Breaking Down the Jets vs the Bills
Jets Defense vs. Bills Offense
The Trent Edwards era officially came to an end last week when the Bills, in a calculated salary move, released their latest in a long line of failed attempts to replace Jim Kelly. For now the Bills offense will fall into the hands of journeyman QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has a career record of 8-15-1 in the NFL. The Jets are familiar with Fitzpatrick having played against him three times in the last two seasons and have done well against him. In three appearances against New York, Fitzpatrick is averaging only 116 yards a game and completing only 48% of his passes. Like most journeyman QB's Fitzpatrick is a gamer, but also throws a good deal of errant throws that usually end up in the hands of the opposition. Fitzpatrick does allow the Bills to open up the offense as the prevailing theory was that Edwards had mentally taken himself out of a vertical passing game. Fitzpatrick's ability to throw down the field opened things up for the Bills to utilize their running game more effectively. The majority of the snaps will go to RB Marshawn Lynch, who the team is trying to showcase for a trade. RB CJ Spiller, a rookie with explosive talent that has not had much impact thus far, will also get a shot at running on the Jets. The teams best runner, Fred Jackson, has been relegated to the bench and does not look to be a factor in the offense anymore. The team is trying to determine who the primary receivers will be. WR Lee Evans star has completely faded. The speedster no longer breaks free at the line and does nothing to escape safety help. WR Roscoe Parish, an explosive player, has regained a starting job and is the one big play threat the offense has. WR Steve Johnson has talent, but has had problems catching the ball and is the third receiver in the offense. The offensive line is still a work in progress and has been harder to evaluate due to Edwards constant holding onto of the football. Fitzpatrick was only sacked once against New England.
The Jets defense comes into this game off a terrible showing in Miami where the defense gave up a 14 point lead and nearly allowed Miami to drive down the field in less than a minute to tie up the game. The problems have mainly come in the secondary who missed CB Darrelle Revis, who will likely miss his second game this week with a hamstring injury. CB Anotonio Cromartie had his share of moments against WR Brandon Marshall, but Miami threw in his direction alot and Marshall had a spectacular day. CB Kyle Wilson had all kinds of problems working the outside of the field and looks like he may take the brunt of the blame from the coaching staff as early signs point to Wilson being replaced in the starting lineup by CB Drew Coleman. If true it is probably a good decision for Wilson's confidence and the immediate future since the nickel back position is what Wilson was expected to play all year long. Lost in all the focus on the cornerbacks is how poor the coverage help has been from the safeties. For all his faults the Jets do miss the size and athleticism of former Jet S Kerry Rhodes. The absence of Rhodes and Revis has made S Jim Leonhard responsible for more deep coverage routes and his size is being badly exposed by big targets. S Eric Smith is often lost in coverage and out of position. The Jets should take a longer look at S Brodney Pool, who has made two big plays in the last two weeks, but they are being cautious with him due to his injuries. On the positive side the front seven continues their outstanding play. Once again the team was a brick wall against the run and LB Jason Taylor is starting to emerge as a force as a pass rusher. It is possible that LB Calvin Pace will return for this game and perhaps give a glimpse of what the pass rush may look like with he and Taylor in the game at the same time. DE Shaun Ellis is quietly having his best season in the last four years and has anchored that side of the line.
On paper this is the type of team that the Jets should match up extremely well against. There is no big physical receiver for Buffalo to take advantage of the safeties nor is there that polished secondary target to take advantage of Coleman or Wilson. The Bills have no running game to really gameplan for, giving the Jets linebackers, notably Bart Scott and David Harris, more opportunities to be used in the blitz packages to harass Fitzpatrick. Finally the Bills have a QB that is going to give the defense a chance to catch the ball and the Jets are very opportunistic. This is the type of opponent where Cromartie can show off those open field ball skills and have a good chance to score off an interception. The Jets will likely be switching coverages up often. Cromartie should be lining up on the 6'2” Johnson when he is in the game rather than working on the smaller Evans and Parish, though he should be able to easily jam Evans at the line. Wilson's speed and willingness to tackle might make him a good bet to cover Parish who would likely run away from Coleman on any pass caught in the middle of the field. If the Jets can not stop this passing attack people are going to begin to think that the Patriot game was an aberration. Buffalo has had some problems with false starts this season so the Jets may use a number of looks and movement to try to draw them offsides. Expect a big game out of the Jets this week defensively.
