BILLS // TEXANS OVERVIEW
The Bills have pulled off a pair of upset wins to land a surprising 2-3 record — with their latest win coming just in time for the 2-3 Texans to be reminded that they cannot take this opponent for granted. The Texans have won back-to-back games after starting the year 0-3, with those losses coming by seven points, three points, and five points. (Both Texans wins have come by three points as well.)
After waiting to make sure Deshaun Watson (chest) was on track to play this week, Vegas installed Houston as 10 point favorites. Given the inconsistency Houston has shown and the pass defense the Bills boast, this game may play closer than that line suggests (even if the Texans pull away at the end), but this game clearly tilts in favor of the home team.
Houston has kept their foot on the gas on offense, ranking fourth in the league in pace of play, while the Bills surprisingly rank 18th in this category, as Brian Daboll (who has bounced around the NFL, but who came up with the Patriots and also coached with Andy Reid and Nick Saban) has tried to build up an aggressive mindset on this offense.
Each team leans toward the run, with the Texans ranking 17th in pass play rate and the Bills ranking 29th. Each team also ranks in the bottom half of the league in drive success rate (17th for Houston; 31st for Buffalo), while each defense ranks in the top half in drive success rate. Houston ranks fourth in the NFL in yards per game on offense, but they are taking on a Buffalo team that has allowed the sixth fewest yards per game. The Bills, of course, rank 31st in yards per game, while the Texans rank 14th in yards allowed per game.
BILLS PASS OFFENSE
Josh Allen has been held to 22 or fewer pass attempts in each Buffalo win, but he does have a respectable 33 attempts in each of his losses. This has led to an average of 17 completions per game in those spots, which is close to the “ceiling” expectation for this offense. Obviously, we are not targeting the Bills for volume (well…so far, we have not been targeting the Bills at all…), so the question becomes: is there any way to isolate a potential “splash play” on the Bills, given Allen’s ability to throw deep? Obviously, this would be a thin tourney approach no matter what, but here’s what this matchup gives us to work with:
Typically, when I write a setup like that, I then go research things, and I come back with the facts I found. What I found, however, is that in five games for the Texans (Patriots // Titans // Giants // Colts // Cowboys), T.Y. Hilton is really the only receiver who has been able to beat them deep. Houston ranks middle of the pack in pass plays allowed of 20+ yards and only three teams have allowed more pass plays of 40+ yards, but much of this has been YAC related. Of course, Houston has been fortunate to face a slew of teams that don’t emphasize downfield throws, so take that for what it’s worth; but this is the Bills we are talking about here. Not that you were desperate to roster a Bills pass catcher, but it looks like this is simply a “hope and pray” spot if taking a shot.
The guy to “hope and pray” on would be Zay Jones, who has target counts on the year of six, three, one, seven, and four, and who is the best bet for a deep connection.
BILLS RUN OFFENSE
Houston has been one of the toughest teams in the league to run on, allowing only 3.4 yards per carry (fourth best in the league) — bad news for a Buffalo offense that wants to lean on the run as much as they can. The Bills rank sixth in the league in rush attempts, but they rank 28th in yards per carry, as teams do not respect the ability of Kelvin Benjamin and Zay Jones to create separation, which is allowing them to think “run first” in this matchup. Buffalo has a long run of only 27 yards, and it seems likely that they will be trading LeSean McCoy before the deadline, which gives them incentive to limit his opportunities for injury in the meantime.
If taking a shot on this spot, McCoy is obviously the guy to chase, after Buffalo emphasized him last week with 24 carries and three targets. Perhaps he could break out for a couple long runs and a touchdown if his number gets called in the same manner this week.
