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Video: Bills-Texans are matchup of strong running teams

Tim Graham, Jay Skurski and Jerry Sullivan report from One Bills Drive, exploring this Sunday's matchup between the Bills and the Texans.

Bills-Texans injury report a long read

By Jay Skurski

The injury report handed out today at One Bills Drive should have chapters in it.

The Bills list 15 players on the injury report, same as the Texans.

Here's the breakdown from the Buffalo side: Defensive end Mark Anderson (knee) and guard Chad Rinehart (ankle) did not practice. Rinehart is out and it's doubtful Anderson will play Sunday. Offensive tackle Cordy Glenn (ankle), cornerback Terrence McGee (knee), defensive tackle Kyle Williams (ankle) and offensive tackle Erik Pears (hip) were limited participants. Pears made his first appearance on the injury report all season. 

Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus (shoulder), wide receiver Brad Smith (chest), running back C.J. Spiller (shoulder), guard Kraig Urbik (ankle), wide receiver Donald Jones (low back), defensive end Mario Williams (wrist), guard Andy Levitre (knee), center Eric Wood (knee) and defensive end Chris Kelsay (ankle) were all full participants.

The Bills, if you'll recall, were fined $20,000 by the NFL earlier this season for not disclosing Mario Williams' wrist injury on their report. It seems they're determined not to let that happen again.

Bills coach Chan Gailey said before practice he has not made any changes to his starting lineup that were not injury-related.

On the Houston side, nose tackle Shaun Cody (back), receiver Andre Johnson (non-injury related), running back Ben Tate (hamstring) and guard Cody White (illness) did not practice. Linebacker Bryan Braman (neck), cornerback Johnathan Joseph (groin), nose tackle Earl Mitchell (ankle), linebacker Jesse Nading (foot/neck), defensive end Antonio Smith (ankle) and strong safety Quintin Demps (thumb/forearm) were limited participants. Wide receiver Lester Jean (knee), guard Ben Jones (illness), free safety Shiloh Keh (back), left guard Wade Smith (knee) and quarterback T.J. Yates (right elbow) were full participants.

Johnson missed practice for personal reasons, according to Houston coach Gary Kubiak, but is expected to return Thursday.

USA Today still predicts Bills headed to the playoffs

By Tim Graham

Go ahead and call USA Today the Jim Cantore of Buffalo Bills backers.

While everyone else has evacuated their Bills playoff predictions faster than you can say "D batteries," USA Today is holding its ground.

In USA Today's midseason report on all 32 teams, the Bills graded out as a "C" along with this comment: "Watch out for these guys. They could easily jump up and grab that final wild-card spot. In fact, we think they will."

In its thumbnail for the Indianapolis Colts, USA Today writes: "The winner of their Nov. 25 game against the Buffalo Bills will make the playoffs. Since we already went on record here as saying the Bills are in, we'll stick with them."

What are the odds? In 10,000 season simulations from AccuScore, the Bills made the playoffs 14.5 percent of the time.

Thanks to the good folks at BuffaloRumblings.com for pointing out the USA Today slideshow. I normally stay away from slideshows. They give me hives. And I apologize for linking to it.

Struggling right tackle Erik Pears draws J.J. Watt assignment

By Tim Graham

Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt has been a fiend. He's the midseason favorite for defensive player of the year and is being mentioned for MVP talk in the same breath as elite quarterbacks.

Watt has 52 tackles, 16 of them for losses and a league-leading 9.5 sacks, including at least a half sack in six straight games. He has 16 quarterback hits, two fumble recoveries and an amazing 10 passes defensed.

Watt is so skilled at knocking down passes at the line -- he has most by a defensive lineman through eight games since 1991 -- that Buffalo Bills receiver Stevie Johnson said today quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is working on delivery adjustments. Four of Watt's deflections have been intercepted.

So which Bills offensive lineman gets the wonderful assignment of trying to handle Watt on Sunday?

It will be right tackle Erik Pears.

Bills coach Chan Gailey said Pears has "been up and down. He's struggled at times. Probably the last game was the worst game he's played."

Through seven games, Pears is on pace to have his worst season by far. He's on pace to allow a career-worst seven sacks (based on data from STATS Inc.) and commit a career-high nine penalties for 93 yards.

His worst numbers in each category are six sacks allowed (with the Denver Broncos in 2005) and seven penalties for 65 yards (with the Bills last season).

The Bills have been terrific at limiting sacks this season. They've given up eight. Only the New York Giants' seven sacks allowed are better.

