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NFL Preview - Buffalo (2-1) at Houston (2-1)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - A pair of AFC teams coming off their first loss of the season try to regroup Sunday, as the Buffalo Bills pay a visit to the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium.
The Bills and Texans were both aiming for 3-0 starts, but came up empty this past weekend. Buffalo dropped a 22-10 decision at home to the San Diego Chargers, while Houston sustained a 30-17 road loss to the New York Giants.
Buffalo needed overtime in a Week 1 win at Chicago, then waxed Miami, 29-10, on Sept. 14. Things were looking good in Orchard Park until the Chargers came in and changed all that, amassing 336 total yards. They rode the legs of Donald Brown 31 times for 62 yards and quarterback Philip Rivers threw for 256 yards and a pair of touchdown passes.
Bills second-year QB E.J. Manuel was 23-of-39 for 238 yards with a TD pass and no interceptions, but it wasn't enough to keep his team unbeaten. Manuel has thrown a touchdown pass in all three games this season and has won his last two road starts.
"It's a group effort. Just like the past two weeks when we won. It's never just going to be one person," said Manuel, who was sacked a season-high three times. "We have to come back hungry and get back into that groove. Winning is a happier mindset. We have to get back into that mindset."
Fred Jackson was the face of the offense with 34 yards on six carries and 78 yards with a touchdown on a career high-tying eight receptions. Jackson accounted for 38 of the 67 yards on a scoring drive that made it 20-10 and hauled in an 11-yard touchdown catch for the Bills, who finished with 11 penalties for 101 yards and reached the red zone only once.
"We didn't make plays," Jackson said. "We've made plays in the first two weeks and we didn't make any (Sunday). That's probably the difference in the game."
Jackson said it's too early to start panicking, so the Bills will come into this week focused and ready to work.
"We'll look at the film and see what we can improve on and continue to do that," Jackson said.
One week after exploding for 117 yards and a score in Week 2, Bills rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins was held to two catches for 19 yards.
Buffalo was aiming for its first 3-0 start since 2011, when they started 4-1 and finished with a disappointing 6-10 record. The Bills will stay on the road for their next game against Detroit on Oct. 5.
The Texans, who have a date with Dallas on Oct. 5, will have to slow down Buffalo running backs Jackson and C.J. Spiller after struggling against Rashad Jennings of the Giants. Jennings ran for 176 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries. To make matters worse, Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz broke out for 107 yards and a TD on five catches.
Texans QB and former Bill Ryan Fitzpatrick didn't give his team many chances with three interceptions, He threw for 289 yards and completed 20-of-34 passes, while rushing for 34 yards and a score. Still, the interceptions hurt.
"We're not going to win any games when I play like that, especially in the first half with the turnovers," Fitzpatrick said. "Sometimes interceptions happen, but that was just poor play by me. It's something that I've got to get better at. It's something that I've got to eliminate. You saw in the first two games the formula of not turning the ball over and forcing turnovers on defense and what that led to, which was two wins. Today with three turnovers, as a quarterback you really just hate losing, but you especially hate losing when it's kind of on you. I think it's tough to swallow right now, but we've got to look at the film. I've got to try to get better. We can't let this hold us back."
Fitzpatrick admitted he made some poor decisions on Sunday, and struggled not having star running back Arian Foster due to a hamstring injury. Alfred Blue got the start and ran for 78 yards on 13 carries.
"I thought Alfred Blue did an admirable job today. He ran hard, he got some tough yards. It wasn't easy out there," Houston head coach Bill O'Brien said. "It was a very, very good, athletic, tough defense the Giants have and for a rookie running back to come in and do what he did, I though he did okay, so he'll only get better and hopefully we'll get Arian back as soon as we can."
The Texans, who were striving for the first 3-0 start since winning five in a row back in 2012, said Foster is day-to-day. Foster worked out before the Giants game and wasn't healthy enough to suit up.
"It's just hard watching your team play without you period," Foster said. "I put a lot into this season. I put a lot into what I do as a professional, and so do they collectively as a team. When all your people aren't out there, it's just hard to stomach, but it's part of the game."
Foster, who needs four rushing TDs for 50 in his career and leads the AFC with 5,047 rushing yards since 2010, said Blue "played well" and was proud of the rookie. Look for Blue to be Foster's boy once again if the former Pro Bowl selection can't shake the hamstring issue. The Texans are fifth in rushing this season with 140.7 ypg.
Houston defeated Buffalo in the last meeting between the teams, recording a 21-9 victory on Nov. 4, 2012. Foster had 111 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries, while Texans wideout Andre Johnson caught eight passes for 118 yards. Fitzpatrick threw for 239 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions in that one for Buffalo, which received a combined 60 yards rushing from Jackson and Spiller. Johnson needs nine catches to pass Derrick Mason and Hall of Famer Andre Reed for 11th all-time.
The all-time series between the Bills and Texans is tied at 3-3. O'Brien knows Bills head coach Doug Marrone rather well and talked about facing him Sunday.
"He's one of my closest friends. He's a guy that helped me really break into this profession as a graduate assistant at Georgia Tech," O'Brien said. "He's a fantastic football coach. We worked together on the same staff at Georgia Tech. We carpooled to work together. His wife and my wife were college roommates at Boston College. We've known each other for a long time and I have a great deal of respect for him."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins broke out for 116 yards on nine catches and was held out of the end zone after a TD catch in his first two games. Hopkins so far has taken the torch from Johnson, an aging wideout nearing the end of his prime. Johnson is second on the team with 191 yards receiving.
Even if Foster needs another week to rest, the Texans will be alright if Blue continues to take advantage of this opportunity and the defense learns how to stop the run. Texans linebacker and leading tackler Brian Cushing, who had 17 stops Sunday, was asked is he's worried with the issues on run defense.
"Well, yeah. I'm a little concerned about it because obviously it's not a good thing and the game ended up in a loss. So it�s something that we have to obviously correct," Cushing said. "I'm concerned about it, but I know we will; I'm not extremely worried about it. This is a very competitive hungry football team that wants to get better, and we will."
Defensive star J.J. Watt had seven tackles and the team's only sack of Eli Manning last week. Watt has two sacks in three games and leads the NFL with 33 since 2012.
While the Bills will try to set the tone early with Jackson and Spiller opening the passing lanes for Manuel, Buffalo must tighten its defense, especially in the secondary. The Bills fell victim to "pick" plays by the Chargers and couldn't adjust throughout the game.
Bills cornerback Corey Graham said as a defender you just have to find a way to get through it and move on.
"It's not the first time we've ever gone against a pick play," Graham said. "It's been going on for a long time in this league, it's nothing new. As a defender you have to adjust to it. If you don't want to be picked, back up. You don't have to press every play. We adjust to it. It's not something that you worry about the refs too much with it. Just get over the top and cover your guy."
The Bills and their young corners may need over the top help against Hopkins and Johnson, and one can only imagine how more difficult it will be if Foster returns healthy. On a side note, Watkins and Hopkins both played together at Clemson.
It's a difficult task asking a defense to both defend the pass and stop the run. That's what O'Brien expects of his Texans this week when the Bills come to town looking to also get back on track. In what should be a close battle until the final stanza, Houston has the edge even if Foster is unable to go because Blue proved he can make the transition to starter. Fitzpatrick will be more careful with the football and look for another big game from Hopkins.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Texans 26, Bills 24
09/25 13:26:10 ET