AFC East Report: Week 5

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.

To discuss this piece or this week's games, tune into the "2004 Bills Report" which can be heard over the Internet on Thursday evenings at www.broadcastmonsters.com. The show is open to call-ins at 1-877-913-9739 and begins at 7 p.m.

This week's AFCE games:

Miami @ Buffalo; San Francisco @ Jets; Seattle @ New England

New York Jets:

For the fourth time this year the Jets didn't deliver a knock out blow to an opponent they were outclassing on the field, but the Jets keep doing whatever it takes to win, this time with a last minute drive to seal the victory. This game was a mismatch for three quarters, but at least the Jets didn't fold like the Seahawks or, well, like the Bills keep doing.

Offense:

I think this was an impressive showing for the offense because they moved the ball all day long against a tough defense even though the running game wasn't really there and Buffalo generated pressure on Pennington. They didn't finish off their drives thanks to uncharacteristic mistakes: a missed chip shot field goal, a fumble inside the Buffalo ten yard line, an interception and eight penalties, all of which killed long time consuming drives, but they stepped up when the game was on the line as winners do. Pennington was 7 of 8 for 51 yards on the final drive.

For the first time this year the running game wasn't able to control the line, which was to be expected, but the passing game really stepped up with Pennington completing 74% of his throws for 300 yards. They're not going to give Martin 30 carries every game so you like to see them go pass heavy when they need to. And you like to see the following stats too: 383 yards total offense, 24 first downs and 8/14 conversion on third downs. I've been critical of the playcalling but they opened things up against Buffalo, so Paul Hackett really deserves credit here. Wayne Chrebet also deserves mention, he played a big game with at least four key third down conversions. Welcome back Wayne.

Defense:

They put on another impressive showing against a struggling offense. The Bills were in 3rd and long all day, and the few times they had 3rd and short they struggled to get the one or two yards necessary on the ground. In fact, early in the fourth quarter, by which time the offense should have put 26 points on the board, Buffalo had zero points and a little over 50 yards rushing and 60 yards passing. John Abraham was a monster once again, not just against the pass but against the run too. He was in the backfield all day long leading the charge by dropping Bledsoe 3 times and stuffing Henry/McGahee countless times. With 6 sacks on the year he is on his way to another pro bowl season. Rookie Jonathan Vilma is really starting to impress with his speed and quarterbacking of the defense, and the front 7 has now shut down 3 big running offenses. The Jets are going to have an interesting decision to make when Cowart comes back in a few weeks.

Not everything was perfect defensively and I think they could have blitzed Bledsoe more frequently and more effectively to generate turnovers and shake his confidence, hopefully they do that at Rich Stadium in a few weeks. It's becoming clear the weakest link on this defense is the secondary and Jets are going to have to find more ways to get to the opposing team's quarterback because they're really best at Cover 2, not man to man coverage. Right now they have one effective rusher and a blitz that sometimes gets bogged down at the line. They did send a heavy blitz which Buffalo picked up well on the bomb to Lee Evans for a TD, so it's not always going to stop the big play, but it probably would have generated a few more wobbly throws from Bledsoe.

Looking forward, the Jets face the hapless 49ers and then travel to New England for the big showdown. They were able to focus on the task at hand when they faced winless Miami and Buffalo, partly because they're divisional rivalries, but mostly because Edwards specialty is getting his team up for gameday. As long as they come to play next Sunday, the Jets should easily dispose of the 49ers who have an inexperienced offense and undermanned defense, especially with Julian Peterson out for the year. The Jets have played well this year and they're not near their peak considering how much youth they brought into the system. If McCareins gets on track the Jets will have three dangerous WR's and that will open things up dramatically on offense, while the defense should only get better as DE Shaun Ellis gets on track as well and they get more familiar with their new scheme.

Injuries:

The Jets offensive line is ailing. Besides Mawae's broken hand and Fabini's bad back, they will be without both starting guards this Sunday. Pete Kendall has what looks to be a broken toe while Brandon Moore has a pulled hamstring. Their replacements, Brent Smith and Jonathan Goodwin, are the last two serviceable linemen left so they can ill afford to have anyone else go down.

Analyst: Nick Romano

Miami Dolphins:

Dolphins sink to 0-5

The New England Patriots broke the NFL record for consecutive wins over two seasons with a 24-10 drubbing of the now 0-5 Miami Dolphins. New England took the lead early and never looked back as the Dolphins offensive woes continued and the defense showed signs of distress. Three defensive miscues led to 21 of the Patriots 24 points as the futility spread throughout the team and left Dave Wannstedt soul searching.