But STATS Inc. has blamed Pears for three of Buffalo's sacks, or 37.5 percent.

He committed a pair of potentially costly penalties in the heartbreaking Week Seven loss to the Tennessee Titans. He was flagged 15 yards for unnecessary roughness, changing a second-and-2 situation to a second-and-17. The Bills eventually scored on the drive.

But in the fourth quarter, with the Bills clinging to a lead and desperately trying to move the ball, a Pears holding call wiped out a 16-yard Scott Chandler reception that would have moved the chains. Instead, the Bills had to punt two plays later.

Gailey said Pears' lackluster play can be partially attributed to the sports hernia surgery Pears had over the summer.

"Hopefully, we'll be able to get him back," Gailey said of Pears' consistency

It would be a good week for that.

UPDATE: The Bills' post-practice injury report today listed Pears as limited with a hip problem.

Mario Williams on leaving Houston: 'I had no other choice'

By Tim Graham

WilliamsMMugMario Williams has Matt Schaub in the crosshairs.

"If I get a chance to hit Matt, I'm definitely going to," Williams said today in the Buffalo Bills' locker room. "It's going down, for sure.

"At the end of the day, you don't want to go out there and hurt anybody. We're all friends."

Williams will return to Reliant Stadium, where he spent the first six years of his career, to play the Houston Texans on Sunday.

The Texans have been tossing bouquets at Williams this week. Today was Williams' turn to heap praise on his former coaches and teammates.

Of the Texans' AFC-best 6-1 record, Williams said he has "mad love for them" and that "I hope they do great" because they're "brothers that you played with for a long time."

But he stopped short at expressing any kind of appreciation to Houston's front office because of a perceived indifference to re-signing him. Buffalo eventually made him the NFL's richest defensive player.

Williams never specifically said he would have preferred to remain with Houston when his contract was up after last season, but his words strongly suggested it.

Williams, when asked about his departure, made sure to mention it wasn't his call.

"Everybody looks at it as you just up and leave," Williams said. "But you don't know the fact of basically being told 'We're not giving you anything as far as an offer or anything like that.' So your hands are tied in that aspect. Everybody else looks at it like you just went in free agency and left. Obviously, there was plenty of time for things done that wasn't done.

"That's fine with me. I just wish everybody else who runs their mouth and says this or that knew the whole story about it before making a decision about me just abandoning fans and the team and everything else like that because that's not my role. I'm not that type of guy.

"I'm here, and I'm ecstatic about it. We made the best of it. But there was never an offer from the general manager [Rick Smith]. It was a one-way door that was opened."

The Texans had several difficult decisions to make to get under the salary cap. They released popular right tackle Eric Winston to slash payroll. Any offer the Texans could have afforded to make Williams likely would have been construed as an insult.

Williams was asked if he would have preferred to stay with Houston, but didn't give a definitive answer.

"At the end of the day, it's almost like saying ... You don't know what's happening after the fact," Williams said. "None of this ... I wouldn't even have been in a position to hit free agency.

"Fans that saw me said, 'Don't leave.' I said 'I don't want to leave.' That's just how it is. Nothing against if I'm here or anywhere else. This is even prior to [free agency]. I never said I wanted out.

"I'm sure everybody's going to twist it up and say 'Oh, well, he didn't want to come here,' so on and so forth. That's not what I said. Like I said, I never asked [to leave Houston]. I was basically given a door in a quiet manner. I had no other choice."

Texans owner Bob McNair publicly said he wanted to keep Williams on the team, but Williams claimed that never getting an offer revealed the Texans' true feelings.

"People are going to believe what they hear," Williams said. "I don't have a say in that. There was never an offer made.

"I know the coaching staff was very high on me. I was very high on them, obviously. We had six years together. We came in together. But at the end of the day, the general manager makes the decisions.

"At the end of the day, I can't do anything about it. When the cards are dealt, you've got to play them. That's what I did. I'm here now. I'm grateful."

Chat replay: Bills & NFL with Jay Skurski

One for bad, two for good: Buffalo by the unconventional numbers

By Tim Graham

A couple years back, when discussing how contemporary reception totals color Andre Reed's Hall of Fame merits, inductee Paul Warfield said: "Our game is beginning to resemble baseball, in which everyone is looking at numbers."

That's the truth.

Every year -- seemingly every week -- new forms of statistical data and computerized analyses are available for consumption.

Metrics are being invented in the hope they attain mainstream consciousness. ESPN, for example, has tried to cram its new quarterback rating formula down our throats for a year and a half.

