When the Texans headed into their bye week, the one big point of emphasis was special teams.
Houston is 24th in punt-return-average against and 23rd in kick-return-average against.
Buffalo deploys two kick returners, Leodis McKelvin (who averages 32.0 yards a return) and Brad Smith (34.6). McKelvin handles punts (and averages 24 yards a return). The Bills are No. 1 in both kickoff- and punt-return average in the NFL.
“I told my team that we could single-handedly get beat by these two returners,” Gary Kubiak told Houston reporters. “They’re excellent, punt return, kick return. Obviously we started over from that standpoint with the bye week and our approach and what we’re trying to do and how we’re trying to get better. It couldn’t be a bigger test for us right off the get-go.
“If we’re going to change our field position, we’re going to have to get better in those two phases of the game. It will be as difficult this week as it’ll probably be all year so it’s a big challenge.”
Another issue is touchbacks. Shayne Graham has allowed 33 kickoff returns, with only 11 touchbacks. The league leader has 31 touchbacks.
“I don’t think you can all of a sudden say if he’s kicking it two yards deep say it’s got to be out of the end zone,” Kubiak said. “You can do what you can do. He does directional-kick pretty good. The thing we’ve noticed he kicks off pretty well early in games and as the game goes on, they’re not as good. So we tried to focus on that, trying to keep him focused on some things we think can help him.
“We’re going to have to be smart with some of the things we do kicking the ball, too. If you know you can’t kick it out of the end zone, then you better know where you’re kicking it and how you’re going to cover. So we’ve got our hands full there. Hopefully we can start to improve that this week.”
The Texans would have to play poorly beyond special teams to lose this game. But the threat the Bills pose in the return game could scare the Texans into better play.