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Texans 23, Bills 17: five observations from Buffalo's Week 4 loss

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Monday mornings after Bills losses are all about adding context to the misery. Here's what stood out to us from Buffalo's 23-17 loss to Houston.

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Thomas B. Shea

Remember two short weeks ago, when the Buffalo Bills had just obliterated the Miami Dolphins, were 2-0, and fans were riding an emotional high in the immediate aftermath of the sale of the team to Kim and Terry Pegula? That seems like months ago now, with the Bills currently on a two-game losing streak and licking their wounds after yesterday's 23-17 loss to the Houston Texans.

Here's what stood out to us from that loss, as well as the season as a whole to date:

  • EJ Manuel is going to be everyone's favorite whipping boy for the foreseeable future, and that's earned; he has looked terrible in these last two weeks. But please, Bills fans, don't gloss over the fact that his pass protection has been equally terrible, and that his young receiving corps didn't do him any favors by dropping several passes in Houston. Manuel deserves the bulk of the criticism, because the entire offense runs through him, but every facet of the Bills' lackluster passing offense is playing horribly right now.
  • In case you needed a statistic to back up what you've seen with your eyes of the Bills' passing attack over the last two weeks: Manuel has targeted his top three receivers (Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, and Mike Williams) 47 times in the San Diego and Houston games. A mere 16 of those passes were completed - six to Watkins (on 17 targets, for just 49 yards), six to Woods (on 20 targets, for a putrid 36 yards), and four to Williams (on 10 targets, for 95 yards, 80 of which came on one play). When you're completing 34 percent of your throws to your talented wide receivers, something has gone horribly awry.
  • Doug Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett brought an offense with them from Syracuse that once had unique traits; those have completely disappeared in 20 games. They don't even bother pushing the tempo anymore; the no-huddle is dead, and they're not even busting it out occasionally to change things up. More importantly, the team has utterly abandoned the run in each of the past two weeks; they averaged 34 rushes per game in 2013 and 33 per game in Weeks 1-2, but that has dropped to 22.5 in the last two weeks. They have to run the football more. Period. They cannot be dependent on a lead to stay committed to that phase; if they don't, they become overly dependent on Manuel's play, and we are overly and squeamishly familiar with where that dependency leads them.
  • The Bills stopped rotating cornerbacks, for the most part, in this contest. That's the good news. The bad news is that their most consistent defensive back, Corey Graham, saw only eight snaps - and in that small sampling of opportunities, yielded a 35-yard touchdown. Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin appear to have settled in as the starters, and Nickell Robey is very clearly the slot corner again, but it's going to be fair to wonder whether or not the Bills made the right decisions there moving forward - particularly on the outside, where McKelvin continues to struggle despite a nice interception yesterday.
  • Buffalo has one thing going for them right now, and that's their run defense. They completely shut down Arian Foster and the Texans on the ground, holding Houston as a team to 37 yards on 24 carries. Buffalo is now four-for-four in holding opponents to under 90 yards rushing in a game this season, and are giving up a paltry 2.89 yards per carry, as well. It hasn't mattered much yet, as teams are still doing enough through the air to beat the Bills - and doing lame crap like allowing Foster to roll an additional three yards for a first down in crunch time, rather than simply touching him down, undoes some of the good feelings generated by their excellent work defending the run. Nonetheless, it's fair to say that this long-standing issue has seen significant improvement in year one under Jim Schwartz.

What stood out to you, Bills fans?

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