When the Bills run: Brian Daboll heard the cat calls. The Bills’ offensive coordinator called a season-high 43 rushing attempts in Week 5 – a game plan designed to get the run game going, which in turn would take pressure off rookie quarterback Josh Allen. The team averaged just 3.3 yards per carry on those 43 attempts, but it was enough to get a win. LeSean McCoy, the subject of trade rumors this week, handled 26 touches against the Titans, a total that shows he’s healthy. That’s good news for any team inquiring about a trade. The running game faces a stiff challenge Sunday. The Texans are giving up just 3.4 yards per carry, which ranks fourth in the NFL. Edge rushers J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney get more press for what they do rushing the passer, but they’re both terrific against the run. Houston safety Kareem Jackson also ranks No. 1 in run defense among all players at his position, according to analytics website Pro Football Focus. EDGE: Texans.
When the Bills pass: Rookie quarterback Josh Allen has played one so-so game, one good game and two bad ones. Those have come in consecutive weeks. Allen was a mess, frankly, against the Titans. He was far too inaccurate at times and seemed unsure of where to go with the ball. It’s too easy to blame Allen’s shortcoming on his supporting cast. The offensive line received its highest pass-blocking score of the season in Week 5, according to PFF. Yes, everyone knows the receivers need to be better. Allen’s interception last week wasn’t on him, but plenty of the passing game’s struggles are. The Texans are giving up 6.9 yards per pass play, which ranks 24th in the NFL. Former Cardinals star Tyrann Mathieu has given up three receiving touchdowns. EDGE: Texans.
When the Texans run: The Texans are expected to get starting running back Lamar Miller back after he missed last week with a chest injury. Miller, however, is averaging a pedestrian 3.9 yards per carry. That comes after he averaged a career-low 3.7 yards per carry last season. Backup Alfred Blue isn’t having much success, either. He’s at just 3.3 yards per carry on 49 attempts. As a team, Houston ranks 10th in rushing yards per game (116.2), but 20th in yards per play (4.0). The overall total is helped by quarterback Deshaun Watson, whose 201 rushing yards leads the NFL at his position. The Bills’ run defense is knocking on the door of being in the top 10, at 12th overall. Buffalo ranks eighth in yards per play allowed on the ground. EDGE: Bills.
When the Texans pass: Watson is less than a year removed from ACL surgery, but is throwing for more than 300 yards per game. He’s got an impressive collection of receivers, starting with DeAndre Hopkins. Fantasy owners know how great Hopkins is, but he doesn’t seem to get mentioned as much as Odell Beckham Jr., Antonio Brown or Julio Jones, but he’s definitely in that class. Hopkins is on pace for 125 receptions and 1,901 receiving yards, which would make him just the second receiver ever to top 1,900 yards (Detroit’s Calvin Johnson did it in 2012). No player has ever had a 2,000-yard receiving season, but Hopkins could make a run at it. He’s not the only weapon, either. Will Fuller V has three receiving touchdowns this year, while rookie Keke Coutee has 17 catches for 160 yards and a touchdown in two games. The Bills desperately need No. 1 cornerback Tre’Davious White at full strength to deal with Hopkins. White has been nursing an ankle injury during practice this week. EDGE: Texans.
Special teams: Running back Tyler Ervin handles kickoff and punt returns for the Texans, and does both jobs well. Houston ranks ninth in punt return average at 10.7 yards and 11th in kickoff return average at 24.2 yards. Texans punter Trevor Daniel has placed 11 of his 21 punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Houston kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn has missed three of his six field-goal attempts from 40-plus yards. Bills punter Corey Bojorquez has been able to practice fully all week after hurting his shoulder on an ugly broken play against the Titans in Week 5. Kicker Stephen Hauschka’s game-winning field goal last week was his first with no time remaining on the clock. EDGE: Even.
Coaching: John McClain, the legendary Houston Chronicle sportswriter, said in a video made after the Texans started 0-2 that there is a “zero” percent chance that coach Bill O’Brien could be fired. So that settles that. Houston’s 2-3 start, however, is a big disappointment for a team that has big-time talent on both sides of the ball. The Bills went to a run-heavy game plan last week. That’s a sign they want to take some of the pressure off Allen. Does that continue, or will Sean McDermott ask his quarterback to do more? EDGE: Bills.
Prediction: Texans 23, Bills 16