Good morning, everyone. Here are three quick Bills thoughts with another crucial AFC match-up looming...
More of McCoy. Before the season, one of the great unknowns with this Bills offense was whether or not LeSean McCoy would hold up. At 27 years old, with the tread on his tires, on a new team, how much left did he have to give? Turns out, plenty. McCoy eventually put a nagging hamstring injury behind him to find his rhythm and rush for 534 yards on 109 carries (4.9 avg.) the last six weeks. He has carried the ball at least 16 times in each game and, now, McCoy might be in line for an even heavier workload. Rookie Karlos Williams has not practiced this week with his shoulder injury. The best medicine in facing this dangerous J.J. Watt-led pass rush is a heavy dose of the ground game (preferably away from Watt) and Houston has been a middling 16th against the run this season at 107.5 rush yards allowed per game. Buffalo probably tries to get its sweep play working out of the shotgun again, but this may be the game to mix it up even more with a blend of power and stretch plays.
One comment from that story linked above resonates now. Jamal Lewis, the back on Ryan's teams in Baltimore, said there's a value in a back getting 15, 20, 25 carries through the course of a game.
“You don’t change out a quarterback throughout the game because they get adjusted to the defense and establish that tempo,” Lewis said. “They get better as the game goes on because they get a feel for that defense. … They can pick out weaknesses in the defense and they can attack them later on.
“As the back, you can see what’s going on and then you can counter-attack that.”
Buffalo will be leaning on McCoy's feel for tacklers this final month of the season, even more so with Williams ailing.
Is Tony Steward ready? Buffalo sure hopes so. Nigel Bradham didn't have a walking boot on over his injured ankle on Wednesday and is hopeful to at some point fairly soon. But right now, the rookie Steward will start next to Preston Brown at inside linebacker. He has played only four defensive snaps this season, sticking to special teams work. Granted, this is how many linebackers in the NFL get their shot. They bide their time on coverage units, open coaches' eyes with a jarring hit here or there and then vault into the line-up by Year 2 or Year 3. So this promotion is probably just sooner than the Bills envisioned relying on Steward. First, the team lost top back-up ILB Ty Powell to a torn ACL in training camp. A.J. Tarpley served as the No. 3 through the year, played at Kansas City and the team quickly realized he was not ready yet. Is Steward? Houston will test him. After tearing his own ACL's in school, Steward regained his explosion and is confident today.
"He’s got talent," Brown said this week, "that’s something good to see in a young guy. He’s going to come out there and play hard. We know he knows his stuff so it’s going to be good to have him out there, get some reps out there and get some experience. ... It’s going to be something new playing together. We have to learn how each other plays. It’s going to be a little learning process throughout the week but we’ll have it ready by Sunday."
To pressure or not to pressure? That'll be the question again. Coach Rex Ryan took a jab at the media Wednesday when told one of his players was even surprised at the lack of pressure, saying "Right now you guys are looking for anything." Zero hits on the quarterback from a defense that just led the NFL in sacks might do it. The Bills are battling injuries, sure, but every team is. Somehow, the Bills have to generate a pass rush --- it'll make everyone's lives easier on defense. Mario Williams returned to practice this week. Now would be a good time for the veteran with 94 career sacks (and three this season) to disrupt the quarterback. Jerry Hughes has gotten to the QB but also has 11 penalties this (including seven 15-yarders). Ryan might have have no choice but to ramp up the blitzing, which was a strength of Steward's at Clemson. He had 13 pressures his final season.
As Stephon Gilmore said, a lack of pressure makes cornerbacks' jobs "very tough." He added: "Especially, timing-wise in your head, when you know the ball’s going to come out you kind of anticipate it." Hoyer doesn't pose the same threat as Alex Smith did as a runner, even if the Bills vastly overestimated that strength of Smith. At 5-6, there's no reason to hold much back at all in this one.