This was a painful loss. A classic game that the Bills could have won, but instead found ways to lose. For the record, I much prefer these articles following a Bills victory. That said, here are 10 things I “Billieve” about the Bills 23-17 loss to the Texans.
1. The Bills Should Be 3-1
There are many reasons the Bills lost this game. All of the reasons are on the offensive side of the ball. The offensive line, wide receivers, play calling and quarterback play all played a part in the loss. We’ll talk about all of this in a bit.
Defensively, the Bills did their job. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw two interceptions. The Bills forced and recovered an Andre Johnson fumble. They made the Texans one-dimensional by shutting down the run game and gave the Bills offense numerous opportunities to pull away with this game.
Instead, Buffalo’s offense sputtered and the Bills moved to 2-2 after such a promising start.
2. The Offensive Line Isn’t Helping EJ Manuel
The good news for the Bills is that they won’t see J.J. Watt again this season. Watt was extremely disruptive all day long and hit EJ Manuel like it was his hobby. Watt wasn’t the only one to hit Manuel on Sunday and many of the Texans defenders found themselves in the Bills backfield. I’m interested to see the amount of QB hits and hurries that Pro Football Focus gives the Texans tomorrow.
Through the first quarter of the season, the offensive line has to be one of the biggest concerns on the team. Eric Wood has been the anchor of the line. Cordy Glenn and Seantrel Henderson have had more positive plays than negative plays, but they’ve had some issues. The guard play? A nightmare. This week was Cyril Richardson’s first start of the season. As long as he’s healthy, he needs to start the rest of the season. He’ll have rookie moments and inconsistent play, but his upside is much greater than Chris Williams’.
Buffalo’s line will be tested again next week when they play the Detroit Lions. Jim Schwartz knows the defense well, so hopefully he can give the offense some tips on how to handle Detroit’s defense. The line needs to improve considerably or it’ll be another long day for Manuel next week.
3. The Wide Receivers Aren’t Helping EJ Manuel
Buffalo entered today’s game as the only team without a dropped pass. They made up for this by dropping around five passes today. A few of these passes would have moved the chains. Drops happen, but they seemed to happen at inopportune times for the Bills. Both Mike Williams and Sammy Watkins scored touchdowns, but consistency is needed in terms of catching passes.
4. Robert Woods Needs to Work on His Body Language
Speaking of Buffalo’s wide receivers, Robert Woods’ body language is telling. During the game, Woods attempted to catch an errant pass and it fell incomplete. Woods hit the turf and then got up with an angry look on his face. His demeanor/attitude was extremely noticeable at home and I’m sure it was the same on the field.
Woods has reason to be upset. He was targeted 12 times on Sunday and finished with 3 receptions for 17 yards. One of the passes to Woods was a short gain that led to Woods getting laid out by a few Texans players. While Woods is getting looks, the passes headed in his direction have been an issue. It’s frustrating him, but Woods needs to do a better job of keeping his composure on the field.
5. Nathaniel Hackett’s Playcalling Was Awful
What are those numbers you ask? That’s the number of pass attempts to run attempts through the first four weeks of the season. Notice anything? In the first two weeks of the season, the Bills ran more than they passed. Their record? 2-0. In Weeks 3 and 4, Nathaniel Hackett has upped Manuel’s pass attempts. Against the Chargers, it made some sense. The team was losing by two scores and needed to mount a comeback. Passing was logical.
Today, the Bills were in game but decided to let Manuel pass almost twice as much as they ran. This is inexcusable. Last week, the Giants gashed the Texans on the ground. The Bills should have followed that game plan. It’s not like the Bills were struggling to run today. C.J. Spiller had 60 yards on 15 carries for 4 yards per carry. Fred Jackson ran for 33 yards on 7 carries, good for 4.7 yards per carry. The success was there, so why did the Bills abandon the run? No idea. In a game where the Bills defense was holding the Texans in check, Buffalo should have been content to run the ball, control the clock and keep the game a low scoring affair. Instead, Hackett had Manuel throw over 40 passes. Terrible game planning by Hackett.
