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Bills' secondary prepares for DeAndre Hopkins, but knows there's more to pass game

Taron Johnson took a moment to consider the last time the Buffalo Bills met the Houston Texans, a regular-season game that dropped the Bills to 2-4 in October 2018.

Much of the attention in the game focused on the matchup between Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White and Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Specifically, it focused on how White, one of the NFL’s standouts at his position, limited Hopkins to 63 yards and a touchdown in the Texans' 20-13 victory. Two of Hopkins' five catches came directly against White, including a 13-yard touchdown. The remaining three came against zone coverage.

White vs. Hopkins II will be the matchup that will draw the most attention, especially in light of White's postgame comments a year ago, but this time around, the Bills’ defense will have to contend with more than one notable pass-catcher.

The Texans' pass offense presents plenty of options even if they are only ranked 15th in the NFL in passing yards at 236.4 per game. While Hopkins is fifth in the NFL with 150 targets, Houston has six players with at least 48.

The Bills (10-6) face the Texans (10-6) in an AFC wild-card game at 4:35 p.m. Saturday at NRG Stadium in Houston.

"Just follow our fundamentals,” Johnson, a second-year cornerback, said of preparing for Houston's offense. “We’ve played a lot of good offenses, and I feel like we can rely on our fundamentals, and everyone just doing what they’re doing, I think we’ll be solid."

The Bills have the fourth-best pass defense in the NFL (195.2 yards per game) and have 15 interceptions, including six by White. The Bills will be the fifth team among the top eight in the NFL in pass defense that the Texans have faced this season. Houston is 3-1 against those teams with wins against the New England Patriots, Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs and a loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

Don't expect Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson to be shy about throwing the ball, no matter how highly regarded the Bills' defense is.

"I'm still going at them. I'm going to compete," Watson told Houston reporters this week. "I'm going to go at them and just play ball. If my guy is open or if the coverage takes me that way, I'm going to throw it that way.

"You've got to give them respect and definitely pick your spots, but at the same time you can't let that shy away from doing what you want to do, especially when you have, I think, in my eyes, the best receiver in the game right now, D-Hop. I'm definitely going to get him targets and let him work."

Hopkins has caught 104 passes, tied for third in the NFL, for 1,165 yards and seven touchdowns this season and is third in the league with 68 receiving first downs.

"It's not Tre'Davious White versus Hopkins," Bills safety Micah Hyde said. "He has 10 other guys on the defense who are going to help him out, whether it's the pass rush or a safety over top. There are a lot of things that can happen. It's not high school, seven-on-seven, one-on-one zero coverage. It's nothing like that. He has guys to help him out.

"We're all out there trying to limit '10' and what he can do because he's an explosive player. Best hands in the league and that's why Watson is always looking at him."

Beyond Hopkins, Will Fuller has 49 catches for 670 yards and three touchdowns, but sustained a groin injury Dec. 21 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and didn’t play last weekend against the Tennessee Titans in the regular-season finale. He has been limited in practice this week, but coach Bill O'Brien said Fuller is making progress.

“(Fuller) is a vertical threat,” Taron Johnson said. “He’s a very fast guy and he’s always a threat when he’s on the field. We’ve just got to make sure, whether he plays or not, we’re making sure we know where he’s at.”

Kenny Stills, in his first year with Houston, has 40 catches for 561 yards and four touchdowns. Stills has five career touchdowns against the Bills from his time with New Orleans and Miami.

The Texans also have made good use of their tight ends. Veteran Darren Fells has had the best production of his career with 34 receptions for 341 yards and seven touchdowns – a franchise record for a tight end – and Jordan Atkins has 36 receptions for 418 yards and two touchdowns and is used in multiple ways.

The addition of running back Duke Johnson also has helped the passing game as he has 44 catches for 410 yards and three touchdowns.

The Bills have been successful against the deep ball and will be challenged by the Texans. Houston is tied for third in the NFL with 27 catches of at least 30 yards.

"We have to be on our p's and q's," said Bills cornerback Kevin Johnson, who could see increased playing time with Levi Wallace's ankle injury. "We have to be tied in, every single day this week, in our preparation."

Ultimately, though, the focus comes back to Hopkins and his potential matchup with White.

Of Houston’s 3,783 yards through the air, Hopkins' receptions account for 1,165 yards.

“He’s physical, he has great hands and ball skills," said Kevin Johnson, who played for the Texans from 2015 to 2018. “He’s competitive, a competitive guy, experienced and he’s a pro.”

Defending Hopkins, Kevin Johnson said, isn’t just about limiting his numbers. It’s about limiting his physical play.

“It’s how good he can catch the ball,” he said. “He finds ways to come down with it. We have to make sure we’re physical and at the point of attack, getting the ball.”

Neither White nor Hopkins has said much to the media this week, unlike White's bold stance in the aftermath of last year's game.

“I feel like I won the battle,” he told reporters. “I mean, what he have, two passes for like 30-something yards on me? And he cried the whole game. I was out there with him the whole game. You know what he had.

"Anytime the offense starts to hide a guy in the backfield to get him away from me, you already know how that's going, so that's all I've got to say about that, man. Obviously, he is a good receiver, but I feel like I'm better. ...

“That’s an All-Pro statement, that’s all I’ve got to say. That’s an All-Pro statement. I should get my recognition, man. The guy had two catches for 30-something yards, and they say he the best receiver in the league, but I don’t think so. I feel like I did a great job.”

This season, White became the first corner since Pro Football Focus started keeping data in 2006 to finish with more than 500 coverage snaps and lead the league in interceptions without giving up a touchdown. White, New England's Stephon Gilmore and Minnesota's Anthony Harris tied for the league lead with six interceptions.

White also made the first Pro Bowl of his three-year career.

"I feel like with what Tre'Davious has been able to do this year has been amazing," Hyde said. "The respect finally came this year, but he's been doing it for a few years now, dating back to his rookie year."

Hopkins was cryptic in brief remarks to the Houston Chronicle on Tuesday, although the message seemed clear.

“Oh, you know, your legacy’s all you’re gonna be remembered by,” Hopkins said. “I think what I want to be remembered by is working hard. That’s it. And I’m pretty sure my teammates, that’s what they’ll say about me. You know, Hop is competitive.”

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