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Breaking Down the Jets vs the Bills

Super fast turnaround week for the Jets and Bills who must travel to Toronto for a Thursday night showdown. At stake for the Jets avoiding last place in the AFC East and the chance to keep slim playoff hopes alive, two things that Rex Ryan desperately needs to happen on Thursday.

Jets Defense vs. Bills Offense

Nobody is ever going to confuse the Bills offense with the early 90’s Bills teams, but the new coach has allowed the team to be far more aggressive in attacking the opposition. Ryan Fitzpatrick has been inserted as the new starter at QB and the gameplan allows him to take advantage of the teams strengths and air it out. After seasons of playing check down football Fitzpatrick is taking chances to his star WR Terrell Owens. Owens, after a terrible start, has come on in the last three games with 376 receiving yards and 2 Tds. Owens always is going to battle his problems catching the ball, but he plays much more motivated football when he is allowed to go deep. Lee Evans has kind of become a forgotten man in the offense but is still a dangerous player, especially now that teams may be focusing more on Owens. The Bills will spread the ball around to a lot of targets which helps the team keep defenses off balance. Part of the reason behind the move to the pass attack is that the offensive line is so bad due to both injuries and poor management that they simply can not open enough room for a run game to really get going. They will give up countless pressures and sacks, but the team feels they have a better chance to win by trying to pick up big chunks of yards rather than raising the offensive white flag and having Marshawn Lynch run 20 times a game for 42 yards. Fred Jackson, the offenses most versatile and well rounded player, has taken over at RB and does a good job scampering through whatever little hole may exist from the line. Jackson’s best attribute is his pass catching ability which allows him to pick up yards when he sneaks out into the pass plays. Jackson leads the team in rushing yards and is second in receptions. Overall the offense likely will not score many points, but at least now they make an attempt to score unlike what they had been doing under Dick Jauron all these years.

After two weeks of poor uninspired play the Jets defense really stepped up and completely shut out the Panthers, including their vaunted rushing attack of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. The team played with much more intensity than we had seen for some time and really seemed to play as a unit rather than a collection of individual talent. The leader in all of this is Darrelle Revis, who will again be tested this week as he matches up against the resurgent Owens. “Revis Island” as its called has not been a happy place for his assignment. The Jets defensive line has played significantly better of late. Other than the first quarter meltdown against Jones-Drew, the fill ins this year have not made the team really feel the sting of losing Kris Jenkins. Both Sione Pouha and Mike DeVito have shown their ability to be very valuable backups to the team, while DE’s Shaun Ellis and Marques Douglas are both making plays. Both played very well last week. With the improved line play the Jets have been able to do a far better job of attacking the QB without having to sell out with the 8 man blitzes we saw early in the season. Players like David Harris can find the soft spot and hit the hole for a sack now. Teams adjusted to the Jets pressure schemes after the first 4 weeks of the season and the Jets look to have now adjusted their schemes accordingly. The secondary will be a matter of discussion for at least the next week, if not longer. S Kerry Rhodes was not overly friendly to the media after picking off two passes in his first game coming off the bench. S Eric Smith played well in his place, especially in run support, but Rhodes in a star with a superstar contract and this story will likely not just vanish. The remainder of the secondary is banged up with Dwight Lowery and Donald Strickland both nursing injuries which forces the team to play Lito Sheppard, likely costing them a draft choice, and Drew Coleman at CB. It is a suspect group that is going to be tested over and over by any team with depth at the receiver positions.

The Jets will need big games this week from Calvin Pace, Bryan Thomas, and Ellis and Douglas on the line if they want to stifle the Bills offense. The Bills offensive line is so bad they have to get steady pressure on Fitzpatrick and not allow him to sit in the pocket and find the open receiver. Fitzpatrick was sacked 6 times last week and has been sacked 12 times in just a handful of games this season. The Jets will need a traditional rush to get into the backfield to allow the Jets to have their safeties and defensive backs help out in the coverage. Revis will have the primary assignment of taking Owens out of the game and as long as he is successful in that role the task becomes to harass Fitzpatrick and not allow him to spread the ball around the field, which he has done relatively well thus far. The secondary assignment for the game is going to be spying on Jackson out of the backfield. Jackson is playing to be a starter in the NFL and is the most well rounded threat the team has. He is now in a position where he has to make the most of his playing time and he is showing himself to be a capable runner and a capable receiver out of the backfield. The Jets did a great job on him in the first game, basically eliminating him from the game, and must do the same this week. Despite last weeks 31 point effort, the Bills offense is strictly a 16 point a game type of team. If the Jets defense is as good as they think they are holding them under 10 should be the teams goal.

