The Buffalo Bills continue their treacherous early-season schedule this week, traveling south to face off against the Houston Texans. The winner will exit the match-up at .500, which is quite a feat given the 0-2 starts faced by both teams.
If the Bills are going to emerge victorious in what is a difficult but ultimately winnable game on Sunday, they will need to control Houston’s strengths. In order to do so, there are a few key players that the Bills will need to contain.
QB Deshaun Watson
The second-year man looks to be showing no ill-effects from the torn ACL he suffered less than one year ago. He’s completed 65.1% of his passes for 1,621 yards, 8 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions. He is also Houston’s second-leading rusher, totaling 201 yards and 1 touchdown on 34 carries. Watson can make plays with his legs and his arm, and although he is an excellent runner, he scrambles while looking to throw rather than looking just to run. Those attributes make him infinitely more dangerous. If there’s one downside to his style of play, it’s that his tendency to extend plays has been a contributing factor in him being the second-most sacked quarterback in the NFL (18) to this point in the season. If the Bills can hit him early and often, they should be able to control his overall effectiveness.
WR DeAndre Hopkins
“Nuk” is among the league’s best wide receivers—and if you ask him, he’ll tell you that he’s the best. A first-round draft choice out of Clemson in 2013, Hopkins has caught 39 passes on 57 targets this season, racking up 594 yards and two touchdowns this year. Tre’Davious White will probably shadow him for most of the game, and White’s ability to contain Hopkins will play a huge role in Sunday’s outcome. Hopkins isn’t a man that can be stopped—but by holding him down, the Bills will give themselves far better odds of coming out victorious.
DE Jadeveon Clowney
His teammate garners so much attention that it’s easy to overlook Clowney. However, his immense talent and freakish athleticism makes him a difficult man to stop. A stout run defender and gifted pass rusher, Clowney is a match-up nightmare for opponents who prioritize the ability to focus on stopping superstar J.J. Watt above all else. Clowney figures to match up against right tackle Jordan Mills, which is a battle Mills loses one-on-one almost every time. The Bills will need to commit help to that side, but...
DE J.J. Watt
...the Texans’ other outstanding defensive lineman can’t be contained with one blocker, either. Watt currently has 6 sacks, which puts him in a three-way tie for the NFL lead with his brother, T.J. Watt, and Geno Atkins. Watt moves all around Houston’s defense, but if he matches up with Dion Dawkins, Buffalo’s young left tackle will have his hands full. Watt is among the league’s best individual players, and he has the ability to take over a game on his own (as he did the last time Buffalo traveled to Houston).
T Julie’n Davenport/T Martinas Rankin
We’ll call these two 5A and 5B here, as the Texans’ young tackles will also face a challenge this week, albeit not nearly the same one as Buffalo. Jerry Hughes has been dominant at times this year, and he leads the Bills in sacks with 3. He also has 6 quarterback hits, 5 tackles-for-loss, and 2 forced fumbles this year. Houston’s tackles have combined to start 11 games in their career (8 for Davenport, 3 for Rankin). Dealing with Hughes and a rejuvenated Trent Murphy, as well as the Bills’ exotic pressure fronts, could prove difficult for the young offensive tackles.