AFC East Report: Week 2

The weekly AFC East Report is a new feature, which will breakdown the AFC East Division. Each week, analysts who are avid fans of each of the respective AFCE teams, will present an objective analysis of their team and summarize important developments and key updates on each team. A weekly read of this column will keep you posted on all the important developments within the division. <P>

This weeks AFCE games:

Jets @ San Diego, 4 p.m.; Buffalo @ Oakland, 4 p.m.; Miami @ Cincinnati, 8:30 p.m.; New England @ Arizona, MNF

New York Jets:

The Jets got off to a good start in their home opener beating the Bengals 31-24 behind a dominant running game and an impressive performance by the run defense. This isn't a small accomplishment for a team that has been 2-8 in the month of September under Herm Edwards.

Offense:

The offense racked up 438 yards against a soft defense and the big story was really the O-Line which dominated the Bengals allowing Martin to rush for 196 yards while giving Pennington all day to make his throws, finishing 20 of 27 for 224 yards. Martin's longest run of the day went for just 24 yards which illustrates the constant surge the line was getting all game long.

Meanwhile Pennington was very efficient without a rush in his face, completing passes to nine different receivers and feasting all day on rookie CB Madieu Williams where he probably got most of his yardage. Pennington should have had three more completions in fact as receivers dropped 3 easy passes, but he still would not have been the story of the day, which belonged to the run game. Before over-analyzing why Martin had such a big game the Jets should wait for strong games against more established defenses like the 3 teams in their division, but there are reasons to be optimistic.

First, Martin is both healthy and well prepared to start the season for the first time in 3 years. Remember that he ran for 1,100 yards in the last 12 games of ‘03. Second, the offensive line is in great shape with the addition of Pete Kendall a pro-bowl caliber guard who solidifies the mix. And lastly, the passing game is back with Pennington healthy and the addition of Justin McCareins, so teams can't just sit 8 men in the box as they tried last year.

Defense:

This was an interesting test for the revamped defense as they came away with things to be happy about and things to work on this week. On the positive side, they dominated a very good Cincinnati line in the running game. Rudi Johnson ran for a 9 yard TD on his second carry but early in the second quarter his stats were 8 carries for 9 yards, and he finished the game with 70 yards on 24 carries 1TD and 1 fumble.

They were swarming to the ball in ways not seen by this franchise for several years, a far cry from 2003 when the Jets gave up close to 5 yards a carry and nearly 150 yards a game. Sam Cowart led the attack from the MLB position with 14 tackles, several for a loss, and a forced fumble that was returned for a touchdown. He's been saying he wants to play the middle since he got to NY and he finally got his chance responding with his best game by far as a Jet. So it bears watching to see if he can return to the form that earned him a reputation as a top LB in his time with the Bills and he'll get his next test quickly as the Jets visit San Diego and LaDanian Tomlinson this week.

On the negative side, Palmer who looks like he will be a legitimate star shredded the pass defense. Oddly the Jets didn't send many blitzes his way, often rushing only on 3rd-and-long, and they played zone almost the entire game after promising a lot of mixed coverages this year. The fact is they simply don't have the personnel to play much man coverage and the front 4 didn't generate enough heat outside of a few plays by John Abraham in the 2nd quarter which gave Palmer all he needed to make the Jets look like UCLA.

A key stat was 3rd down conversions where Cincy was 8 for 12, and many of those were 3rd and long because the running game wasn't working. Normally I wouldn't mention special teams but they were awful, and a big reason the game was close at halftime. The Jets fumbled the opening kickoff away which lead to a TD and they botched an ugly looking fake punt and gave away a lot of field position the few times the teams traded punts.

Overall though the team has to feel good: they got a W, their biggest weakness from last year (run D) looks much better, and the offense showed no rust. I don't know how they stop Tom Brady, but we'll worry about that in week 7. Next week is an even bigger test for the run D as they face LaDanian Tomlinson, but given the state of their offense and the improvement in their run D, they have to feel good about their chances of being 2-0.

Analyst: Nick Romano

Miami Dolphins:

The Dolphins report will not publish this week as our Dolphin analyst has been impacted by Hurricane Ivan. Hopefully the report will resume next week and we wish the best for Chris and his family.