But everywhere you look, there are fascinating numbers to mull.

Pro-Football-Reference.com, ProFootballFocus.com, Football Outsiders, AdvancedNFLStats.com, KC Joyner (aka the Football Scientist) and ESPN Stats & Information -- to name a few -- calculate some incredible outside-the-box data based on evaluating game film and crunching numbers that used to suffice at face value.

With that in mind, I'm introducing a new series called "One for bad, two for good" in honor of legendary numbers cruncher Raymond Babbitt.

Every week I'll excavate one bad number and two good numbers for the Buffalo Bills from outside conventional NFL statistics.

Why one bad and two good? Because that was the quote, and with the way Buffalo's season is trending, I figure a bump in positive analysis might be appreciated (although tougher to find).

Let's begin, shall we?

One for bad

* Football Outsiders' chief metric is DVOA, defense-adjusted value over average. Sounds clunky, but it considers every play based on the down-and-distance situation versus a given opponent and determines whether the result of the play was above or below the statistical expectation. Football Outsiders does this for offenses, defenses and special teams.

Buffalo's defensive DVOA ranks 30th in the NFL, allowing 22.2 percent more production than the league average in similar circumstances.

Two for good

* Pro Football Focus tracks yards after contact, "the cumulative number of yards after contact with a defender." Divide that by the amount of carries and C.J. Spiller leads all running backs at 4.7 yards per attempt after a potential tackler reaches him.

Think about that for a moment. Last year's rushing leader, Maurice Jones-Drew, averaged 4.7 yards per carry straight up. So did Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson. Arian Foster averaged 4.4 yards a carry.

* Sacks allowed aren't an official NFL stat because it's difficult to assign blame unless you know what every blocker's assignment was supposed to be. But STATS Inc. tallies them up.

By STATS' count, Bills center Eric Wood has not allowed any sacks this year, the only Bills offensive lineman with a clean record. He also has not committed a penalty. Left guard Andy Levitre has allowed half a sack.

AccuScore: Bills are this week's second-biggest long shot

By Tim Graham

AccuScore's computers give the Buffalo Bills the second-slimmest chance to win in this week's menu of NFL games.

In 10,000 simulations of the matchup, the Bills beat the Houston Texans in Reliant Stadium just 27.9 percent of the time.

The lone lower projection belonged to the Arizona Cardinals, who defeated the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in 16.7 percent of the sims.

The Bills averaged 21.1 points. The Texans averaged 31.0 points.

Texans running back Arian Foster was a simulation superstar against the Bills' suspect defense. He averaged 136 rushing yards and ran for less than triple digits in only 32 percent of the sims. But when he was held under 100 yards, the Bills won 52 percent of the time.

More often, Foster ran for over 150 yards. He did so 38 percent of the time, and the Texans won 91 percent of those games.

Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was pedestrian. On average, he completed 54 percent of his passes, threw 1.5 touchdowns and 1.5 interceptions.

AccuScore still is ahead in forecasting Bills games this year and would have a dominant record had the Tennessee Titans not scored that fourth-and-9 touchdown to win by a point in Week Seven.

AccuScore is 5-2 straight up in Bills games and 4-3 against the spread.

In the updated weekly season forecast, the Bills made the playoffs 14.5 percent of the time and won the AFC East 2.3 percent of the time. The Miami Dolphins went to the playoffs in 50.1 percent of the sims and won the division in 14.3 percent.

The New York Jets returned to the postseason in 10.4 percent and won the AFC East in 1.1 percent. The New England Patriots were at 94.5 percent, 82.3 percent.

Texans preview with Houston Chronicle blogger Steph Stradley

By Jay Skurski

It's homecoming week for Bills defensive end Mario Williams, who returns to Houston to face his former team on Sunday.

That was a big topic of conversation with Steph Stradley, who blogs about the Texans for the Houston Chronicle. We also talked about the dynamite start to the season for J.J. Watt, how former Bills coach Wade Phillips has been to transform the Houston defense, and some offensive issues for the Texans, like whether receiver Andre Johnson has lost a step.

Some highlights of the conversation are below, while the entire conversation can be found at the bottom of this post.

Question: What type of reaction can Mario Williams expect on Sunday?

Steph Stradley: "I’m afraid it might be a little negative. He never really got off on the right foot with Texans fans in general, mostly because the fans didn’t expect him to be picked. Though he has been great at times with the Texans, there were times where they had bad defenses for so many of those years he was with the team. He was injured for part of that time, and he said a few things after he left Houston that don’t sit very well with people, so I’m guessing it’s not going to be terribly positive."