TEXANS PASS OFFENSE
After a rough Week 1, Buffalo has returned to their 2017 form against the pass — impressively ranking top five this year in aDOT allowed and top eight in YAC allowed per reception. The Bills have been above-average at every area of the field except the deep middle, while they have held the following alpha receivers to the corresponding stat lines:
John Brown :: 3-44-1 (on a season-low four targets)
Keenan Allen :: 6-67-0 (on his second lowest target count of the year)
Stefon Diggs :: 4-17-0 (on his second lowest target count of the year)
Corey Davis :: 4-49-0 (on his second lowest target count of the year)
Adam Thielen also required a season-high 19 targets to go 14-105-0 (his second lowest yardage total on the year), while Davante Adams required a season-high 14 targets to go 8-81-0 (his third lowest yardage total on the year, and his only game without a touchdown).
Any way you slice it, this is a tough matchup for DeAndre Hopkins, who should see a ton of Tre’Davious White, who has faced only 18 targets on the year, and has allowed a total line of 10-118-0. We know that Hopkins gets his targets regardless, but efficiency will be tougher to come by in this spot, which will require him to break off some big plays or a multi-touchdown game in order to justify his price tag. Expect the Texans to move Hopkins into the slot plenty and to flatten out his routes (both short and deep) in order to give him the best possible shot at hitting in this spot.
One week after being aggressively used with jet sweep action that allowed him to run what essentially functioned as “running back” pass routes, Keke Coutee was used as more of a traditional slot receiver last week. While Hopkins is likely to see his double-digit looks regardless, Coutee once again sets up as the best means of picking up underneath yardage, as he will run both the “short area slot routes” that Keenan Allen and Adam Thielen had decent success on against this team, while also running the flare-out “running back” routes that allowed Melvin Gordon (6-38-2) to have moderate success in this spot. If I am known as “the Courtland Sutton guy,” hopefully there is space for me to be known as “the Keke Coutee guy” as well. Another six to eight targets with one or two carries should be Coutee’s usage range here, giving him a solid PPR floor with nice “ball in his hands” upside.
Will Fuller will likely take a backseat for another week, in a matchup that sets up similar to what he dealt with last week against Dallas. With Coutee healthy, Fuller is not needed on underneath stuff as much, and this matchup sets up poorly for the deep ball. Fuller has the talent to win in any matchup, but usage expectations should be low once again — requiring him to hit for a couple huge plays in order to be worth a spot on your roster.
Last week in a matchup that set up similarly, Ryan Griffin also saw nine targets — hauling in six for 65 scoreless yards. The last time we had any remote interest in a matchup that set up well for Griffin, he goose-egged on five targets (his second highest target count on the year), so obviously this is a high-variance option; but this game sets up for Griffin to see five or more targets again. Incredibly, he ranks 13th in the entire NFL in red zone targets, with eight. He has one catch on these looks.
TEXANS RUN OFFENSE
Last week, in place of an injured Lamar Miller, Alfred Blue totaled only 46 yards on 20 carries, while fooling box score watchers with a solid overall line boosted by 8-73-0 through the air, against a Cowboys team that bleeds receptions to running backs. Miller is expected back this week, and his 3.9 yards per carry will likely begin to split time with Blue’s 3.3 yards per carry. Buffalo has been solid against the run, ranking ninth in yards allowed per carry and 14th in DVOA. With neither guy likely to see more than 65% of the Texans’ snaps, you’ll need a multi-touchdown game for one of these guys to really justify a roster spot.
I will not be touching the Bills’ offense — and I feel more comfortable betting on Houston in tourneys than in cash games, as they will likely be looking to capitalize on short fields from Josh Allen mistakes (rather than being able to pick up chunk gains and/or drive the entire field with ease). If leaning on the Texans, however, the key guys for me are Hopkins and Coutee. Hopkins’ route tree changes enough from game to game (adjusting for matchup) that he will still see his double-digit looks, and you could feel comfortable taking a tourney shot on the idea that “targets trump matchup” for a guy this talented. Coutee is a borderline cash game play on full-PPR sites, and he’s an interesting tourney piece given what he can do with the ball in his hands. The likeliest scenario here is something like a 6-50-0 line, but if he breaks off a long play or scores another touchdown, he could provide great value for the price.
Naturally, Deshaun Watson is always in play in tourneys — though this is not the best spot — and the flow chart of “which defense is playing the Bills?” is in play this week as well.