Analyst: Chris Dellapietra

New England Patriots:

The Super Bowl Champs have now won 16 straight games after last Thursday night's nail biter against the Colts. It's amazing to hear the players and coaches in Indy lament the fact that the best team didn't win. Funny, I thought the most points won, not the most yards.

The Patriots have now beaten Peyton Manning and the Colts three times in the last 8 weeks (dating back to their remarkable goal-line stand in Indy last year) and Peyton Manning proved once again that he's no Tom Brady. In fact, it's almost laughable to hear his minions claim that he is the best QB in the game.

Manning, who has the luxury of a better offensive line, a better RB (Edgerrin James) a top flight WR in Marvin Harrison and a $98M salary, has still never won in Foxboro (0-6) and clearly looked like the 2nd best QB on the field last Thursday. Peyton never won in Tennessee (0-4) against Florida and now has twice as many playoff losses as he does wins (2-4)

Tom Brady, by contrast, with an average offensive line, a near league worst running game and an improving receiving corps, has managed to win 16 straight contests and is 6-0 in the playoffs and 7-0 in overtime. Brady simply makes better decisions than Manning, is more accurate, and is a proven winner.

Stepping off my soapbox, let's look at this week's match-up against Dennis Green and his Arizona Cardinals.

I can guarantee you a few things this Sunday; (A) The Patriots defense will play much better than they did against the Colts, and will not give up 200+ rushing yards, or 400+ total yards, as they did against Indy. (B) Corey Dillon will carry the ball more than the 15 times he did last week. (C) The Patriots will play better on special teams than they did against Indy.

Bill Belichick is flying his team to Arizona Thursday night, so the Pats can get a practice in under the oppressive sun on Friday. He is obviously concerned about the players adjusting to the weather as it has been an unseasonably cool summer in New England this year.

The Patriots will be primarily utilizing the two TE set this year and with the emergence of rookie Ben Watson and the continuing improvement of Daniel Graham, the Patriots should be set at the TE position through the 2008 campaign. Savvy veteran Christian Fauria will have a tough time finding the field with two gifted athletes in front of him.

While no one on the team will catch 90 balls this year, the Pats could have as many as 6 players catching 50 or more balls, in Deion Branch, David Givens, Troy Brown, Kevin Faulk and the two young TE's. This versatility creates significant mismatches against most defenses, especially when the Pats deploy the empty backfield, five-receiver set.

Defensively, rookie Vince Wilfork (University of Miami- 1st round) received a game ball for his play against the Colts and is already better then Keith Traylor. Expect Wilfork, who is conservatively listed at 6'2 and 325 pounds to get even better as the season progresses.

There is some concern in the secondary, where Ty Law tweaked a hamstring, missing most of the opener. Belichick might give Law the week off, hoping that with a bye in week 3, the NFL's best corner can use the 20 days between games to recover. The team is confident that 2nd-year man, ball hawking corner Asante Samuel can continue to step up, as he did in the Indy game.

I expect Josh McCown to struggle mightily against the Pats this Sunday, who are sure to use a myriad of coverage schemes to confuse the inexperienced QB and I wouldn't be surprised to see a defensive TD and three or four turnovers, as a result. A close game initially, the patriots should open up in the 2nd half and cruise to a 27-13 victory.

Analyst: Craig Natale; natalysis@yahoo.com

Buffalo Bills:

The Bills came out of the gates in week one very much like the team that they walked off the field as at the end of last season. If the Bills had to show one thing in particular, it was that the circumstances leading to the 11.0 offensive points-per-game that the offense put up on average through the last fourteen games of last season, as well as the 16 points total that the first team offense put up during the preseason in about two full games worth of playing time, were both aberrations. They failed to do so only fueling the fires of critics of the "new method."

While three teams put up fewer points than the Bills did on Sunday, none of the three played as poorly overall from an offensive standpoint. The Saints put up 7 points on a 47-yard drive, 281 yards of total net offense, on 4.8 yards-per-play. The Ravens put up 3 points on a 32-yard drive, 254 yards of total net offense, on 3.8 yards-per-play. The Dolphins put up 7 points on a drive of 83 yards, 263 total net yards, and 3.9 yards-per-play.

The Bills offense put up 10 points on two drives totaling 14 net yards, had 242 total net yards of offense on 3.8 yards-per-play. The big difference between the Bills and the Ravens and Dolphins is that those two teams both possess a fraction of the offensive talent that the Bills do. The Saints may be another story, but certainly do not possess greater talent than the Bills do.

