The Bills got back to basics in Sunday's win over the Titans, with a renewed emphasis on the running game paired with a defense that continues to force turnovers.
The victory moved their record to 2-3, but veteran defensive tackle Kyle Williams thinks the game may have done more than just slide another number in the win column.
I think their identity is clear. In the Bills’ two wins this season they've run the ball 81 times compared to just 42 passes. In their three losses, the run to pass ratio is 60 to 99. The takeaway/giveaway ratio in wins is 6/1 while 3/7 in losses.
So for the Bills to be successful this season they need to do what they did a year ago: run the football, protect the ball, and force turnovers. That formula broke the franchise's 17-year playoff drought. Maybe it could shock the NFL once again a year later.
Let's look at their latest match-up Sunday down in Houston against the 2-3 Texans.
Run the Rock
As the numbers I showed earlier indicate, the Bills best offense is running the ball a lot. They don't even need to be overly productive, just stick with it. In Sunday's win over the Titans the Bills averaged just 3.3 yards per carry. In the win over the Vikings that number was just 3.4 YPC. On the season, the Bills rank 28 in the NFL in YPC at 3.5. But it's about volume and, as Williams said after facing Tennessee, giving the defense time to catch their breath. Houston's run defense is tied for second-best in the league in allowing just 3.4 yards per carry, so it'll continue to be tough sledding, but Brian Daboll must stick with it. LeSean McCoy entered last week with 21 carries for 84 yards in three games played this season. He tallied 24 carries for 85 yards against the Titans. Keep feeding Shady, as much to win the game as to maybe bolster that rumored trade value.
Win the Line of Scrimmage
This was the rallying call by Sean McDermott entering the Titans game last week. The Bills offensive line entered allowing 21 sacks (cue Dion Dawkins "sheesh!"). Josh Allen came out of the Tennessee game getting taken down just once and hit twice. The Texans are right on par with the Titans with their front seven and pass rush, led by J.J. Watt, tied for tops in the NFL with six sacks.
If the Bills can put together their second-straight solid performance and limit the pressure on Josh Allen while opening running lanes for McCoy and Company, the offense will have another chance to squeak one out.
Anything But Elementary Containing Watson
Deshaun Watson took the league by storm last year as a rookie before tearing his ACL at the end of October. After a pedestrian week one return this season, Watson's tossed for more than 300 yards in each of the past four games with completion percentages of 68-60-69-75. He hasn't been overly dynamic with his legs, but still taking off about six times a game for 40 yards over that same four game stretch. The Bills defense is coming off a great performance against the running ability of Marcus Mariota, limiting him to 10 yards rushing on 2 attempts. Aaron Rodgers got a free a little more the week prior, but still only 5 attempts for 31 yards. You hear it all the time when defenses are asked about mobile QBs: keep them in the pocket and make them be a quarterback. The difference here is Watson may be the best passing dual-threat in the league.
Tre'Davious White vs. DeAndre Hopkins
Get your popcorn ready because this is going to be a fun match-up to watch. Tre'Davious White has done what he set out to do before the season started: push himself into the conversation as a top-tier, shutdown cornerback. White has primarily shadowed the opponents’ top wide receiver and here is what those players have produced.
- Ravens Michael Crabtree: 3 receptions for 38 yards and a TD on 6 targets
- Chargers Keenan Allen: 6 receptions for 67 yards on 8 targets
- Vikings Stefon Diggs: 4 receptions for 17 yards on 10 targets
- Packers Davante Adams: 8 receptions for 81 yards on 14 targets
- Titans Corey Davis: 4 receptions for 49 yards on 6 targets
Enter DeAndre Hopkins, who has 39 catches for 594 yards and 2 touchdowns this season. Hopkins has seen double-digit targets in all five games. This will be White's toughest test yet, but could also have the biggest return in regards to his standing in the game at the position.
Reversing Allen's Trend
Yes, I have shown why the Bills need to continue to rely heavily on and stay committed to the running game, but it is also time for Josh Allen to end the trend he is on. His passing numbers have gone down in each of the four games he has started (245-196-151-82). Allen says numbers aren't everything, but even Sean McDermott admits that throwing for under 100 yards and winning is not a sustainable formula for success. The Vikings game may be the best example of what would be considered progress for the rookie: Having a high completion percentage on a limited number of throws. Allen and the passing game need to keep the Texans honest or else that stout front seven will load the box and squeeze the running lanes.
Bills and Texans kick things off from NRG Stadium in Houston Sunday at 1pm EST.