The NFL is all about matchups.
The Bills are not as bad as some would have you believe. They have a balanced offense, including a decent passing game and two above-average running backs in Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller.
Nevertheless, they stand virtually no chance against the AFC-leading Texans on Sunday. Here is why.
Arian Foster and Play-Action
When you talk about the Texans' offense, you have to talk about star running back Arian Foster. But on the same note, you have to talk about their stellar offensive line—featuring offensive tackle Duane Brown—and the play-action options that they generate.
The heavy workload Foster carries and the success he achieves forces opposing defenses to bite on play-action. A quarterback with Matt Schaub's talent could easily throw the ball 30-40 times per game on a lesser team. The great power of the Texans as that they do not need him to do so.
Schaub sometimes gets criticized for a variety of things, such as not having a fourth-quarter comeback since 2010. However, when you are almost always winning the fourth quarter, you do not have as many opportunities for comebacks. Schaub more often than not plays quietly efficient football—complementary to the running game—that wins games without generating many highlights.
As Schaub said of his offense:
We can run the ball, we can run our play action game, we can drop back, we can throw it. It just depends on what the defenses are doing to us as far as their coverages and their fronts and what’s gonna work. We can pound guys in the inside with the run game or we can throw it around. It’s just whatever it calls for, and that’s what we’re doing.
Schaub is widely considered to be the best play-action quarterback in the NFL. If you cannot stop Arian Foster, you cannot stop Matt Schaub and you cannot hang tight with the Texans.
Boring as it may be, these methodical blowout victories are the sign of consistency and promise. The Texans won four of their first seven games by 20 points or more. On Sunday they face a team that has lost three games by 20 points or more.
The Bills' Defense
This past offseason, the Bills spent around $100 million on All-Pro defensive end Mario Williams. The expectation was that at least he would elevate them to the point of being a mediocre defensive unit.
Boy did that not happen.
Calling the Bills' defense one of the worst in the NFL would be almost a compliment at this point. They yielded 48 points to the Jets, 52 to the rival Patriots, 45 to the 49ers and 35 more to the Tennessee Titans.
They are dead last in the NFL against the run and not much better against the pass, especially considering how much of the time opponents are simply running out the clock.
As Sal Maiorana of DemocratAndChronicle.com put it:
Mario Williams said he doesn’t care what we think about his performance. Truthfully, there hasn’t been a performance to care about. Let’s call it now—this guy is soft, and the Bills have apparently whiffed to the tune of $100 million. He was invisible yet again. He said in the locker room he needs to get better. You know what, he was supposed to already be better when he got here. He was supposed to be one of the best in the league. He’s not, and the team he left—Houston—is now 6-1 without him.
Williams is not the only Bills defender performing poorly against the run. Nearly every member of the defense ranks negatively against the run this year. Williams, Marcell Dareus, Mark Anderson and Kelvin Sheppard are some of the worst offenders. These are guys who were expected to perform at an above-average level.
The linebackers are not quite holding their own either. They are generating zero pass rush. Forget sacks. They cannot even get pressures. The entire linebacking core has a total of five quarterback pressures on the season.
Going against a Houston offense that includes Arian Foster, Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson, it is hard to imagine the Bills not yielding at least a couple of touchdowns. More importantly, the time of possession battle is likely to go in the wrong direction.
In order to keep up with Houston, Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Bills' offense will probably need to put up 30 points or more on the Texans' defense.
That is a very high expectation to have for an offense that is good but not great. The Bills are currently 30th in the NFL in passing yards. That is not because their passing game is terrible. It is because they do not get enough time with the ball.
Defense affects offense, and complementary football is something the Bills have not been able to play.
Who will win on Sunday?
I will not call this one a complete lock. Stranger things have happened than the Bills suddenly remembering how to play defense. The Texans' defense can be beaten, as proven by the Green Bay Packers.
Nevertheless, this should be an easy win for the Texans. No fourth-quarter—or even second half—heroics should be necessary from Schaub and the Texans' offense.