by Mario "Game" Granata
As much of the football world is wondering who to replace Peyton Manning and the Seattle defense with for the Week 4 bye that both teams have, much of Western New York is wondering what will happen IF the Buffalo Bills were to lose to the Houston Texans and former quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Here are a few keys to look for, and why the Buffalo Bills will be successful when they travel down to Houston.
Much has been said of EJ Manuel and the Buffalo Bills offense as of late, and if the 16th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft will truly be the franchise quarterback that Buffalo has longed for during their 14 years of futility, but what hasn't been mentioned is what the Bills truly have in front of them for their Week 4 matchup against the Houston Texans. Here are a few things to look for during the game:
Manuel isn't Alone: During the off-season and the draft, the Buffalo Bills loaded up on playmakers to compliment their already dynamic offense and with most teams that are going into Week 4, Manuel doesn't have to do it alone. The Houston Texans are giving up a staggering 5.2 yards against the run over the right side (the defenses left) over the first 3 games, and if the output from Rashad Jennings (170 rushing yards) is any indication, CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson should have a field day against the Texans...just as long as they don't run toward JJ Watt. Just think, it could be worse, it could be the Vikings.
Playing Catchup: The Buffalo Bills, going into the game with the San Diego Chargers held the lead in their previous games for over 70 minutes. What does that mean? The Bills have to jump out early against the Texans, but there shouldn't be concern if they don't. The Texans are a run heavy team, and rely on the running game to compliment Ryan Fitzpatrick. As Bills fans know, Fitz isn't the best in the league in playing from behind or taking the cover off the defense, so the Bills should play loose and relaxed against their former starter. Couple that with the fact that the Bills were only losing 20-10 against the Chargers with 10+ minutes left in the game (still very winnable) and played poorly against one of the AFC's Elite teams. This should be viewed as a plus, not a minus.
Generate Pressure: EJ Manuel isn't the best quarterback in the league when forced "off the spot" in the pocket, and Ryan Fitzpatrick isn't very good either. The Bills front four have been able to generate pressure, and get in the face of opposing quarterbacks this season, which will open up opportunities for the secondary to make plays on Fitz. True, they didn't get the Rivers, but comparing Rivers to Fitz is like comparing a Ferrari to a Smart Car.
Stop the Run: The Bills will face a heavy dose of the run, and Pepper Johnson and Brandon Spikes will want to make a statement against much of the former New England staff that now patrols Houston. Pepper will have the front four ready to stop Foster (or Blue whoever starts) and Brandon Spikes, who is known as a great run stopper will definitely see a rise in snaps than the 18 he saw against the Chargers.
Middle Ground: The Buffalo Bills have left the middle of the defense open to opposing players who have enjoyed some success against them. Martellus Bennett, Charles Clay and Ladarius Green were able to exploit the middle of the defense to a tune of 19 catches for 165 yards and a touchdown. Don't expect the same production from Garrett Graham, and with Hopkins and Johnson making their living on the outside, look for the Bills to stymie the Texans passing attack early and often.
Lucky 13 is Over: While people are quick to pull the plug on EJ Manuel, he is now entering his 14th career start as a pro, and patience should be shared across the 716 (although fans have been patient enough) but with a young developing quarterback, some mistakes are going to be made. Hopefully Manuel has learned from his mistakes in his 13th career start, to make strides to becoming better and start to win ballgames for the Bills.
Will some of these scenarios play out this Sunday in Houston? They very well might, and if they do, it will increase the Bills chances of winning and improve them to 3-1 going into Jim Schwartz's 'revenge' game in Week 5 vs. Detroit.