive-minded coach is experiencing a season unlike any in his time in the NFL.
Houston (6-5) has surrendered an average of 8.8 points and 250.5 yards of total offense on the winning streak, both of which lead the league since the start of Week 8. The 35 points it's allowed in that span follows the 44 it surrendered in a loss to Miami the game before the streak began. The Texans have allowed two touchdowns since and both came in one game.
The defense was dominant in a 24-6 victory over New Orleans last Sunday when Houston became the first team to hold the Saints without a touchdown in a decade.
Coach Bill O'Brien isn't stopping at that as the franchise tries for a fourth single-season winning streak of at least five games.
"How good do they want to be? I think you have to challenge them," said O'Brien, whose team hosts New England next week before traveling to Indianapolis to face its division co-leader. "Is that good enough? There were still some plays that we gave up. They played a heck of a football game, don't get me wrong. We're very pleased with how the defense is playing, but you can never be satisfied. As soon as you kind of get satisfied or you're resting on your laurels ... you're going to get beat."
Buffalo (5-6) would be plenty satisfied with such numbers. The Bills have lost consecutive games and gave up 413 yards in last Sunday's 30-22 loss in Kansas City. The defensive performance might not be a huge surprise given their injury concerns, but it's not what coach Rex Ryan expects from the unit.
Buffalo is allowing 355.9 yards per game, which ranks 19th, and its 16 sacks are tied for 29th. Houston's J.J. Watt, meanwhile, has 9 1/2 in the last five games.
"I've never been in this situation. I think the worst I've ever been in this league is 11th," Ryan said, noting he has never had a defense finish worse than 11th in yards allowed in 10 seasons as a coach or coordinator. "I'm not going to press the panic button. But we'll see. Obviously, we've got to improve."
That'll be tough to do while missing at least three starters - defensive tackle Kyle Williams (injured reserve), linebacker Nigel Bradham (right ankle) and safety Aaron Williams (neck). Alex Carrington, who was filling in for Williams, is out for the year after hurting his left quadriceps last week.
Defensive end Mario Williams is expected to play after testing his injured foot in practice this week.
The Bills aren't up against the most explosive offense, though, with Houston averaging 19.5 points and 313.0 yards on the winning streak. The Texans, though, have taken care of the ball with a plus-5 turnover differential in that time and an improved ground game each week.
They've rushed for 290 yards in the last two with their 4.39 yards per carry against New Orleans being their top mark since Week 1. Their identity, however, is trending toward more complex with various creative schemes being worked into the play calling.
"It's been great, I think," said Brian Hoyer, who was 21 of 27 for 205 yards, two touchdowns and an interception against the Saints. "It's definitely working for us and, if anything, the defense has to prepare for it. ... For me, it's all about what it takes to win the game and for us it's been helpful, it has got us a few first downs and it's another thing to add on the defensive plate when they are preparing for us."
Buffalo's latest defensive effort wasted a mostly impressive game from Tyrod Taylor. The quarterback had his worst completion percentage of the season (55.3) but finished with a season-high 291 yards and three TDs. He hasn't thrown an interception in his last five games but said what the Bills are doing obviously isn't enough.
"It just comes down to us being focused for 60 minutes every game," Taylor said. "We have to be on board and execute for 60 minutes."
That hasn't happened recently against Houston with the Texans winning the last three meetings.