Jets Offense vs Bills Defense
The Bills defense has been terrible this season. They are in the process of converting to a 34 and the transition has not been smooth. The Bills rank 27th in rushing yards allowed and last in the NFL in points allowed, The defensive line has been unable to do anything this season and that is the group responsible for setting the tone for the entire defense. It is possible that they will be without DE Marcus Stroud for the game. The linebackers have been unable to do much and have been brutalized these last two weeks against high powered offenses. OLB Chris Kelsay may be the teams best defensive player but cant rush the QB and is learning how to play pass coverage. Unless the Bills OLB's can generate a rush it will be hard for the defense to improve. The Bills are hoping their front 7 gets a boost with the return of the often injured Paul Posluszny, who is a far more physical player and better tackler than anyone else they have at the position. The biggest disappointment for the Bills has been the play of the secondary, who the team originally planned to rely on this season. The team had done a good job prior to last week in eliminating the big plays, but they can never make a stop when it is needed and have yet to intercept a pass. S Jarius Byrd is the most dangerous player on defense. He had 9 interceptions last season and has a fumble recovery this year. The depth at corner and safety is poor and the team is miserable against the opposing tight end. Thus far the defense has given up 257 yards through three games to the tight end position. It has become a major weakness.
After the poor game against the Ravens the Jets offense has been clicking on all cylinders behind the arm of QB Mark Sanchez. Sanchez has had a great start to the year playing mistake free football and doing an excellent job of getting his big players involved in the offense. He looks like a completely different player than last season with his command of the pocket and poise on the field. He looks to have strongly bonded with his TE Dustin Keller, who one year ago at this time looked to be on a completely different planet than Sanchez. At this time last year Keller went into a funk when he and Sanchez just could not seem to connect. Now they look like they are playing toss in the backyard. Keller is beginning to draw such attention in the middle that it is leaving WR Braylon Edwards in single coverage on the outside and Edwards size and speed makes him very hard to cover one on one. Edwards seems to have put the off the field issues behind him and will look for his third big effort in a row. The Jets will be hoping that WR Jerricho Cotchery can be a bigger contributor this week. He is the one part missing from the passing game. RB LaDainian Tomlinson looks reborn as a Jet and has claimed the role of the primary back in the offense. Tomlinson, when he bounces to the outside, is racking up big 20 yard type plays. It is a question how much of a load he can carry, but the Jets may push it to see where the breaking point is. The offensive line showed some improvements, specifically by LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson whose name was never mentioned against the Dolphins because he never made a mistake. RT Damien Woody has his 1 or 2 plays a game where he just cant seem to stop faster players, but has been steady at the position. LG Matt Slauson is probably one more bad game away from the Jets possibly looking for a scrap heap veteran to bring in and plug in at guard.
With WR Santonio Holmes returning from suspension next week this will be the last week where the Jets trot out essentially the same starting lineup as last season. The entire dynamic of the team should chance once Holmes returns and for two players this may be the last chance to make a big splash and make a case with the coaching staff for sustained playing time. Cotchery is having his worst year since he became a contributor in 2006 and RB Shonn Greene looks more concerned about fumbling the ball than running for big yards. With a suspect Bills secondary and a poor Bills run defense both players need a good game. This week may see an offensive philosophy shift back to the ground and pound style of last year, at least early in the game. The Jets are coming off an emotional high last week and this is still a young team with a young QB. With the Bills at home before a crowd that maybe has some renewed hope in the season the Jets will look to break the back of the defense which is done by quickly taking physical control of the game and running over the Bills. Greene may get the early carries to try to establish a rhythm and get a big game under his belt. Once the Jets get the ground game going it will open up the playaction which will lead to possible big plays for Keller and Edwards. Keller will likely be used to set up the passing game, similar to how he was used against Miami. Until Buffalo proves they can stop him expect Sanchez to Keller to be a popular play. The one thing the Jets offensive line has to be aware of this week is that the Bills do have players with long arms that bat the ball down at the line. Sanchez sometimes has problems with that and the line has to keep their assignments bottled up and engaged to give Sanchez his best chance for a completion.
