Here are how my five takes before the Buffalo Bills’ 30-21 victory against the Houston Texans on Sunday worked out:
1. Make this game all about not allowing Brian Hoyer to be anything more than pedestrian. A semi-check here. Hoyer threw for three touchdown passes and made other big plays in completing 26 of 43 passes for 293 yards. He also did a good job of avoiding pressure and crucial mistakes. The one interception he threw came on a Hail Mary pass that ended the game. Still, Hoyer had multiple opportunities to lead the Texans to victory when the Bills’ offense was stalling in the late stages of the game. Buffalo’s defense clamped down on him on third down and his throws were usually just a tad late.
The Bills fully understood they could not allow Hoyer, whom the Cleveland Browns yanked for Johnny Manziel in their loss at The Ralph last season, to beat them. And if it’s fair to say that Hoyer didn’t cost the Texans the game, he also didn’t win it for them, which is what a quarterback must do in a game as tight as this one was. It’s also fair to say that Hoyer was the primary reason the Texans were able to tie the game at 21-21 in the fourth quarter before the Bills pulled away at the end.
2. Tyrod Taylor has to step up in ways that he has shown only occasionally this season. Check. You can’t step up a whole lot more convincingly than throwing for three touchdowns and running for another. Boobie Dixon had it right when he said of Taylor, “He’s the man, Tyrod’s the MVP.” Although he had two near pick-sixes, Taylor was every bit as efficient as he needed to be in such a close game. He completed 11 of 21 passes for 211 yards, with no turnovers, for a passer rating of 127.2. He also ran seven times for 28 yards, including his 9-yard score, and did a good job of avoiding pressure from J.J. Watt and the rest of the Texans’ strong defensive front.
Taylor was sacked only once, but he was hit six times and was frequently forced to move in the pocket. Yet, he never allowed himself to become rattled into serious mistakes.
He also smartly picked on rookie cornerback Kevin Johnson with great success. The Bills’ only true hope for reaching the postseason is Taylor having the sort of complete game that he had Sunday from start to finish. The Bills have a strong enough running game that he doesn’t have to carry the entire offense on his passing arm, but he does need to provide the difference-making throws he delivered against Houston.
3. Figure out ways to prevent J.J. Watt from taking over the game. Check-plus. The Bills did a remarkable job of keeping the Texans’ defensive lineman from wreaking the sort of havoc he did when the teams played last season at Houston and he had a decisive pick-six on an attempted screen pass by EJ Manuel. By Watt’s standards, Sunday’s was an atrocious performance. He wasn’t credited with a sack, although he had one that was wiped out by offsetting penalties, and he had no hits. Watt’s stat line showed two tackles and two assists. Not the sort of day one expected from a candidate for league MVP and for a third NFL Defensive Player of the Year award.
But the Bills made good on their vow to have an effective plan ready to deal with him. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman and offensive line coach Aaron Kromer put together a scheme that involved two and sometimes three blockers preventing Watt from having much freedom to operate. In addition, the Bills were successful running the ball away from him and the overall productiveness of their ground game (which averaged 5.2 yards per carry) helped minimize the need to frequently throw. And that, too, helped minimize Watt’s impact.
4. Don’t let DeAndre Hopkins have a Watt-like game on offense. Check. He did catch five passes for 88 yards and a touchdown, but he did not have anything close to a dominant game. Hopkins was limited to a single catch for 6 yards in the first half. He entered the game with an NFL-leading 142 targets, but the Texans wound up targeting him nine times (which was their third-highest total for the game) and only three were in the first half.
The Bills’ coverage of Hopkins and the Texans’ other receivers was impressive considering that cornerback Stephon Gilmore left the game early with a shoulder injury. Give credit to safety Bacarri Rambo in particular for holding up well in coverage and making a massive hit to break up a pass to Cecil Shorts III late in the game.
5. LeSean McCoy warms up for his Philadelphia homecoming with a monster game. Check-plus. He ran for 112 yards for the third time in his last four games. McCoy carried 21 times for an average of 5.3 yards per carry. He left the game briefly in the second half to be checked for a concussion, but returned in time to produce one of the biggest plays of the game when he ran for 32 yards just before the two-minute warning to help set up Taylor’s 40-yard touchdown strike to a wide-open Charles Clay. It actually looks as if McCoy is gaining quickness with each game. His cutting-on-a-dime ability is very much intact, and he used it to his advantage to avoid the pursuit of the Texans’ highly talented defensive front. It was also impressive that McCoy managed to be as effective as he was without the one-two punch the Bills have with rookie running back Karlos Williams, who missed the game with a shoulder injury.