Grading the Bills
A Left side, strong side. The Bills were not shy running behind tackle Cordy Glenn and guard Richie Incognito early and often with punishing results. Shifty, yet decisive, LeSean McCoy found his rhythm behind both blockers. For the third time this year, he rushed for 112 yards on the nose. He had help, too. Practice squad call-up Mike Gillislee busted loose for 30 yards in the first half to tee up the Bills’ first touchdown. Buffalo dominated what had been a dominant defensive line.
B+ The only blemishes on Tyrod Taylor’s day were two potential pick-sixes in the fourth quarter that were dropped. Otherwise, he again did precisely what Greg Roman wants. He didn’t turn it over. He took timely shots deep. He even used his legs on a nifty eight-yard touchdown. The result was a 127.2 passer rating and this first-year starter has now thrown 17 touchdowns to only four picks, setting the Bills’ record for consecutive pass attempts without a pick. That "trust" Sammy Watkins has been seeking for so long is peaking at the right time.
B The bad news? Nobodies broke tackles against Buffalo’s defense at times. Sloppy tackling was again a problem. Chris Polk was a undrafted player Philadelphia gave up on. Jonathan Grimes, also undrafted, has spent three different stints in Houston in four seasons. The good news? Despite all the injuries up front — and there were even more Sunday — the Bills mostly contained the bleeding. Linebackers Manny Lawson and Preston Brown set the tone with 17 combined tackles, often with bite. Attitude. And that's been missing in Rex Ryan's defense.
C All season, Rex Ryan and Dennis Thurman have been able to eliminate a team’s No. 1 threat from the game. Even Odell Beckham was a non-factor, frustrated to the point of punching players. On Sunday, the Bills held DeAndre Hopkins to one catch in the first half. But he’d eventually school rookie Ronald Darby in the second half (albeit with a slight push-off) and Brian Hoyer still threw for 293 yards and three touchdowns. Lucky for Buffalo, Sam Bradford, Kirk Cousins, Matt Cassel and Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t quite a murderer’s row of quarterbacks on tap.
D Again, the Bills will need to think about their shaking kicking situation. Dan Carpenter missed a field goal and an extra point—points that could’ve proven costly. And when Marcus Thigpen returned a punt 42 yards to the Houston 13-yard line with 2:46 to go, it was called back to Buffalo’s 35-yard line on a Ron Brooks holding penalty. Colton Schmidt did have a beaut of a coffin corner kick to the Texans’ 6-yard line. Ray Guy would be proud.
B+ Sunday could have — really should have — been total disaster for the Bills’ offense. No starting right guard. No starting right tackle. Against the J.J. Watt-powered Texans? The medics were probably on edge, waiting to pounce. And yet, Roman crafted a perfect game plan. He ran it 36 times, passed it 21 times and those 36 runs were a blend of everything from power, to stretch plays to the Wildcat. Watt was invisible for stretches. And Roman found the soft spots in Houston’s secondary — exploiting reckless safety Quintin Demps and rookie cornerback Kevin Johnson.
Grading the Texans
B Who knows where this Texans offense would be with a healthy Arian Foster? They’re one more true playmaker, true threat away from being a playoff-caliber offense. Losing Foster, who has 6,472 career rushing yards, was a major blow. The Texans’ current collection of backs had their moments Sunday but were, all in all, underwhelming compared to McCoy’s explosion. Buffalo dictated the tempo with its own run game.
B+ This game, Ryan ramped up the pressure and it was, at times, effective. Bacarri Rambo blitzed to sack Brian Hoyer and then pretended to shoot a bow and arrow. Jerry Hughes ripped around the corner for a sack. In all, Buffalo had six quarterback hits from six different players — night and day after not laying a finger on Alex Smith. Hoyer still put up solid numbers but the Bills’ forced four straight incompletions late to seal the deal.
D Matthew Mulligan said the Bills knew exactly what the Texans were doing with their run defense. Watt echoed this sentiment, to an extent, in saying “They had a few different things they were putting out there.” Roman’s scheme kept Houston’s star-laden front seven guessing all game long. McCoy converted one third and 2 from a direct snap. The Bills were creative in how they blocked Watt, cutting him from the backside at times and doubling him.
D Kevin Johnson and Andre Hal will probably have nightmares over two plays in the fourth quarter. On back-to-back fourth downs in the fourth quarter, each player dropped potential interceptions that could’ve been touchdowns. An exasperated Hal only shook his head afterward. Before this, Houston was burnt on two deep balls to Watkins. After this, of course, Quintin Demps had the fateful error in jumping the route to Matthew Mulligan instead of sticking with Charles Clay deep middle on a 40-yard touchdown.
C- The longer extra point is really starting to wreak a little havoc around the NFL. Both kickers Sunday missed extra points on Sunday, the Texans got only 21 total return yards and — maybe it’s something with The Ralph? — committed four special teams penalties. Shane Lechler did pin four of his seven punts inside the 20-yard line.
D+ At one point, the Texans were 2-5 on the fast track to total dysfunction. Bill O’Brien was able to save the season. He has maximized his talent offensively, working wonders with the journeyman Hoyer. But he was unable to exploit the Bills’ injuries on defense. Down starters at each level, Buffalo was still able to get the necessary stops on defense. O’Brien’s staff could pinpoint a weakness and attack the way Andy Reid and Kansas City did last week.