Week 6 Game Preview: Buffalo Bills at Houston Texans
New Bills backup quarterback Derek Anderson could only chuckle when he was reminded of the two times he beat the Bills when he was Cleveland’s starting quarterback, despite two of the worst performances of his career.
He led the Browns to an 8-0 victory late in 2007 that not only kept alive Cleveland’s playoff chances but ended Buffalo’s. That game, played in a brutal snowstorm, saw Anderson complete 9 of 24 passes for 137 yards. And that was brilliant compared to the nightmare he suffered through in 2009 in Buffalo when he completed just 2 of 17 passes for 23 yards yet came away with a 6-3 victory.
“Two-of-17, but there were four or five drops,’’ Anderson said with a laugh. “It wasn’t pretty. And obviously there was the snow game in Cleveland, another fun one. I never played in games where it was that windy, but hey, they’re wins.’’
Anderson came out of exile this week, signed by the Bills to serve as a mentor to rookie quarterback Josh Allen. After his contract with the Panthers expired in March, Anderson never hooked on with a team and was thinking his 14-year career was over.
However, Bills coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane worked several years in Carolina while Anderson was backing up and mentoring Cam Newton, and they decided the time was right to give Allen some help. Further, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll was in that role in 2009 with the Browns, so he, too, had a relationship with Anderson.
“Obviously knowing Beane and knowing Daboll, there had been discussions previously,’’ Anderson said. “I think this is just the right time and I’m very happy to be here. It’s always good to have a guy who has been there, done that, and can act as sounding board. I’ve seen a lot of football. I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs in my career. I can just be a guy he can lean on, ask me questions. I told him, 'I’m here if you need me to watch a guy, something you’re unsure of.' The last seven years with Cam, I obviously watched him grow. It’s fun.’’
Allen has lacked that presence in the Bills’ quarterback room ever since A.J. McCarron was traded at the end of the preseason. Second-year man Nathan Peterman can’t help Allen learn, so Anderson comes aboard to serve a role similar to what Josh McCown is doing with Sam Darnold in New York.
On Wednesday, following their first practice together as they prepared for their road game in Houston, Allen said, “It was awesome, just talking with him out at practice, after practice, just things that he’s kind of been through, the things that he sees. H’s got a lot of experience in this league, he’s a guy that going to help me and Nate out … very beneficial, just the experience that he brings to our room. Any tidbits that he has, you know, I’m going to take them and run with them and try to apply them to my game.”
The Bills relied on their running game last week to defeat Tennessee, and LeSean McCoy figures to get a heavy workload again, as long as the score dictates it.
“He’s a young player, so I think if you give a young player too much information, sometimes that can cloud them up,” said Daboll, explaining the theory behind leaning on the running game. “There’s a fine line between not giving them enough and then giving them too much. Each week, I think we try to balance it the best we can in terms of the amount of plays, the responsibilities.”
This is the ninth regular-season meeting and the series is tied 4-4. The Bills won three of the first four meetings, then lost three in a row before a 30-21 victory in 2015. In that game, Tyrod Taylor threw three touchdown passes which remains his single-game career-best. In the 2006 season, the Bills won 24-21 on a J.P. Losman to Peerless Price 15-yard TD pass with nine seconds left.
BY THE NUMBERS
3 – Times in Bills history where they won a game they were trailing on the last play of regulation. The first came on a Jim Kelly TD run for a 27-24 victory in Miami in 1989, and the other came on a Rian Lindell field goal in 2008 against the Raiders.
• DT Jordan Phillips was signed on Tuesday off waivers from Miami, and the fourth-year veteran and former second-round draft pick played 17 snaps and was in on three tackles and batted down a pass.
• WR Ray Ray McCloud was the target on a key play on the Bills’ game-winning drive, a quick screen that he turned into a seven-yard gain. He played 13 snaps in the game as the Bills desperately seek someone to step up at the position.
• FS Jordan Poyer was in on three tackles, one of which went for a loss, and he recovered a fumble in a game where he had to play a bigger role with his safety mate, Micah Hyde, sidelined.
• RB Marcus Murphy has battled a rib injury, but he never showed up on the injury report last week, so he was essentially a healthy scratch. Murphy has 70 yards rushing, but he has struggled terribly in blitz pick-up.
• SS Micah Hyde was limited in practice due to a groin injury, but there seems a chance that he’ll be able to return to action after missing the Tennessee game.
• SS Rafael Bush wore a red no contact jersey during his limited work in practice, and it’s uncertain how much his shoulder injury has healed as he also missed last week’s game.
• CB Tre’Davious White, who has a big assignment this week covering DeAndre Hopkins, was limited due to an ankle injury.
CB Taron Johnson. The Bills had a gaping hole to fill at nickel cornerback in the offseason after they made the decision to not re-sign aging veteran Leonard Johnson, a player who had a solid 2017 season. The Bills targeted Johnson in the draft despite the fact that he’s a little undersized at 5-11, 192 pounds, and he played at lower level Weber State of the Big Sky Conference. But the fourth-round pick won the job in a training camp battle with veteran Phillip Gaines, and he has been one of the Bills’ most noteworthy players despite dealing with a shoulder injury that occurred in the second quarter of the first game and forced him to miss the Week 2 game. Johnson made his first career interception last week against the Titans.
The Bills made it clear last week against Tennessee that the offensive coaches don’t trust Josh Allen all that much, and for good reason. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll called 43 runs on 64 offensive snaps which took much of the burden off the struggling rookie who is completing just 53.3 percent of his passes for an offense that is averaging a laughable 121.8 yards passing. In Houston, the Bills have to establish the run again, if for no other reason than to minimize the damage defensive linemen J.J. Watt and Jadaveon Clowney could wreak on the Bills’ offensive line. However, the Bills have to be better on first down because if they get into undesirable second- and third-and-long situations on the road, as they did in Green Bay and Baltimore in their two road losses, they will have a miserable day.
On defense, the Bills did an excellent job keeping Tennessee’ dual-threat QB, Marcus Mariota, in the pocket and not letting him make plays on the perimeter. They did it with a strong four-man pass rush and solid coverage downfield. The issue against Houston is that QB Deshaun Watson is even more mobile, and he has much better weapons to throw to than Mariota. CB Tre’Davious White will almost certainly travel with Texans star WR DeAndre Hopkins all day, and it will be his biggest test to date as Hopkins already has 39 receptions for a league-high 594 yards. The Bills have to control Watson/Hopkins and force him to go to secondary targets, and while that’s happening, stay aggressive and force turnovers which have proven critical in each of the Bills’ two victories.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Bills DEs Trent Murphy and Jerry Hughes vs. Texans offensive line. If the Bills don’t have the worst offensive line in the NFL, the Texans do. They have not been able to protect Deshaun Watson and he’s been taking a beating with 18 sacks and 53 QB hits. The Bills figure to dial up the pressure, and in Murphy and Hughes, they have two speed rushers coming off the edge, and if Watson steps up, the DTs led by Kyle Williams and Star Lotulelei will be there to clean up. If the Bills don’t get pressure, the Texans will be able to move the ball, especially if the Bills don’t get SS Micah Hyde back.
Bills offensive line vs. Texans front seven. It works the other way, too. If the Bills get overrun by DE J.J. Watt and LBs Whitney Merciless and Jadaveon Clowney, Josh Allen will be in for a horrific night. Like Watson, Allen has been a punching bag as he’s been sacked 19 times for 151 yards in losses. But just as important as protecting Allen, the Bills’ line will have to establish control up front in the run game. If the Texans shut down LeSean McCoy and Chris Ivory, the Bills will have almost no chance to move the ball.