6. Despite the OL/WR/OC Issues, EJ Manuel is The Biggest Problem on Offense
The offensive line has been bad, the wide receivers dropped passes and Nathaniel Hackett didn’t call a good game. With all of that out there, EJ Manuel is still Buffalo’s biggest problem on offense. His accuracy is all over the place. He throw a beautiful ball to Mike Williams early that was dropped, thread the needle on a TD pass to Sammy Watkins and found Mike Williams deep in the fourth quarter. Those were some positive plays. Yet, when you go back and look at Manuel’s 23 failed passes, many were inaccurate passes by Manuel or passes to the wrong team.
Manuel’s worst throw of the day came shortly after the Bills intercepted Ryan Fitzpatrick. Buffalo was in scoring position and faced a third and short. On the left hand side of the field, Sammy Watkins was given a 4-5 yard cushion. Throw it to him and the Bills convert the first down. Instead, Manuel tried a quick toss to the right and Watt read it. The defensive end dropped back, intercepted the pass and rumbled 79 yards for the touchdown. That play created at least a 10 point swing and swung momentum into the Texans’ favor.
Later this week, I hope to look at all of Manuel’s incompletions/interceptions to see how many of them were truly his fault.
If Manuel’s accuracy continues to be an issue, more and more fans will be calling for Kyle Orton to play.
7. Keith Rivers Needs to get Chewed Out Tomorrow
The Bills tried frantically to get a late game touchdown with time ticking off the clock. If Keith Rivers had done his job, Buffalo’s offense may have been able to take their time. On a crucial 3rd and 10 with 2:58 remaining, Ryan Fitzpatrick hit Arian Foster for about eight yards. Foster fell to the ground on the reception and the Bills should have had their third down stop. Instead, Keith Rivers hesitated and watched Foster catch the ball and squirm ahead for another 2 yards and a first down. The Bills stopped the Texans on the next series, but had to burn some timeouts in the process. One mental error by Rivers, a veteran, may have cost the Bills a better chance at a comeback. Tomorrow he needs to get chewed out by the coaching staff. Rivers knows better and his gaffe was critical.
8. Buffalo’s Linebacker Depth is Being Tested
Kiko Alonso suffered an offseason ACL injury. Keith Rivers battled a groin injury that kept him out the last two weeks. Today, Nigel Bradham suffered a knee injury. The severity is unknown but an MRI is expected to be done. For now, the Bills will have to depend upon the previously mentioned Rivers, Brandon Spikes, Preston Brown and Ty Powell. They’re all capable linebackers, but depth is starting to get a bit thin at the position.
9. Kyle Williams’ Injury is Worrisome
Kyle Williams also suffered a knee injury against the Texans. Kyle is the MVP of the Bills, so any missed action will hurt the team. Buffalo has depth at the position with Stefan Charles and Corbin Bryant, but Kyle Williams is in a league of his own talent-wise.
Tim Graham of the Buffalo News reported that Williams’ injury isn’t believed to be serious, but until the MRI comes back all Bills fans will be waiting for news with bated breath.
10. This is the Best Run Defense in the NFL
Most of my “10 things” were negative, so let’s end this on a positive note. Buffalo’s run defense is the best in the NFL. No, I don’t have the actual stats across the league in front of me as I write this, but I’ve watched Buffalo’s run defense shut teams down with success. Today, the leading rusher for the Texans wasn’t Arian Foster or Alfred Blue. The leading rusher was Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitz ran for 14 yards on six carries. In all, the Texans rushed the ball 24 times for 37 yards. That’s 1.54 yards per carry on average.
That’s an unreal number and Jim Schwartz needs to be commended for coming in and fixing Buffalo’s biggest defensive weakness from 2013. The Bills run defense was dominant and made the Texans one-dimensional. Kudos to the Bills for having what I believe is the best run defense in the league.