The Dolphins fate seemed doomed before the game started when K Olindo Mare went down with a calf injury and recently signed rookie KR Wes Welker was left to handle the kicking chores. Welker did an admirable job filling in with one point after and a short field goal conversion. The Dolphins left Foxborough with their future even more uncertain after ineffective QBs Jay Fiedler and AJ Feeley went down late with injuries Now inexperienced Sage Rosenfels may be the heir apparent for Week 6 game against the NFL's only other winless team...Buffalo.

Offensively, the Dolphins opened up the passing game on Sunday as TE Randy McMichael and WRs Chris Chambers and Marty Booker made impressive contributions. Chambers diving TD reception will surely make the highlight reels for Week 6! However, the O-line continue to struggle and allowed Patriot D-linemen plenty of opportunities to feast on Dolphin backs as the running game by committee continued to look awful. Unnecessary penalties and turnovers continued to be the norm this as they have been all season for the Dolphins as they managed to ring up a mere 10 points. Furthering the embarrassment for NFL's worst offense, WR Derrius Thompson dropped a sure TD in the forth quarter and later the Dolphins failed to score from 1-yard line on four downs after a long Booker reception.

Miami's defense committed critical and uncharacteristic penalties that allowed the World Champs to capitalize all afternoon. QB Tom Brady, who had less than 100 yards passing, was hit early and often by attacking Dolphin defenders but it was to no avail. DE Jason Taylor, MLB Zach Thomas and CBs Patrick Surtain and Sam Madison (all former Pro Bowlers) kept the D together most of the day but gave up a season high 24 points in the end and were left frustrated and 0-5.

The battle of the winless takes place on Sunday in Orchard Park when the lowly Dolphins visit the "almost as lowly" Bills. While the Dolphins are in a complete tail spin, the Bills have played tough as of late and have bright and budding stars in RBs Travis Henry, Willis McGahee and WR Lee Miles to go with veteran WR Eric Moulds. No matter what Bills fans think about erratic Drew Bledsoe, he has provided far and away better QB play than the fish could imagine for themselves this season. Miami has no hope in sight, so expect Bledsoe and the Bills to break the ice and slip past the Dolphins by 4 for their first victory!

Analyst: Chris Dellapietra

New England Patriots:

The Patriots host the Seahawks Sunday in what should prove to be an interesting match up between Mike Holmgren's improving Seattle team (Picked by many pundits as the 2nd best team in the NFC behind Philadelphia) with new Defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes battling an inconsistent Patriots squad that has yet to play two halves of good football.

True the Patriots have now won 19 games in a row, but the reality is this; they haven't played well in 2004. Most teams in the NFL lose when they don't play well. The league is simply too competitive to play poorly and win. Yet the Patriots have been outgained (statistically) by both Indianapolis and Miami and yet still managed to win both contests.

Having already lost 5 players to IR, the Pats continue to struggle with injuries to their once deep WR corps. The good news is that they continue to win without two of their top three receivers (Deion Branch and Troy Brown) neither of whom has seen much action in the 2004 campaign. There are rumors circulating in New England that Branch might also be lost for the season and if this is the case, the Patriots will need Troy Brown back and healthy as soon as possible.

Daniel Graham is becoming what Buddy Ryan used to say about Cris Carter (all he does is catch touchdowns) Graham now has TD grabs in five consecutive games and is already one of the leagues best blocking TE's. With no true fullback on the roster, expect Graham to line up as an H-Back, whenever necessary. The WR depth has become such an issue, that newly acquired WR/KR Kevin Kasper actually saw significant reps in the win against Miami, despite only being with the team for 4 days.

Acquiring Corey Dillon from the Bengals for a 2nd round pick proves once again that nobody makes more shrewd personnel decisions than the Scott Pioli/Bill Belichick tandem. Dillon has run passionately and ranks 2nd in the league with a 5.0 average. His effectiveness can also be seen in Tom Brady's statistics, as against Miami, a simply play action fake drew three men into the backfield, allowing a wide open David Givens to snare an easy TD reception.

Defensively, rookie Vince Wilfork is beginning to look like a dominating lineman. Against Miami, he racked up 7 tackles, a sack, two QB pressure and pass defense. His ability to penetrate the backfield at 340 pounds is uncanny and is beginning to look like an eventual potential Pro-Bowler, only 4 games into his rookie season. 2nd year man Ty Warren shares the team lead in tackles (along with Wilfork) amongst the linemen and has taken a significant step up this year.

The Miami game saw a few new faces making contributions for the Patriots. Rookie FA Randall Gay (CB-LSU) picked up his first career interception and 2004 4th round pick Dexter Reid (CB- NC) recovered his first fumble of his brief NFL career. In addition, 2nd year OLB Tully Banta-Cain was seen spelling Roosevelt Colvin and applied some nice pressure against Jay Fielder.

