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.