Two weeks ago, all things looked dismal for the Buffalo Bills. Having just lost to the Cleveland Browns at home by a score of 6-3, chances of making a run toward .500 seemed unlikely, even laughable. However, Dick Jauron's Bills have an uncanny knack for finding their way to 7-9, and on cue, they roll back into Buffalo for this week's game having won two in a row on the road. Suddenly, this week's matchup against Houston means something. Who would've thought?
As the theme has been all year for Buffalo, injuries are paramount this week, and they could be a factor in determining the outcome of the game. Everyone knows about the most prolific injury, the concussion suffered by quarterback Trent Edwards against the Jets. Edwards had a reputation coming into the season as being injury-prone, and the latest problem doesn't do anything good for him. Fittingly, backup Ryan Fitzpatrick has stepped in and looked just as good as Edwards (although this year, that is not saying much), leading the Bills to a come-from-behind win over the Jets and managing the game adequately in Carolina. Quarterback controversy, anyone? Who knows what the Bills will do when Edwards is healthy, but for now, the injury doesn't look to have been a big hindrance to the team.
As far as the rest of the Bills' offense is concerned, it looks like tight end Shawn Nelson and fullback Corey McIntyre will be sitting this week. This does not bode well for the blocking aspect of the offensive attack, particularly in leading Lynch and Jackson in the rushing game. We could see some problems for the running backs in finding holes to work with this week. However, Nelson and McIntyre have not been contributing significantly to the passing attack, not as if too many people have, so this should not be a big loss in this regard.
On the offensive line, right tackle Jonathan Scott, number one on the depth chart in this position, will probably not be playing. It looks like all-purpose backup Kirk Chambers will be taking over the role, and with the offensive line looking atrocious this season, this change does not appear to be too significant in the grand scheme of things.
The battered Bills defense continues to get depleted, and defensive tackle Kyle Williams is not likely to play. Williams has had a solid if not spectacular season to date, with 30 tackles and a sack, and John McCargo, still looking for tackle number one, should be getting his first start of the season. This is unfortunate for the Bills, as for the team to have any chance to win, the defense will need to pressure Houston QB Matt Schaub into making mistakes. With McCargo in, it doesn't appear that Schaub will see much discomfort from the right defensive tackle.
Of course, the Bills have been dealing without the services of safeties Donte Whitner and Bryan Scott. Whitner is out this week, and Scott is doubtful. Both were inactive last week. However, George Wilson and Jairus Byrd have of course stepped in admirably, Byrd with five interceptions over the last three games, so surprisingly the Bills are not feeling the loss of Whitner and Scott. When these guys come back, it will be interesting to see how the team deals with the excess of quality safeties, as how can you take a guy, Byrd, out who was just named rookie of the month? In any case, the Bills' pass defense is handling itself admirably in the face of injury, and it could very well be the strongest part of the team.
As far as the Texans are concerned, it looked for a while like the team would be without the services of superstar receiver Andre Johnson. If this were the case, the Bills' chances of shutting down Houston's offense would have looked much better. However, Johnson is playing, and he has the potential to lead Houston to victory, even though the Bills have not allowed huge passing numbers to anyone, even Drew Brees and the Saints.
On the defensive side of the ball for the Texans, safety Eugene Wilson may not play, although he has not been ruled out. Wilson is no star, but he has contributed with two interceptions this year, so his absence could maybe open things up for the Bills' passing game, in much need of a turnaround.
The other big story for the Texans is rookie linebacker Brian Cushing, who leads NFL rookies in tackles with 56. Cushing has been a force to be reckoned with so far in Houston's defense, and although he is not ruled out yet either, there is a solid chance that he might not play. The absence of Cushing could also open things up for the Bills' offensive attack, most notably in the mid-range run game.
Playing against Matt Schaub, the NFL leader in passing touchdowns so far this season, the Bills will most likely need to put up a fair amount of points if they hope to get back to .500. The injuries of Wilson and Cushing could provide hope for the Bills' struggling offense in this regard, and with backup quarterback Fitzpatrick making his second consecutive start, the Bills need all the help they can get.
Thankfully for the Bills, the defensive injuries have not proved to be much of a problem, with the emergence of Byrd and the solid play of the rest of the players asked to contribute. However, the Bills have been blessed in the last three weeks, not having to deal with any quality quarterbacking from Anderson, Sanchez, or Delhomme. Schaub is the first bona fide quarterback, this season at least, that the Bills have faced in at least a month, and the Texans' offense is sure to exploit any weakness that the injury-ravaged Bills defense may have.