Grading the Bills
RUNNING GAME: B
C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson had only six carries apiece. Spiller did well with his limited opportunities, rushing for 39 yards – an average of 6.5 a carry. Jackson averaged 3.5 yards. The Bills contended the Texans induced more passes by refusing to take out a linebacker and inserting a nickel back. But how can Spiller or Jackson get into any kind of rhythm with so few handoffs or pitches?
PASSING GAME: C-
Ryan Fitzpatrick completed 65.8 percent of his passes for 239 yards, no touchdowns or interceptions. He had a decent 83.1 passer rating. But the Bills can’t stretch the field, insisting on trying to gain yardage while throwing the ball as shortly as possible. Screens didn’t work. Jackson had five catches for 14 yards. Fitzpatrick targeted Stevie Johnson seven times for three catches and 29 yards.
RUN DEFENSE: C
The Bills played better than their reputation as run-game rugs. Even so, Arian Foster ran 24 times for 111 yards and a TD. He was so effective the Texans dominated time of possession in the second half, holding the ball for 19:49 and making defenders bite on play-action and bootleg passes that left receivers wide open. Texans not named Foster ran eight times for 7 yards.
PASS DEFENSE: D+
Matt Schaub was the game’s MVP. He averaged 8.8 yards per attempt. He was 19 of 27 for 268 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions for a 126.8 passer rating. Mario Williams and Kyle Moore recorded sacks in the first half, but pressure was low in the second half. Aaron Williams, Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin all tried to stop receiver Andre Johnson, with no success.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-
Rian Lindell missed a 37-yard field goal wide right in the second quarter, but defensive tackle Alex Carrington got those three points back by blocking Shayne Graham’s 46-yard try soon after. Lindell did just fine with kickoff specialist John Potter scratched from the lineup. The Texans mostly contained McKelvin, who did have a 20-yard punt return but averaged only 18.5 yards on two kickoffs.
Chan Gailey did a better job of taking the Bills out of their offense than Wade Phillips did. Buffalo’s offense responded to Carrington’s block by driving 47 yards in 47 seconds for a field goal. Then the Bills squandered the momentum with a pair of passing-exclusive, three-and-out drives on their first three second-half possessions. The dearth of touches for Spiller, Jackson and Johnson is bewildering.
Grading the Texans
RUNNING GAME: A-
The Texans did what the Texans do: run, run, run to set up the pass. Schaub had the gaudiest stats, but the Texans rushed 32 times and threw it 29 times. Foster didn’t wow us with breakaway runs. Of the Texans’ 10 longest plays, only three of them were from Foster. But he hammered the ball effectively enough to get inside the Bills’ heads whenever the Texans decided to pass.
PASSING GAME: B+
Schaub spread the ball around with ease. Of the 10 times he targeted No. 1 receiver Andre Johnson, eight of them were caught for 118 yards. Schaub worked the short field with fullback James Casey and tight end Garrett Graham. And Schaub went deep, connecting with tight end Owen Daniels for a 39-yard touchdown and even trying to hit Johnson in the end zone from 30 yards out on fourth down.
RUN DEFENSE: B
The Texans weren’t tested much because Spiller and Jackson got so few carries, but that was because the defense forced the Bills to throw. Of the Bills’ 10 longest plays, only two of them were runs, which is a great way to limit a dynamic tandem. Spiller had a 22-yard run out of a shotgun formation, and Jackson broke a 13-yarder. Both of those plays were in the second quarter.
PASS DEFENSE: B+
The Texans couldn’t pick off Fitzpatrick, but they chased him around with fervor, tallying three sacks. Superstar defensive end J.J. Watt had one sack and five quarterback hits. Linebacker Connor Barwin was credited with four quarterback hits. On an aborted pass play, rookie linebacker Whitney Mercilus forced a Fitzpatrick fumble. The Texans had six passes defensed, including three by defensive linemen.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C-
The Texans don’t have much on special teams. They’re mediocre at returning punts and kickoffs. They punted on their first possession, but rather than place the Bills at the 9-yard line, a pair of penalties and a re-punt allowed the Bills to start at their own 27. Houston coach Gary Kubiak said the second-quarter blocked field goal forced them to go for it on fourth down from Buffalo’s 30 late in the game.
The Bills ostensibly admitted Phillips’ game plan spooked them out of running the ball, and that’s exactly what opponents should do against the Bills: force Fitzpatrick to beat them. The Texans’ only questionable sequence came at the end of the first half, calling their timeouts for a scoring drive, gaining 3 yards and punting to the Bills, who kicked a field goal.