Oh, for those heady days of summer, when we thought the defense might actually be elite. We assumed the defense would be good enough to carry the offense in the tough times, to keep the Bills competitive in low-scoring struggles against the top teams, especially on the road.
Now, it looks as if their only chance this Sunday in Houston will be if the offense can manage to keep that pathetic defense off the field.
The Texans are good, scary good. They have the best running back in the NFL in Arian Foster. They're deadly efficient in the passing game. The defense, led by our old pal, Wade Phillips, is fourth in the league against the run and fifth against the pass. They do everything well.
You know what's really frightful about them? Time of possession. The Texans have held the ball an average of 35:23, a staggering figure this late in a season. That means they run the ball down your throat, then rip it right back. Their defense leads the AFC with 26 three-and-out drives.
So what hope is there for the Bills? Well, how about giving Houston some of its own medicine? The Bills are fourth in the league in rushing. They're averaging 5.3 yards a carry, third-best in the NFL. They finally have tailbacks Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller both reasonably healthy and ready to share the load.
So run the ball on Sunday, and run it some more. Control the clock, which will accomplish two things: Limit Foster's opportunities against what is shaping up as one of the worst run defenses in NFL history, and keep defensive end J.J. Watt from terrorizing Ryan Fitzpatrick.
No one said it would be easy. But Craig Urbik is expected back at right guard. Cordy Glenn might return at left tackle. The offensive line is the strength of the team. Let's see it. They need to reestablish the snarling physical identity they had against the Chiefs and Browns earlier this year.
“I think it generally starts with the O-line,” said center Eric Wood. “You can mask a bad O-line, but a good offensive line can control a game.”
Wood holds the O-line to a high standard. He said it needs to play better. If the offensive linemen want more respect, this is when they earn it – in back-to-back games against the AFC elite. Time to let the Texans know they're in a street fight.
“Yeah, and we have to get it established early,” said left guard Andy Levitre. “It's going to take us finishing to the whistle. We know how good they are versus the run. In order for us to do better than them, we've got to outplay them for 60 minutes.”
That's hard to do when Houston controls the ball for 60 percent of the time. You need to be patient. The Texans haven't allowed a 20-yard run all season. If you pound away at the defensive front and soften them up, you can open up some things in the passing game.
The Packers did that and Aaron Rodgers scalded them for six TD passes in a 42-24 win in Houston.
The Bills aren't the Packers, and Fitzpatrick is more Mister Rogers than Aaron Rodgers.
But the offensive line is good enough, and tough enough, to stand up to the Texans. As Wood said, it starts with the offensive line. Somehow, this reeling football team needs to assert its physical identity.
The defense certainly hasn't done it. One way or another, the Bills need to make a physical statement and put to rest the growing suspicion that what they really are is soft.