While Spiller has not make a big impact as a runner, he is having a fine start as a kick returner for Buffalo. Last week Spiller ran a kick back 95 yards for a score and the week before had a 40 yard return against the Packers. In the last two weeks he is averaging 33 yards a return. K Rian Lindell is steady inside the 40 and has no range outside the 40. It's a problems on kickoffs where Buffalo is near the bottom of the league.
The Jets special teams have been a real strong point this season. The coverage is greatly improved from last season and Brad Smith is having a good year returning kicks. Eric Smith blocked a punt last week and the Jets have showed a lot more effort than other teams at doing that. P Steve Weatherford is arguably right at the top of the AFC and K Nick Folk has done extremely well on field goals. If there is a concern its that Folk's distance on kickoffs is poor. That could be troublesome this week with Spiller on fire for Buffalo.
Chan Gailey was somewhat of a surprising hire for the Bills last year. Though his stint as head coach of Dallas over a decade ago saw the team in the playoffs both seasons he coached he was generally considered a failure. After an unsuccessful stint as offensive coordinator of the Chiefs he was hired to fix the Buffalo offense and tutor a QB. After 3 weeks the QB he was brought in to tutor was released at the team is 0-3 and staring at a season being over just 4 weeks into the year. Gailey has to have his team prepared for a fast start this week to keep the Buffalo players and fans spirits up this week.
Rex Ryan has admitted that he was somewhat humbled by the defensive letdown last week and that he has to fix some problems on the team. His biggest challenge this week, however, looks to be to keep his team motivated to avoid the letdown. Last year against the Bills his team, specifically his QB, decided to sleepwalk in a game at home against the Bills and ended up losing a game filled with mistakes in which the Jets statistically dominated the game. Ryan looks to have taken the approach almost as if he were a fan by pointing out other teams records and discussing implications about the standings. He is driving home the point that because New England plays Miami that the Jets will fall to second place with a loss. It is rare to hear a coach talk about these things, but it worked for the team last week and he will be hoping it works again.
The buzz word surrounding this game is “trap”. With the Jets coming off a big win last week and realizing they have another prime time game in week 5, a week where they should get 3 stars back on the team in Revis, Holmes, and Pace, it would seem reasonable that the Jets would look ahead and take this game for granted. Last year the Jets definitely would have taken this team for granted, but this is a new year and the Jets have far different expectations than they had last season. 2009 was a learning experience. If the team comes out flat it means they learned very little from 2009. I think the coach has done a good job in making sure those mistakes from 2009 will not be repeated in 2010. Ryan also has done a much smarter thing by giving the Dolphins credit for the game last week and saying his defense did a poor job. Last year Ryan almost never gave the opposition real credit for a win and that likely contributed to some of that uninspired play at times last year. That is a lesson Ryan learned that he carried over to this season.
Playing in front of their home crowd, with some confidence from the decent showing in New England, the Bills are likely going to give their best effort of the year at the start of the game. The Jets just experienced a teams home opener and this atmosphere will be the same due to the QB change for Buffalo. That always makes the first two drives of the game- the one on offense and one on defense- incredibly important. Those two drives can set the tone and eliminate the home crowd. Back to back road games are never an easy task and in a perfect world the Jets should come out strong and put the game away early if they want to win. The odds shift to the home teams favor if you find yourself in a nail biter on the road two weeks in a row. All the energy usually lies with the home team in that situation.
It just seems that every year when these two teams meet the games are always close and usually ugly and sloppy. Since 2006 the series record is tied at 4-4 with 6 of the games decided by single digits. As a Jets fan it has been extremely frustrating because the Jets are almost always favored yet always play down to the Bills. That said, there is no reason for this game to be close. The Jets were a far superior team to Buffalo last season and the Jets have improved while the Bills have gotten worse this year.
When a team sets their goals to have the best record in the NFL there is no room for “letdown” games. You never see the Indianapolis Colts come out so flat in the middle of the year that they lose to an inferior team. In their strong seasons you never saw the New England Patriots or Pittsburgh Steelers come out of a game shrugging their shoulders saying “it was just one of those weeks”. The mindset of a champion is that you come to play every week and win big every week. “Trap game” is never a part of their vocabulary. While a road loss, even to a divisional opponent, certainly does not greatly impact the Jets bottom line a big win here says something about where the team mentally is at and how much they have improved since last season.
Jets 21 Bills 10