Buffalo Bills' OL, WRs Will Be Key to Huge Upset vs. Houston Texans

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Buffalo Bills' OL, WRs Will Be Key to Huge Upset vs. Houston Texans
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

The Houston Texans feature one of the league's best pass defenses thanks to their vicious blitz. If the Buffalo Bills are going to pick up the huge upset win, the offensive line will need to give quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick a comfortable pocket and their wide receivers will need to win one-on-one matchups.

Yes, the offense functions at its best through running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, but although that is a matchup the Bills will want to exploit given the absence of linebacker Brian Cushing, the running backs can't win the game on their own.

Fitzpatrick excels against the blitz, but is not so good when under pressure. This explains a lot in terms of the Bills' offensive philosophy since head coach Chan Gailey has tailored the offense to Fitzpatrick's skill set.

Fitzpatrick is at his best with a clean pocket on short and intermediate passes. He is not an accurate deep passer, having completed just 25 percent of his throws that are 20 yards or deeper downfield, and he has only attempted 9.1 percent of his total passes that deep according to ProFootballFocus.com.

The Texans live by the blitz, but they've been able to scale it back at times. The only games where they have not sent extra men on the rush more than 40 percent of the time were against the Jaguars (eight of 23 drop-backs, 34.8 percent) and the Broncos (15 of 55 drop-backs, 27.3 percent) according to ProFootballFocus.com.

They sent extra men at Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who is one of the best against the blitz, and he burned them for it; they may have learned their lesson with that mistake.

The blitz isn't effective against Fitzpatrick, but pressure is. The best way to beat Fitzpatrick is to make him hold onto the ball with solid coverage and with pressure from the front four. Jamming the receivers and disrupting the timing will be at the forefront of the Texans' defensive game plan this week.

The Bills offensive line has allowed some form of pressure—be it a sack, a hit or just a defender in the quarterback's face—on just 17.2 percent of their passing plays according to ProFootballFocus.com, making them the third-most efficient pass-blocking offensive line in football.

They will be continue to be successful if they're able to beat the jams, which would allow Fitzpatrick to get the ball out quickly. When Fitzpatrick has to hang onto the ball, the pressure will have more time to get there, and pressure in Fitzpatrick's face has proven to be the undoing of the Bills' passing game this season.

Perhaps the Texans will go with a strategy similar to the one they used against the Jaguars and the Broncos. That could prove effective if their front four is able to get pressure on their own.

As we all know, Fitzpatrick is not nearly as accurate as Rodgers, but he's going to have to make some tough throws if the Bills offense is going to have enough success to achieve a victory. The Bills offensive line will also have to do more than just enough in terms of keeping pressure away from Fitzpatrick in some situations.

One way to get receivers off of jams is with route design. The Packers ran some great routes to get their receivers some separation from the Texans' defensive backs.

On this touchdown play, Packers receiver James Jones came all the way across the field in the front half of the end zone. The fact that he had the time to run from one side of the field to the other is an indication of just how good the protection was. 

The protection allowed Rodgers to make the easy read, and once the cornerback peeled off Jones and took Jordy Nelson in the left corner of the end zone, Rodgers threw the ball to Jones, who simply outran safety Danieal Manning and made an incredible catch in tight coverage.

If the Texans do elect to blitz, one way to beat them is with routes that give the receiver inside leverage against the cornerback on the side the blitz is coming from.

Take, for instance, this 2nd-and-7 play in the third quarter, with the Packers up 21-10. The Texans showed blitz, and the Packers were already lined up with a perfect play called. Rodgers didn't have to audible. He just took what the defense gave him.

With a big window to throw into, and with Packers receiver Randall Cobb winning inside leverage on the cornerback, the Packers were able to get 14 yards on this quick pitch-and-catch on a simple route.

One thing the Bills must be wary of, however, is defensive end J.J. Watt, who has mastered the ability to swat away passes at the line of scrimmage. In the two plays above, the Packers threw to the opposite side of the field.

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The Bills may think the short and intermediate passing game is all well and good now, but Watt can blow up that game plan in a hurry.

He did the same to the Dolphins earlier this season, swatting three passes at the line of scrimmage and also to the Jets with two batted passes and a sack. The Bills will have to be mindful of that, and Fitzpatrick will have to do his best to throw the ball around Watt, far enough away that his famously long reach won't disrupt the passing lanes.

In short, it's going to take a perfect storm for the Bills offense to overcome one of the best, if not the best pass defense in football. 

 

Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand. 

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