Saturday, October 2, 2010

New York Jets at Buffalo Bills Preview

New York Jets at Buffalo Bills
October 3rd, 2010, Ralph Wilson Stadium.
CBS-TV, 1:00 PM EST

After back-to-back divisional wins over New England and Miami, the Jets look for an early season sweep of their rivals as they take on the Bills. Unlike the Patriots and Dolphins, Buffalo does not have high expectations for this season, and their 0-3 record and quarterback switch proves that. Ryan Fitzpatrick engineered the Bills' offense to 30 points last week, but the defense allowed 38. Simply put, Buffalo is a bad football team that the Jets should win. But crazy things tend to happen in this series: just look at last year's game where the Jets ran for 312 yards and still lost because of five Mark Sanchez interceptions. That game is sure to be fresh in Sanchez's mind, but after consecutive stellar performances, he'll try to keep the offense rolling against a defense that has allowed over 30 points in each of their last two games.

When the Bills have the ball...
Fitzpatrick isn't a great quarterback, but he is willing to throw the ball down the field, something Trent Edwards was too shell-shocked to do at the end of his tenure. He has a few weapons at his disposal, but the poor offensive line typically prevents much from happening. Lee Evans is one of the best deep threats in the NFL, but he's barely been heard from in years because of the Bills' offense. Still, with Drew Coleman starting opposite Antonio Cromartie, look for the Bills to try to move Evans around to get him matched up with Coleman and take some shots down the field.

The rest of the receiving corps is unproven. Steve Johnson has good size, but his best performance of his career was last week's 66-yard effort vs New England. Roscoe Parrish can make plays once he gets the ball, but he's not a great route runner and his hands are average at best. He's more dangerous on special teams, even though he's been held in check this year.

However, the most explosive player on the Bills is rookie CJ Spiller. The 6th overall pick in the draft has elite speed and is a big play waiting to happen. But on this offense, there aren't enough other weapons out there, so every time Spiller is in the game, opposing defenses take note. He's more of a threat out of the backfield in the passing game than getting handoffs, however, as both Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson have gotten more carries. Spiller did have a 95-yard kick return for a touchdown last week, so he's a major threat back there. The Jets' special teams is annually one of the best in the NFL, but Spiller will test them.

Most people assumed Lynch was on his way out of Buffalo when Spiller was drafted, especially after he was outplayed by Jackson last season. But lo and behold, Lynch is the de facto starter, averaging 4.7 yards-per-carry this season. He has a good history against the Jets, so he's someone to watch for, especially early in the game. Still, the Jets have the best run defense in football so far by a wide margin, so it's hard to expect Buffalo to consistently get yards on the ground.

If the Jets' offense struggles, the Bills may be able to have some success. Fitzpatrick is a smart quarterback who can get out and run a little bit if he has to. Lynch has given the Jets problems in the past, and Spiller and Evans are big plays waiting to happen. However, if the Bills get behind, the Jets will be able to tee off at the quarterback and the Bills will have a tough time keeping up. The Bills are 31st in the NFL, averaging 139 yards per game through the air. The only potential problem for the Jets is they have had some communication issues on defense. The Bills have enough speed on offense to take advantage of that. But if the Jets can shut down the run and cover like they're supposed to, they should be able to handle the Bills' offense easily.

When the Jets have the ball...
The Jets are rolling offensively. In the last 6 quarters, the Jets have posted 49 points, and now they face a Bills' defense that has been picked on the last two weeks. Last year, the Jets were able to run all over the Bills. Their defense was ravaged by injuries last season, but this season has been no different. Three starters, CB Terrence McGee, LB Andra Davis, and DL Marcus Stroud will all miss this week's game. However, linebacker Paul Posluszny, the Bills' best playmaker in the front seven, will return after missing the last two weeks with a knee injury.

The Jets rolled up 567 rushing yards in two games against Buffalo last year, so there's a good chance the Jets return to their ground-and-pound roots of a year ago. The attack has been more balanced this season, but against an inferior opponent, the Jets may play not to lose offensively. The passing game has been effective for the last two games. While the running game has worked, it hasn't been as dominant as it was at times last season. Look for the Jets to try to get Shonn Greene going. Greene had high expectations going into this season, but LaDainian Tomlinson has usurped a large number of carries. That won't change, but Greene hasn't had his breakout game yet. Sunday could be it.

Passing the ball also shouldn't be too big of an issue. The Sanchez-Dustin Keller connection should continue this week. Tight ends have tallied 210 yards the last two weeks against the Bills' defense, and Keller should continue that trend. Match him up against a linebacker, and Keller will get open all game. Match him up against a defensive back, and the Jets will punish you with the running game. He's become a force in the passing game, living up to his first-round billing.

Buffalo's defense has been bad lately. Opposing quarterbacks have posted a 109 QB rating against the Bills' defense. With just four sacks all year and zero interceptions, Sanchez should be able to have a field day when the Jets do throw. Despite his DUI and four penalties this season, Braylon Edwards has been very good when called upon in the receiving game. The Bills will miss top cornerback McGee so Leodis McKelvin and Drayton Florence will get the start. McKelvin was a rising star before a leg injury ended his season after three games last year. The safeties are solid with Jairus Byrd and Donte Whitner, but their playmaking ability is severely hampered by a front seven that rarely provides pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

The Bills are a better team at home, as they only allowed 13 offensive points to Miami in week one. That was mostly because the Dolphins didn't take many shots down the field and the Bills got 3 of their 4 sacks that week. However, the Jets' offense is playing much better now than Miami's was then. Don't expect the Jets to put up 30 points, but they should dominate time of possession at almost a 2:1 clip.

Prediction
On paper, this looks like a potential trap game. The Jets just played three straight physical games against high quality opponents in rivalry-type games. Now, they have a road game against one of the worst teams in the NFL, one week before hosting Brett Favre and the Vikings on Monday Night Football. But Rex Ryan has stressed all week the importance of divisional games, and you can bet Sanchez still remembers throwing five interceptions last season against the Bills. He won't underestimate the Bills. Buffalo's best chance to win is on big plays. They have the skill players to do so but not the quarterback or the offensive line. If the Jets tackle like they should, the Bills won't be able to score. And unless the Jets' offense completely self-destructs, they should win handily.
Jets 27, Bills 10