Making matters worse is that many of the big-name, key marquee players for the Bills made a string of sophomoric errors throughout the second half of the variety that can be expected from rookies and youthful players, but not from players supposedly earning the big bucks and the "leaders" of the team.

Nevertheless, of 11 drives, the Bills posted two that were beyond 32 yards and scored on neither. The defense had to set the Bills up ala professional football's version of "T-Ball" in order for the Bills to put any points on the board at all. Both scoring drives were begun in the red zone where the Bills efficiency was 1-for-3 only scoring on a play on which there was absolutely no coverage on Eric Moulds in a coverage blunder. On a 3rd-and-goal at the 1-yard line QB Drew Bledsoe missed a wide open Damian Shelton for an easy TD instead taking a sack for a loss of six forcing a field goal and being the difference in that game.

Suffice it to say that this game certainly did not serve notice to the rest of the East that the Bills were ready to make a statement this season. What happens from here on out remains to be seen. However, following the Bills' trip out to Oakland this week, they come back home to face the Patriots at the Ralph after a bye week that the Pats also have. Then they travel to NY to face the Jets the week following. Then they return to Buffalo to face the Dolphins prior to going to Baltimore where Ray Lewis and the Ravens will more than likely be rubbing their hands with anticipation in facing this once again seemingly anemic Bills squad.

The Bills' D played well, but let's consider this team that they faced. It had but one big name on it and that was Fred Taylor. After that, well past prime and beyond game-changing play-making ability Jimmy Smith at 35 is the only other familiar player. The two biggest catches of this game were both made on 4th downs with Troy Edwards making a grab on 4th-and-2 with 33 seconds remaining at the Bills' seven-yard line. Rookie Ernest Wilford at the back of the end zone made the other on 4th-and-7 with no time remaining for the winning score in very tight triple coverage.

Jimmy Smith also made a key grab on 4th-and-14 for 45 yards and of equal importance in setting the Jags up at the Bills' 21-yard line. MLB London Fletcher then promptly kicked the ball after it had been spotted and gave the Jags an additional five yards on an assessed delay of game penalty putting the Jags into the red zone.

While there were a handful of positives, this game was not a good game for numerous reasons with the negatives easily outweighing the positives. For more details refer to my post game pieces.

The good news is that there were no injuries for the Bills adding to their short list of injured players. Travis Henry walked off in the second half with cramps but nothing serious.

The bad news is that the Jag defense threw about as vanilla a defensive game plan at the Bills as could possibly have been used leaving doubts as to how the Bills will play vs. Oakland this week and then vs. the gauntlet of the four teams mentioned above following that and possessive of much more dynamic defenses. Whatever damage was done by the Jag D was done almost exclusively on simple execution having little to do with defensive scheming, stunts, or play calling.

The Jag offense was also not impressive for the reasons stated above as well as those elaborated on further in my post game pieces.

All in all, this game was one that the Bills needed to win in order to serve notice to their fans, the media, and the rest of the league and particularly the division, that they were for real this year and capable of meeting the front office's and coaches' expectations of a winning season and remaining in serious playoff contention late into the season. The Jags were one of six teams on the Bills' schedule that finished equal to or worse than the Bills in record last season. The Raiders are another. But clearly meeting those expectations are now in jeopardy.

Let's see what the Raider game brings, but if the Bills lose that game, then there is precious little hope for any wins in the string of three straight divisional games which follow and then Baltimore. Three of the next five games are on the road as well.

The bottom line is that the Bills should have been offensively jacked for this game, but were not. If they were, then it certainly did not show and the problems are far deeper than most realize at this time. It has set the tone for this season and already raised many questions and issues. How the Bills respond in week 2 out in Oakland may very well either set this team back on track or send it into a downward spiral that will be difficult to recover from. In the meantime, Bills' fans must bite down on this loss and patiently wait for redemption on Sunday.

The Raiders were 4-4 at home last season with victories over the Vikings, Ravens, and Bengals averaging 24 points vs. them and with three of four home losses being to playoff teams Green Bay, Denver, and Kansas City. The importance of this game is twice what it was prior to the Jags loss now. What the Bills bring to the table on Sunday will reveal much from many perspectives.

Analyst: Mark Weiler; mweiler.billsreport@cox..net


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