If the Buffalo Bills’ primary offensive chore Sunday is to prevent Houston Texans All-Universe end J.J. Watt from being a destructive force, their defensive effort is equally clear: don’t allow highly talented wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to consistently burn them for big plays.
The Texans’ relatively straightforward game plan is to target Hopkins as often as possible in hopes of increasing his chances of delivering game-breaking catches. The strategy has worked reasonably well, considering that Hopkins leads the NFL with 142 targets and ranks fourth in the league with 81 receptions for 1,081 yards and nine touchdowns.
“One of the things is, they target him on first down,” Bills safety Duke Williams said. “A lot of receivers in the league, they’re second-and-long, third-down go-to guys. This guy, you’ve got to have him keyed-in on first down because they like to target him downfield on first-down, play-action pass.”
No one on the Bills is more familiar with Hopkins than fellow receiver Sammy Watkins, because they were teammates at Clemson. They’re also close friends.
“He has, literally, everything,” Watkins said. “He’s what you call an All-Pro NFL receiver. He’s going to come in and compete, and what you’re going to have to do is double him or triple-coverage him to stop him and, hopefully, we do that.
“If he’s open all the time or one-on-one, just throw the ball up. That’s what’s been happening. He’s been one-on-one and wide open. Even when a guy’s close on him, he’s going to make that catch and fight for the ball.”
With only 48 targets this season, Watkins can’t help but feel somewhat envious of Hopkins.
“That’s something that you wish for,” he said of how frequently Hopkins is targeted. “And lately we’ve been actually doing that, so I’ve been getting the good side of it and hopefully we just continue to keep attacking everybody and be aggressive.”