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Scouting Report

Bills' pass rush has gotten after Deshaun Watson before. Can it do so again?

When the Bills run: Rookie running back Devin Singletary should be fresh after getting last week off. He’ll face a Texans run defense that allowed 121.1 yards per game and 4.81 yards per rush. Those totals ranked 25th and 27th, respectively, in the NFL and are largely built on strong play early in the year.

The key to beating the Texans on the ground is to get to the edges. Houston allowed 8.08 yards per rush off right end this season, which was the worst in the league.

Two Texans defenders that Bills fans might not know about, but who have played well this season are nose tackle D.J. Reader and inside linebacker Zach Cunningham. Reader had 52 tackles, which is a huge number for a nose tackle, while Cunningham led the Texans with 137 tackles, seventh in the league.

EDGE: Bills.

When the Bills pass: In Buffalo’s 10 wins, Josh Allen completed 64.9% of his passes, averaged 7.5 yards per attempt and threw 15 touchdowns against six interceptions. In the team’s six losses, Allen completed just 48.6% of his passes, averaged 5.5 yards per attempt and threw just five touchdowns and three interceptions. His passer rating was nearly 30 points lower in losses.

Allen’s performance naturally has a big impact on the Bills’ chances of winning, but those numbers spell that out clearly.

Allen couldn’t have asked for a much better matchup than the Texans, who allowed an average of 267.3 passing yards per game. That ranked 29th in the league and is the worst of any of the 12 teams that made the postseason.

Houston’s pass rush will get a boost with the return of J.J. Watt, a three-time winner of the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award. Watt, who is returning from a torn pectoral muscle, will "be in there quite a bit," O'Brien said.

Jordan Poyer is among the veterans the Bills likely will want to extend in 2020. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

EDGE: Bills.  

When the Texans run: Houston lost running back Lamar Miller to a knee injury in the summer but found a more-than-adequate replacement in Carlos Hyde, who rushed for 1,070 yards after coming over in a preseason trade with the Chiefs. “I really like the way Carlos runs the ball,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said. “I think he gets his pads down. He can (make) all the runs. He can run inside, outside. He’s got good vision, very coachable guy, good teammate, gets tough yards.” Hyde is tough to bring down at 6 foot and 229 pounds.

Quarterback Deshaun Watson had 413 rushing yards to finish second on the team. The Bills will have to be disciplined with their pass rushes so that Watson doesn’t hurt them with scrambling yards.

Third-down running back Duke Johnson had 410 rushing yards and 410 receiving yards, with five total touchdowns.

EDGE: Texans.

When the Texans pass: As it is seemingly every year, pass protection is a problem for the Texans. Houston’s quarterbacks were sacked 49 times in the regular season, seventh in the NFL, and hit 93 times. Houston paid a big price to acquire left tackle Laremy Tunsil in a trade with Miami, but that alone hasn’t solved the pass-protection issues. The Bills sacked Watson seven times in their meeting last season.

Coach Sean McDermott has downplayed the significance of that, saying it’s a new team and a new season. Watson likely hasn’t forgotten about it, though.

One of  the most intriguing matchups of the game will be Texans No. 1 receiver DeAndre Hopkins going up against Bills top cornerback Tre’Davious White. When the two teams met last year, Hopkins had just two catches when White was in coverage.

EDGE: Bills.

Special teams: Texans punter Bryan Anger had a great season, tying for the league lead with a 44.5-yard net punting average. Of Anger’s 45 punts, just 17 were returned for 53 yards – an average of 3.1 yards per return.

DeAndre Carter handles kick and punt returns for the Texans. He averaged 9.7 yards per punt return, which ranked third in the league.

Texans kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn was a perfect 13 for 13 on field goals of 39 yards or less, but just 7 of 12 on kicks of 40-plus yards.

The Bills should get return man Andre Roberts back after he missed last week’s regular-season finale with a foot injury. Roberts ranked fifth in the NFL in kickoff returns, averaging 26.6 yards.

The Bills’ leading tackler on special teams is cornerback Siran Neal. He was briefly shaken up last week against the Jets, but was able to finish the game.

EDGE: Texans.

Coaching: Texans coach Bill O’Brien has a 52-44 record in six seasons. He’s just 1-3 in the playoffs, though, and that victory was in the 2016 season. O’Brien won a power struggle with former Houston General Manager Brian Gaine, who ended up back with the Bills as a senior personnel advisor. Gaine was Houston’s GM in 2018 after spending the 2017 season as the Bills’ director of player personnel.

McDermott ended the team’s 17-year playoff drought in his first season. The challenge now is to deliver the franchise’s first playoff victory since 1995. The Bills were a good team on the road in the regular season, going 6-2. That’s a sign of resiliency.

Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel previously worked together under Bill Belichick in New England. Both of them know the other’s tendencies, which will make for a fascinating chess match.

EDGE: Bills.

Prediction: Bills 24, Texans 20.

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