Q: J.J. Watt has the look of the defensive player of the year. Has he been as dominant game to game as the stats would suggest?

SS: "Very much so, and probably even more than the stats would suggest. I think a case can be made that he might be the MVP of the league. It’s kind of a down year for quarterbacks and really, he has done so much for this Texans defense, even with the absence of Brian Cushing in recent weeks. He’s doing things at the position that very few people have ever been able to do because it’s not a position that is a statistics kind of position. I’ve never seen anything like it, and he’s only in his second year. Last year, he made a difference even without a full training camp. He’s a tremendous combination of size and athleticism, and nobody works harder than he does."

Q: How has defensive coordinator Wade Phillips turned the Texans’ defense around so quickly, and where are any weaknesses on that side of the ball?

SS: "I think the Wade does is he sees what kind of players he has and works to their strengths. He looks at what opposing offenses do well, and then tries to take that away from them. From a game-plan standpoint, he does a really good job of game-day playcalling, and adjusting to things.

"If there is a weakness of the defense, I would think it’s two-fold. One is you sometimes wonder if they sell out too much for the run. They’re very aggressive against the run, but sometimes they allow some big runs while they’re being aggressive. They don’t have a traditional 3-4 nose tackle up front who’s a big guy. Sometimes teams can right straight up through the middle of the defense.

"I think the other issue is when they face a good team that runs four wide receivers, if the opposing team is good at that, that can be a bit of test, because it’s testing some of your third and fourth quarters.

How the locals fared: Week Eight

By Jay Skurski

Here’s a look at how the Western New Yorkers and University at Buffalo graduates currently playing in the NFL did in Week Eight, and how they've done so far this season. Drop me a line on Twitter (@JaySkurski) if I missed anyone.

James Starks, RB, Green Bay Packers: The Niagara Falls native had one carry for 8 yards and one reception for 9 yards in the Pack's 24-15 win over Jacksonville in Week Eight. For the season, the 26-year-old Starks has six rushes for 19 yards and one reception in two games. He missed the first five games of the year because of a turf toe injury for the 5-3 Packers. Up next: vs. Arizona, 1 p.m. Sunday.

Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots: “Gronk” had a monster game, with eight catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns for the Patriots in a 45-7 win over the St. Louis Rams in London. The 23-year-old Amherst native is having another strong season, with 43 catches for 580 yards and seven TDs. The Pats are on their bye this week.

Doug Worthington, DT, Washington Redskins: The Buffalo native has appeared in two games for Washington this season, making a pair of tackles in Week Four. He's been inactive the past three weeks. Worthington joined the Redskins’ active roster from their practice squad prior to Week Three. Up next: vs. Carolina, 1 p.m. Sunday.

Brett Kern, P, Tennessee Titans: Kern punted three times in Week Eight against Indianapolis, for an average of 43.3 yards (net 39.0). The Titans allowed just 13 return yards on those three punts. The Grand Island native continues to have a great season, with a net average of 43.3 yards on 36 punts. Up next: vs. Chicago, 1 p.m. Sunday.

Corey Graham, DB, Baltimore Ravens: The sixth-year pro from Buffalo is in his first season with the Ravens after five with the Chicago Bears. Graham has appeared in all seven games for the 5-2 Ravens, who were on bye in Week Eight. He made three tackles against Houston in Week Seven. Up next: at Cleveland, 1 p.m. Sunday.

Mike Williams, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Buffalo native has started all seven games this season for the Bucs, with 25 catches for 436 yards and four touchdowns. Williams had a strong game in Week Eight on national television against Minnesota, with six catches for 68 yards and a touchdown.

Chris Gronkowski, FB, Denver Broncos: Has appeared in all seven games for the 4-3 Broncos, making his first career catch for Denver in Week Three against Houston. Did not record any statistics in Week Eight's win over New Orleans. Up next: at Cincinnati, 1 p.m. Sunday. 

UB players

Josh Thomas, CB, Carolina Panthers: Made one tackle for the Panthers in a 23-22 loss to Chicago in Week Eight. Thomas has played in all seven games of the season for the 1-6 Panthers, making 10 tackles.

Trevor Scott, LB, New England Patriots: Was inactive in Week Eight with a hamstring injury for the Pats. Has four tackles on the season. On bye this week.

Note: UB graduate Jamey Richard is on injured reserve for the Patriots.

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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham | tgraham@buffnews.com


Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan | mgaughan@buffnews.com


Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski | jskurski@buffnews.com

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