Why this game is intriguing: Fresh off wrist surgery, defensive end Mario Williams emerges from the bye ready to face his old team in his old home. Williams, of course, has been limited to 3.5 sacks and 16 tackles in a disappointing debut season with the Buffalo Bills. He returns to Houston with a creaky defense that ranks 31st in yards allowed. Meanwhile, the Houston Texans are doing just fine without Williams, as budding star J.J. Watt leads a well-rounded, pressure-happy group. Houston ranks third in total defense, allowing just 283 yards per game. There is a lot at stake in the actual game, with the Texans still making their case as the NFL's best and the Bills scratching and clawing to show they are wild-card worthy. Yet all eyes will be on Williams, his new wrist and his battles against former teammates. How will the crowd react when he walks onto the field?
Though no one has run the ball more often than the AFC-leading Houston Texans, coach Gary Kubiak is looking for better production from his backfield.
Houston should be able to find plenty of running room Sunday against the league's worst rush defense.
With both teams coming off byes, the Texans will surely look to get their ground game going against the Buffalo Bills, who are hoping to receive a big boost from a now-healthyMario Williams in his first trip back to Houston.
The Texans have compiled a 6-1 record behind an NFL-leading 35.4 rushing attempts per game, and they average 140.9 yards to rank sixth in the league. Houston, however, has managed just 4.0 yards per carry -- a number Kubiak is hoping to see rise.
A more efficient effort from Arian Foster could go a long way. The 2010 rushing champion is averaging a league-high 24.0 carries but ranks 28th with 3.9 yards per attempt.
"You try to look at the big picture and say our yards per carry is still not good enough," Kubiak said. "We need some more big plays ... we've got to find (Foster) some more space and some big plays. If we do that, all that takes a couple big plays and your average goes up."
A matchup against the Bills (3-4) could help the Texans do just that. Buffalo is surrendering an NFL-high 176.9 rushing yards per game and expects to see a heavy dose of Foster come Sunday.
"There's no doubt in my mind that they're going to come out and try to establish the run," defensive end Chris Kelsay said. "Running backs look at playing us as an opportunity. It's our job as a defense to nip that in the bud right now. And that's our focus."
The Bills, though, have reason for optimism with Williams feeling an increased range of motion in his sprained left wrist. The two-time Pro Bowler had been playing through the injury initially suffered during the final week of the preseason but opted for surgery after being assured he wouldn't miss any time.
Selected No. 1 overall in the 2006 draft by the Texans, Williams -- the NFL's highest-paid defensive player -- spent the first six years of his career in Houston before signing a six-year, $100 million contract with Buffalo this offseason.
"Oh, I'm definitely, definitely (playing). I'm not missing anything," he said. "It uplifts me tremendously. ... I'm definitely excited. This is a great week.
"The biggest thing for me is that I know there's definitely a lot more plays that I have to get done. I feel great about the possibility of finally being able to get to do things I didn't do from the very beginning of the season. And I look forward to it."
The Texans are looking forward to Williams' return.
"I've got a lot of respect for Mario," Kubiak said. "I think a lot of him as a person and a player. He's a hell of a player. You got to pay a great deal of attention to him. We got to play good to beat their football team and Mario is a big part of that."
Williams' improving health could prove key for a Buffalo team that's been especially bad in dropping three of four. The Bills have allowed 937 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground over that stretch, and they've given up an average of 44.0 points in the three losses.
Buffalo allowed 197 rushing yards and four rushing scores during a 35-34 loss to Tennessee on Oct. 21.
Despite their poor efforts, the Bills are hoping to hold their own Sunday. Buffalo is 2-0 all-time in Houston, most recently winning 24-21 on Nov. 19, 2006.
"I'm very confident in what we can do," linebacker Nick Barnett said. "If we go down there and play with focus and determination and the will that we should, I think we should be able to stop (Foster) the way nobody's stopped him this year."
Foster ran for 98 yards and scored his league-leading eighth and ninth rushing TDs during a 43-13 rout of Baltimore in Week 7. He may need to shoulder even more of the load Sunday with backup Ben Tate (hamstring) uncertain to play.
"We need him," Kubiak said of Tate. "He's very important to getting Arian rest, and our success as a football team."
While the Bills are averaging 150.3 yards on the ground behind C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, they could struggle to find holes versus Houston. The Texans are giving up 83.0 rushing yards per game to rank fourth in the league and are the only team yet to allow a rushing TD.
"I think the biggest key to our success is we need to stop the run," said defensive end J.J. Watt, who's recorded a league-high 9 1/2 sacks.