Thomas B. Shea
Against the AFC's best team, the Buffalo Bills kept the game close for three quarters, but the Houston Texans extended their lead in the fourth quarter to ice their victory.
The Buffalo Bills played up to expectations in Sunday's 21-9 loss to the Houston Texans. A step forward for the Bills means that Buffalo wins against lesser competition, and can hang in versus the big boys. We saw the latter yesterday. Buffalo stayed with the AFC's best team on Sunday for three quarters. In the end, mistakes and an inability to score touchdowns in the red zone sealed Buffalo's fate.
The Good: Buffalo's defense finally played a decent football game. Don't mistake Houston's big offensive numbers for bad play. Buffalo held Houston below their rushing average and near some of their other total yardage averages. Houston averaged just over 30 points per game coming into yesterday's game; Buffalo held them to 21 points. Houston came into the game averaging just over 140 yards per game rushing; Buffalo held them to 118 yards. Houston averaged 4.0 yards per carry; Buffalo held them to 3.7 yards per carry. Houston averages 371 yards per game; Buffalo gave up 374 yards. Matt Schaub threw for only 33 yards above his average. Schaub was sacked eight times in the seven previous games; Buffalo got to him twice.
While not a stellar performance, Buffalo's defense held its own against the league's third-best offense. In a game where fans expected the Houston offense to blow the Buffalo defense out, the Bills played well, keeping the team in the game.
The Bad: Buffalo's offense couldn't score touchdowns; they entered the red zone three times and didn't punch the ball into the end zone even once.
Their first trip ended with a completion for negative yards, a sack, and a scramble well short of the first down. Rian Lindell then missed a 37-yard field goal. Their second trips to the red zone was short-circuited by an Andy Levitre false start, turning 2nd-and-8 into 2nd-and-13. Their third trip into the red zone really amounted to one play, a 1st-and-10 at the Houston 14, which came at the end of the first half. Ryan Fitzpatrick was sacked, forcing Buffalo to use their last timeout to kick a field goal. Buffalo got to the Houston 21-yard line in the third quarter, but advanced no further, kicking another field goal.
Chan Gailey's offense can be very efficient passing and moving the football, but the Bills must put the ball in the end zone from the red zone if they expect to win against the league's elite teams.
Let's Not Overreact: Fitzpatrick played well, but he didn't play well enough for GM Buddy Nix to retract his franchise quarterback comments from late last week. Fitzptrick simply isn't an effective downfield thrower, and it's limiting Buffalo's play-calling options.
Buffalo's offensive efficiency had more to do with Gailey's scheme and conservative play-calling than the talent of Fitzpatrick. Buffalo did surpass some of the averages regarding Houston's defense. They averaged more yards per rushing attempt, and gained more yards than Houston normally allows, but the passing game wasn't as great as the numbers make it seem. Fitapztrick completed 25 passes. 15 of those passes went for less than 10 yards, for a total of 68. Of the 10 passes Fitzpatrick completed over 10 yards, two were screens for 41 yards. On passes over 10 yards, Fitzpatrick's passing gained 130 yards. While efficient, Buffalo averaged 6.3 yards per pass attempt, below Fitzptrick's own 6.6-yards per attempt average, nearly two yards less than the league leaders, and a yard less than nearly every franchise quarterback in the league.
Gailey has vertical receivers in Donald Jones and T.J. Graham, but still chose to throw short. Buffalo has offensive limitations in their passing game, and it's clear why Gailey chooses to throw short.
Oulook: While not a win, Buffalo played a lot better in this game. Recent history predicted Buffalo should have been blown out in this game, but that did not happen. The defense played much better than expected against an elite offense. The offense played well at times - especially getting to the Houston red zone - against the league's fourth best defense. Moral victories don't count, but Buffalo hung tough in a game against one of the league's best team.
Buffalo faces a similar game next week. They play on the road against the New England Patriots, who have the league's best offense and scored 52 points on the Bills in Week 4. Signs point to the Patriots blowing the Bills out of Gillette Stadium. Again, there are no moral victories, but if Buffalo plays New England like they played Houston, that would represent progress.