HOUSTON — At this point in the season, with the Bills 3-5 and looking squarely at another loss on Sunday against the 5-3 Patriots at Foxboro, Buffalo fans are both frustrated and annoyed.
And maybe it was merely his return to the town where he was drafted but Mario Williams, whom many of the Bills’ faithful had assessed as a $100 million bust, showed some signs of being a decent investment in the 21-9 loss to the Texans two days ago.
He had a game high in tackles (seven), made two other stops for a loss and, for the first time in a Buffalo uniform, got a sack against somebody other than a rookie tackle ... in this case second-year pro Derek Newton.
Williams’ play provided at least some temporary vindication for his less-than-stellar performance in the seven games leading up to Sunday. Cynics might argue that a superior effort might be expected against a team that chose to let him go in free agency, but at least Mario showed he could still do it.
AND THAT reality shifted the focus of Bills’ fans to a major issue on the other side of the ball.
Amidst all the calls for coach Chan Gailey to be fired and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to be replaced, the most persistent complaint is play-calling.
And the loss in Houston merely strengthened that case.
The Bills came into the Texans game ranked No. 4 in the NFL in rushing and 29th — fourth from last — in passing yards.
So what did they do against a quick-strike offense?
Run the ball even more than usual to eat up clock?
Of course not.
Fitzpatrick threw 38 times — completing 25 — while Buffalo’s tough rushing tandem of Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller split 12 carries, totaling 60 yards.
Gailey and Fitzpatrick maintained the Bills were forced to throw because of a Houston alignment that kept seven players — three linemen and four linebackers — in the area close to the line of scrimmage between the tackles, known as “the box.”
But Buffalo, in a limited sample, ran reasonably well ... a 5-yard average per carry is considerably better than the league norm of 4.2.
You almost wonder if Gailey, spotting the Texans’ scheme that left all three wideouts in man-to-man coverage, took the bait.
Fitzpatrick has already proven he has a substandard NFL arm, has major trouble with the toughest of all throws — the deep out — and isn’t accurate on long passes downfield.
His strength is short timing passes and well-set up dumpoffs.
BUT HOW could Gailey ignore Jackson and Spiller, who each also had five pass receptions, giving both a total of 11 touches. Combined, their total of 22 isn’t a big load for a feature back.
Afterward, Gailey admitted he should have tried to get the ball in Spiller’s hands more, as he averaged more that nine yards every time he touched it against Houston.
But that’s hindsight.
What happened to the theory “We’ll do what we do best ... you stop us?”
Instead, Gailey let Houston dictate the game plan and deserted the running game, his team’s strength.
AFTERWARD, Spiller wouldn’t be drawn into second-guessing his coach’s play calls.
When asked about his limited touches, he maintained, “It’s just the flow of the game. We kind of had to deviate to our passing game.
“We thought we could get our passing game going ... I’m fine with however many carries I had.”
Jackson felt pretty much the same.
“That was kind of dictated by the score,” he maintained of the reduced carries, though it was still 7-6 early in the third quarter even after Fitzpatrick’s three-and-out — all passes — to start the period. “We knew coming in, if we got behind (more passing) would probably be the case ... that’s what the defense was giving us.”
And when Spiller was pressed about his 7.3-yard average per carry coming into the game — the best at this point in an NFL season since 1960 when Jim Brown exceeded it — he was still dismissive.
“I’m not worried about that,” he said. “I just try to go out there and execute. If they call a run play, I’m going to try to execute it in the best way. Our coach is one of, if not the best play callers.
“He does a great job of finding mismatches that we need to have our offense be successful. He calls a great game.”
Too bad Bills’ fans don’t agree.
(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, cane be reached at email@example.com)