The Pats special teams play improved dramatically last week, despite Adam Vinitieri's short kickoffs and first missed FG of the campaign. Vinitieri is already a legend in New England and up until the Miami game was kicking splendidly. While Josh Miller continues to punt better than any Patriot in years, both the kick and punt return teams need improvement.

What effect did Seattle's devastating loss against the Rams have on their outlook for this weeks match-up with Pats? Will they be "hung-over" and revert to their previous seasons of futility on the road? Or will they rally and bounce back against the World Champions and hand the Patriots their first loss in more than a year? My guess is that if The Patriots can get at least one of their injured receivers back, the Pats win a squeaker, 23-20.

Analyst: Craig Natale; natalysis@yahoo.com

Buffalo Bills:

What can be said for the pitiful performance of the Bills this season. Perhaps the name of the team should be altered to be the Buffalo Yaks since what seems to be the "substance" behind this team is pure "yak" to date. It has been all lipservice and big talk from the top down with performance so far lagging that it cannot be seen on the horizon. In spite of nearly all of the offseason attention being turned towards correcting the offense, it has come out of the gates even more anemic than last season's pathetic offense which many said was impossible.

At present this Bills team is second to last in average scoring in the league. Why this is was reflected in Sunday's game with the Bills having put up only 118 net yards through nearly 48 minutes (80%) of the game. The Jets showed the Bills' offense absolutely no respect on Sunday almost playing with the attitude at times that the Bills could not score 13 points demonstrating sub par clock management and taking unnecessary risks. They wagered correctly however although due to their own offensive sloppiness it nearly cost them the game in what may have been a completely lackluster Bills win. Nevertheless, the Jets emerged victorious.

This week's game features the only two remaining winless teams in the league in "Loser Bowl 2004" with the loser to retain top honors, at least for a week, of being named the worst team in the NFL. Bills fans no longer want to hear about how this is "the best winless team" or other nonsense like it. This team's defense has now been exposed as having been overrated being fortunate at the unforced errors of opponent, and the offense is presently under-performing last season's offense. It was not so long ago that that the theme was "any crappy coach can improve this team from what it was under Williams/Gilbride." My how things have changed.

The Dolphins have an excuse for their woeful offense given the odd departure of their lone offensive standout Ricky Williams coupled with an injury to their top free agent signee David Boston which has left them anemic offensively speaking for the most part. It would be funny if it were not so sad and to be pitied and empathized with. They have little talent otherwise. The Bills however have a roster laden with big names on offense from Bledsoe, to Henry, to Moulds, to McGahee, to Evans, to Reed. The contrast as a result speaks even less of the Bills.

The Dolphins are averaging about 250 offensive yards-per-game while the Bills are averaging about 268. The Dolphins' offense has averaged 8.4 points-per-game while Bills' offense has averaged 11.0 points-per-game. Neither team's offense is respected in the NFL.

The problem here for this game upcoming is that the Bills only managed to put up 3 offensive points in both of last season's contests vs. the Fins. Furthermore, the three that they did put up at home came off of a defensive set-up off of a forced fumble giving the Bills the ball at the Miami 38. The Bills, a tradition now, pushed the ball to the red zone, goal-to-go in fact, but failed to convert on the heels of subsequent Bledsoe passing plays on 2nd and 3rd and goal at the 4-yard line. And underthrow followed by a near interception forced a field goal.

Both teams last season put up defensive TDs pushing the odds that the defenses score more in this game than the offenses do to well over one-to-one. Heck, both MLB championship series games around that time all figure to put up more points in each of their respective games than these two offenses will in this game. Seriously!

This one's shaping up to be a real insomniac's prescription. The loser can stick a capital "L" on their helmets while the winner should not be particularly proud of the win. I take that back, if the Fins, given their current state, can beat the Bills in Buffalo at the Ralph, then my hat will go off to them. Quite honestly, I cannot imagine that occurring, but then again, this season has not exactly unfolded as, well, as even I had projected with another predicted 6-10 (or so) finish now requiring 6-6 to achieve. So who knows. If the Bills cannot win this game however, then the word "offseason" should begin to be actively discussed in Buffalo beginning on Monday and plans starting to reflect next season and no longer this current one.

My jesting prediction is: Bills 3, Fins 2.

My real prediction is: Bills 13, Fins 10 with at least one defensive touchdown in this game, perhaps two or three.

Concession stands should stock "No-Doze" for this game!

To discuss this piece further, or for general discussions on the Bills and the AFC East, tune into the "2004 Bills Report" live on Thursday evenings from 7 to 9 p.m. at www.broadcastmonsters.com. The number to call into the show is 1-877-913-9739. View my other analyses at www.billsreport.com.

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


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