Jets Offense vs. Bills Defense

Buffalo’s defense is still feeling the effects of injuries this season, but has done a relatively good job in keeping teams in check and playing above their talent level. ¾ of the defensive line is nursing injuries though all should play this week. DE Chris Kelsay, DT Marcus Stroud, and DT Kyle Williams all have knee problems and how their bodies handle a short week of rest may be a major factor in this weeks game. The Bills run defense is terrible and injuries along the line will only make it worse. DE Aaron Schobel is no longer a great player, but he does have 6 sacks and is the one true sack threat the team has. He has played well against New York in the past. LB Paul Posluszny may be the defenses best player. He is a great tackler, but battles the injury bug. S Bryan Scott permanently takes over at OLB because of injury to LB Keith Ellison. The teams secondary is getting healthier though it is uncertain if CB Terrence McGee will play. If he does he will likely be limited due to knee surgery. While the Bills secondary may not have the most well known names in the league, their coverage scheme and focus on catching the football has made them a very dangerous group. S Jairus Byrd has 8 interceptions on the season while George Wilson has 3. The team rotates those two players with S Donte Whitner who is strong in run support and also has picked off a few passes this season. These guys had their way with the Jets in the first meeting this year with the two safeties accounting for 3 interceptions when the Jets continued to force the ball deep. This team may do a better job than any team in the NFL at keeping the ball in front of the chains.

For the second time this season the Jets approached a game with the ultra careful attitude that were the hallmarks of the two rookie Qb led offenses last season that have become the blueprint for how to handle a young QB in the NFL. For the second time this season the Jets won handily by following the blueprint. The big question is will it continue this week? Mark Sanchez played one of the smarter games of the season. He checked down often, threw the ball safely, and more often moved vertical in the pocket rather than horizontal which seems to be where many of his “I was trying to make a play” mistakes come from. Sanchez only threw one interception, his lowest total since the November 1 game against the Miami Dolphins, and never had any hold our breath moments where the defender just dropped a ball thrown right to him, which may have been only the second time this season that happened. It’s just one game, but hopefully it is part of the learning process that seemed to be absent at times in the Patriots and Jacksonville games. While Sanchez will be asked to safeguard the ball, Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene will be asked to win the football game. Jones is putting his body on the line and doing his best to carry a big load in order to win games for this team. The type of pounding he is taking will most likely not help his quest for a new contract, but he is a steady player for this team. Greene really shows some nice speed around the edges, an area where Jones has no success, but with two fumbles in just 54 carries, Greene is entering a danger zone where the staff may not be able to trust him with carries inside the red zone or deep inside their own side of the field. Greene has to show better ball security if he wants to be a primary contributor here next season. TE Dustin Keller has come alive since the trade for WR Braylon Edwards and should continue to put up big numbers in the offense with teams focused on Edwards. Jerricho Cotchery missed the first game against the Bills and should also provide a nice boost for the team.

In the prior meeting the Jets ran the ball up and down the field on this Buffalo defense but could not overcome the fact that Sanchez could not keep the ball out of the hands of the Bills defenders. The gameplan this week has to be similar to the one that the Jets cooked up last week against the Panthers. Since Jones exploded for a career day in the last meeting the Bills have tried to stiffen up the run defense, but almost every team they face has a big day against the club. Ryan Moats, Ricky Williams, Chris Johnson, and DeAngelo Williams all put up big numbers against the defense, though they did devise a gameplan to hinder Maurice Jones Drew a few weeks ago. The Bills only way to stop the run game is to play from ahead and force teams to abandon the run. That worked with Miami and Carolina and is the only reason they won those games as the Qbs of those teams could not handle playing from behind and turned the ball over. The one thing Buffalo does well is cover deep and take away much of the sidelines from the wideouts. This was a problem for the Jets the last time, but the addition of Cotchery should give the Jets more flexibility in the pass schemes. Keller in particular should be a featured target. The Bills have a tough time covering the tight end and is the one area where they give up large completions, often leaving the seams uncovered. Anthony Fasano and Mercedes Lewis have both gone for over 70 yards in the last two games. Ideally the Jets will focus on their running attack, but if they see the game slipping in the 2nd and 3rd need to use more of the safe style passing that was used last week to keep the game from getting out of hand. The offense has to keep the score at least manageable to keep the rushing attack as part of the game. They will find themselves in trouble if the run game isn’t working well enough and then they realize they have to open up a deep pass attack in the 4th quarter. That is how the Bills win games. As long as you can keep it close in the 4th the Bills will almost always be at a disadvantage.

