Playoff football is right around the corner as the Buffalo Bills head to Big Texas to take on the Houston Texans Saturday in the Wild Card round. Buffalo is looking for their first playoff win in a long, long time but seem up to the task while Houston is looking to take that next step by making it to the second week in the postseason. To preview the contest we talked to Jeremy Brener from Battle Red Blog to preview the game.
1) What kind of effect does the return of J.J. Watt have on the defense?
J.J. returning for the defense will help in more ways than one. I’m not expecting him to be 100 percent, and neither should anyone else. His return is going to simply give another threat to that front seven and another threat for the Bills’ fun attack to worry about. It will free up other front-seven players like Whitney Mercilus from attracting double teams, which will make it easier for him to get to the backfield. But having J.J. back is the most helpful to inspire the atmosphere around the team and the stadium.
It’s very possible that the peak decibel level at NRG Stadium Saturday will come when J.J. Watt is introduced as a starter. Watt is on the Mount Rushmore for all-time Houston athletes. Houstonians absolutely love him more than their own children and Tex-Mex. His presence will also give everyone a boost on the defense and the team. Knowing that Watt is risking potentially injuring himself for his career just to play in these playoffs would make me want to go all out for his team.
This season, the Texans haven’t necessarily been better. They have not dominated a whole lot of their opponents this season, but the culture is much different for the better. There is a sense of team and community that was not as prominent before and I think that is going to help this team Saturday.
2) Why does the offense seem to suffer so much when Will Fuller is unable to suit up?
The Texans are 8-3 when Fuller is in the lineup and just 2-3 when he’s out of the lineup. That does include the Week 17 non-game, but it does not affect the data too much.
Will Fuller and Deshaun Watson have some magical chemistry. The splits for when Fuller is in are ridiculous. In 2017, Fuller had seven touchdowns before Watson got hurt and zero when he was injured. In 2018, Fuller was limited to just seven games and scored a touchdown in four of them. This season, the TD numbers have shrunk but Fuller opens up the offense a ton.
Fuller is the Texans’ top deep threat and is expected to take the top off the defense. When he’s on the field, there’s a chance that the Texans could go for a 50-yard play, so he’s someone you have to keep an eye on. With some attention on Fuller, it frees up some attention off of DeAndre Hopkins, who is a Top-3 receiver in the NFL.
Kenny Stills has taken over this role during Fuller’s absence and has done well, but if you put Stills and Fuller on the field at the same time with Hopkins, you’re likely getting Stills in a one-on-one match-up in the slot that could get you a big play.
Fuller is simply a weapon that needs attention. When you take him away, it gives Watson one less weapon to throw to and it allows secondaries to put their stronger defenders on Stills and double teams on Hopkins.
3) What is the biggest area you would like to see the team improve on before Saturday?
Run defense. Run defense. Run defense. This could easily be the reason why the Texans are sitting on the couch for the Divisional Round if the team does not clean this up. The Texans have averaged over 150 yards allowed on the ground to opposing teams’ rushing attacks in the second half of the season, which is music to the Bills’ ears, a team that loves to run the football.
If the Bills set a successful rushing attack early, it will kill the clock and limit Deshaun Watson’s chances to perform his magic on the field.
Having J.J. Watt back should help in that capacity, especially considering the time of his injury is when the dropoff took place. The team is far better at defending the run with J.J. in the game. I’m unsure as to how long J.J. will play Saturday. I expect he won’t be in the game every down like he and the team would like to, but having him on even 50 percent of the snaps or the obvious running plays will help Houston.
Josh Allen is also not the most efficient QB, so if the Texans can build a lead and force the Bills to get back in the game with Allen’s passing abilities, I like the Texans’ chances more. The reason the Bills have been so effective this season is because Allen does not need to come in and play hero ball. He can contribute to the rushing attack with Devin Singletary and Frank Gore and pound the ball down teams’ throats.
If the Bills can take advantage of this, I expect them to win this game.
4) What is the key to stopping Watson from having a field day against the defense?
A common misconception about Watson is that he’s some god. And he is, don’t get me wrong, but he has not had to be that guy this season. His completion percentage is down from a season ago, and so are his passing yards. (Yes, he played in one fewer game, but he needed 300+ yards to eclipse his 2018 total.) The Texans finished 10-6 and beat some good teams (both KC and NE) but Watson hasn’t had to be his Clemson-self in order to win these games. He’s had to be good, but we will need to see a step up from Watson if the Texans want to make a deep run in the playoffs.
In last year’s playoff game, Watson looked scared and played one of his worst games as a Texan, proving that he is in fact, human. I’m expecting there to be an improvement from last year on Saturday, but the Bills have a defense capable of containing Watson.
Watson’s ability to extend plays allows him to stand out, so limiting that will be your first step. Last year, Deshaun would get sacked. This year, the sacks are down (thanks to Laremy Tunsil and the improved O-Line) but because he has more time in the pocket, he has thrown more interceptions.
Being aggressive in forcing turnovers is the number 1 way to get Watson to slip up. Double-team Hopkins, put your fastest corners to keep up with Stills and Fuller, and force Deshaun to make mistakes. Keeping the receivers blanketed will be your best bet. It’s possible because I’ve seen it done a few times before, and the Bills have a strong enough secondary to do it.
5) Prediction for Saturday?
I am very concerned about the Bills’ rushing attack having a field day, so we’ll go 20-17 Bills. Running the ball will kill clock and take the crowd out of the game, both of which benefit the Bills. The Texans’ biggest weakness is defending the run, so if the Bills play their brand of football, they should win this game.