The Buffalo Bills will take on the Houston Texans in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs, looking for their first postseason victory in at least a couple years. Scoring points usually helps and the Bills will be facing the weakest defense* on their schedule since November 17th in Miami. (That’s using points allowed per drive.) The Bills have faced five teams that are worse than the Texans in this metric (Miami Dolphins x2, Cincinnati Bengals, New York Giants, Washington). The Bills have averaged 28.2 points in those games.
Even using more conventional standards it’s not any better. The Texans give up 6.1 yards per play. For perspective that’s tied with the Bengals for worst in the league. They’re average when it comes to points allowed thanks to a scant 12 rushing touchdowns allowed. They’re not good at stopping the run anywhere else, though, allowing 4.8 yards per carry—good for sixth-worst in the league. They’re ninth-worst for yards per passing attempt with 7.7 and have allowed 33 passing TDs. That’s sixth-worst.
They’re the second-worst team for third-down conversions and the absolute worst in the league for stopping red-zone trips. Teams score a touchdown 71.4% of the time when they reach the red zone.
This week will be a bit unconventional as I focus on two themes that will require little in the way of GIFs. Don’t worry, there’s some other eye candy.
Staying on schedule
I’m sure he’d say he heard the term from somewhere else, but I credit Dan Lavoie for getting me hooked on the idea of “on schedule” when it comes to plays. Roughly put, getting a few yards on first down makes it easier on second down and so on. While it sounds like nothing more than common sense, it does delve deeper into the idea of 2nd-and-long having fewer options for an offense to use than a more manageable distance. Let’s look at two plays by the Texans’ defense.
On this play the Texans swarm to the ball, maintain their gaps, and shut down Marlon Mack for no gain. On to the next play.
And for this one they recognize the play and swarm to the ball for a loss of one. Both plays the Texans were able to keep their opponent behind schedule, which adds pressure on the next play.
Why show these two plays? Because you shouldn’t expect to see too many of these on Saturday. The Texans are one of the worst teams in the league at creating negative plays and pressure. They’re 20th in the league hitting the quarterback with 90 hits. That’s their best news. Their 31 sacks places them in 26th place and they’re only ahead of the Detroit Lions and Dolphins with 51 tackles for a loss.
Here’s two more plays to look at.
The Indianapolis Colts speed things up, throw a quick strike, and the Texans aren’t fast enough to stop it. Touchdown. Here’s play two.
It’s not a touchdown, but look at the YAC on this pretty simple throw. The lack of speed in the middle of the field bit Houston’s rear end for a long gain. So why these two plays? While the Texans can be beat anywhere on the field, they’re particularly bad at defending short left and short middle passes. Take a peek at this chart from the NFL.
I took the liberty of highlighting the short left and middle sections. The Houston Texans are at the very bottom of the league in yards per attempt and completion percentage in these areas of the field. How does Josh Allen stack up? Well here’s a chart from the NFL’s Next Gen Stats site, breaking down Allen’s passer rating by section of the field.
It turns out that Allen is really good short left, and pretty good short middle as well. On paper this is about as good of a match-up as you could ask for.
J.J. Watt is expected to play although our resident sports injury expert Kyle Trimble raises some questions on his effectiveness. That could help the Texans increase their ability to keep the Bills behind schedule and make for an uphill battle. For a counterpoint, everything I just mentioned includes the fact that Watt was present for 43% of their defensive snaps this year. Even a semi-healthy Watt will improve the Texans but there’s no reason to suspect it’ll be an earth-shattering difference.
Aside from the X-factor of Watt, the Buffalo Bills have a lot to love when it comes to trend analysis and stats. The game has yet to be played and anything can happen of course. But the Bills arguably have one of their easier tests this year ahead of them.