Special Teams

While the Bills do not have the home run hitter on specials due to injuries, Fred Jackson is a capable kick returner and capable of returning a kick over 30 yards at any given time. He may also see time returning punts, which he has also been very good at. The Bills have one of the better kick coverage units in the NFL and punter Brian Moorman is one of the NFL’s best at his job. The Jets coverage units have to play better this week to avoid giving the Bills great field position. The Bills also like to try gadget plays off fake punts and field goals something that the staff needs to drill into the players heads. The last thing the Jets can do is allow special teams to cost the team a game again.

Coaching

A lot of big changes have happened since the last game as Dick Jauron was finally fired and now replaced with defensive coordinator Perry Fewell. The team seems to enjoy playing for Fewell and he has taken some of the chains off the team, especially on offense, that Jauron placed on the club. Fewell has shaken things up by benching seemingly entrenched starters Trent Edwards and Marshawn Lynch and instead going with Fitzpatrick and Fred Jackson to set a different tone for the team. Thus far it has worked as the Bills have played much more competitive football, especially in the second half of games, than they did under Jauron. Fewell’s different approach will make the Bills harder to prepare for than if Jauron was still in charge.

Rex Ryan hit all the right switches himself last week with the benching of Rhodes and putting much more of a hand in the offensive play calling. The question now is does he continue to make these bold moves or move out of the way and let things go back to the way they were? Ryan and his QB went out of their way this past week to explain how this was the offensive coordinator’s plan and offensive design, but that is unlikely the case as the gameplan was nothing like a usual Jets gameplan. Will Ryan care too much about hurting his coaches feelings to keep being involved like this or will he simply dictate to his coordinator may be a big question in the future. Ryan will have a new challenge this week of getting his team ready on such short notice with minimal time to plan and practice before live game action.

Overall

These short weeks are so hard to prepare for, especially in the Jets case where they will be facing a Bills team that is not identical to the team they faced a few weeks ago. That should be an advantage to the Bills. What does work to the Jets advantage though is the fact that the short week will not allow Ryan’s changes from a week ago to become a distraction or get overturned. The Jets staff likely already had the Jets players working on things for the Bills game during last weeks practice. It is highly unlikely that Ryan will let the offense run independently and put Sanchez in a position to make mistakes. There simply is not enough time to work on the new things. Likewise rather than being faced with a weeks worth of questions about when Rhodes’ is starting again, not just from the media but likely from a few players on the team, Ryan will see those questions deflected for at least one more week and he will be able to focus on the task at hand.

The last time these two teams met the Jets outplayed them badly yet still found a way to lose the game. Countless turnovers, botched special teams play, numerous penalties, and strange play calls all contributed to the loss. They should be chomping at the bit to pay the Bills back for that game. This will also likely be the players last chance to make an impression in a national game. Thus far the Jets have been a major letdown in that respect, losing to the Saints, Dolphins, and Patriots and it should be something that the team will want to improve on rather than be looked at as the “same old Jets”.

Usually in these short turnaround games the team with the better talent wins the game and the Jets are the more talented team. I’m not sure there is any position on the field where an impartial observer would say that Buffalo clearly has better talent. If the Jets can avoid the mistakes and score in the 20s it is unlikely Buffalo can catch them and win the game. Where the Jets will find trouble is if they squander scoring opportunities and allow the Bills a chance to simply make one big play and steal the game. The Jets have lost too many games like that this year. Te more talented team will win this game as the Jets keep themselves out of the cellar.

Jets 20 Bills 13