One of the more interesting angles of this weekend's matchup between the Buffalo Bills and the Houston Texans will be the chess match that ensues between Bills head coach (and offensive play-caller) Chan Gailey and Texans defensive guru Wade Phillips. The Texans have looked closely at Gailey's offense for two weeks now, and foresee some issues in handling the attack.
"Offensively, they choose to play a little different football game than most pro teams play," said Texans head coach Gary Kubiak."They’re five wide, spread the field, and we saw a bunch of that against Green Bay, and saw what that did to us, so that’s an issue for us moving forward this week."
Kubiak is, of course, referring to a Week 6 showdown on Sunday Night Football against the Green Bay Packers. The Texans lost that game 42-24 at home, and watched as Aaron Rodgers carved Phillips' defense up to the tune of 24-of-37 for 338 yards and six (!) touchdowns.
The key to Buffalo having success against Houston's defense from its spread formations will be how Phillips chooses to match up against those personnel packages schematically. I asked Tim of SB Nation's Battle Red Blog what to expect, and he noted that the Texans have a unique way of handling those situations.
"Oddly enough, the Texans don't run much nickel," he says. "It's almost always dime when you spread them out. Brice McCain is the third corner, joining Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson. Glover Quin and Danieal Manning line up at the safety spots. If he can play, Quintin Demps will be the sixth defensive back; if not, it'll be Troy Nolan."
It's not terribly unusual for defenses to use three safeties as Houston does; it can be argued that Buffalo's nickel package, which features converted safety Bryan Scott at linebacker, is actually a dime defense. But Houston's sub package doesn't utilize that third safety the way Buffalo's does, and it's a much lighter package in the back end.
"Until he got hurt, Brian Cushing was the dime linebacker," Tim continues. "The Texans are still figuring out who the best option to replace him in the dime package is. It'll either be Tim Dobbins, Bradie James, or Brooks Reed (if Whitney Mercilus is rushing the passer). The remaining personnel charged with getting after Ryan Fitzpatrick will be J.J. Watt, Antonio Smith, Connor Barwin (and either Reed or Mercilus)."
Of course, there's another way that the Texans can limit the effectiveness of Buffalo's spread formations, and it has nothing to do with their own defense.
"As far as going against them defensively, the best way we can help our defense is to stay on the field," Kubiak said.