AFC East Report: Week 9

The weekly AFC East Report is a new feature, which breaks down 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.

This week's AFCE games:

Buffalo @ New England; Baltimore @ Jets; Miami: bye;

New York Jets:

A disappointing loss for the Jets, but the loss of Chad Pennington for 2-4 weeks is bigger. There were danger signs heading into this one. Coming off a monster game where they proved something on national TV they looked like they were a little too satisfied with the Miami win. It was bad timing because they were facing a defense that matches up well against their running game in a place they always struggle. The Jets had a chance to put Buffalo in a hole as the defense stuck the Bills on their first several possessions, but a fumble, a costly penalty and a missed field goal blew that opportunity. The Bills owned the second half.


The Jets never run the ball well on the Bills who have one of the best run defenses in the league and a 100lb advantage in the middle of the line. Against Buffalo it will always be a question of how well the passing game clicks. Pennington played well in the first half, but the injury affected him in the second half and his mistakes offset the good things he accomplished. The shame of this injury is in the past 2 games he finally started making big plays to his wide receivers necessary to scare a defense. If he comes back healthy in two weeks Jets fans can take comfort that this is finally an offense that can hurt teams with the run or the deep ball. Justin McCareins is officially a dangerous part of the offense and it looks like Santana Moss is back from his injury.


They started well, limiting the Bills on their first 5 drives (the TD was on a short field and required a 4th down conversion), but wore down eventually under the strain of playing 38 minutes against McGahee who is a horse. Give Buffalo credit for a pounding run game and the emergence of Lee Evans who looks very impressive. The Jets were never able to sack Bledsoe, which is basically a get out of jail free card for Buffalo since 2-3 sacks usually equals an interception. Here's where the offense's inability to put up the early lead played into Buffalo's hands since it allowed McGahee to handle the load. Rookie Jonathan Vilma has played 2 straight outstanding games.

Overall the Jets were missing the edge they needed to take this game. All the proof you needed was the play Bledsoe actually stepped out of Shaun Ellis unblocked grasp to run 16 yards and convert 3rd down. They went on to score the decisive TD later on that drive. Over 16 games that will happen from time to time so I saw nothing to dispel my belief this is a very good football long as Chad Pennington is healthy.

Looking forward:

They Jets are going to have a replica of this past matchup when they host the Ravens, but without Pennington it's going to be a real struggle to win. Beating the Ravens is going to be all about clock and risk management, which means Quincy Carter, has to limit his mistakes. The biggest burden is going to be placed on the offensive line, which needs to keep the heavy pass rush off Carter and open occasional running lanes. Given Carter is prone to turning the ball over and Paul Hackett behaves like a frightened turtle when he faces a top defense, expect a very conservative gameplan and a lot of punts. The defense is going to have to shut down another big overpowering back, but if the Jets can manage to control the clock they should be able to gang up on Jamal Lewis and not wear down. Keep an eye on whether Shaun Ellis is healthy, he'll be very important in containing Lewis and forcing Boller to earn a paycheck.

Analyst: Nick Romano

Miami Dolphins:

Dolphins collapse against Cardinals 24-23

The Miami Dolphins fell to 1-8 after a 24-23 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. In a mistake and penalty filled game, the Cardinals hung around despite trailing 12-3 in the second half to beat the Dolphins on a Larry Fitzgerald TD reception with 19 seconds left. Interestingly, a missed PAT by newly acquired and former Cardinal PK Bill Gramatica proved to be the difference.

The Dolphins seemed to fall apart after QB Jay Fiedler left in the second half with a shoulder injury. Replacement A.J. Feeley was erratic at best and threw another INT for a TD going the other way, his third of the season. Although Feeley was able to guide the Dolphins to a 23-17 lead with two minutes left, the INT was a devastating blow. The QB woes for the Miami were a result of porous offensive line play...but what else is new. The O-line is absolutely ineffective and LT Damion McIntosh should face manslaughter charges for leaving Fiedler and Feeley's blindside exposed all afternoon! One offensive bright spot for the Dolphins was the running of Travis Minor (90 yards) who led a 168 yard ground attack. The weak passing game was aided by WR Chris Chambers chipped in seven catches for 104 yards and Marty Booker also added four for 91.

The Dolphins defense kept the Cardinals in check most of the afternoon until collapsing and giving up 14 forth quarter points. Dropped interceptions, poor tackling and several costly penalties on key plays equally contributed to the loss. DE Jason Taylor had several big plays and a sack but the rest of mates withered late and allowed the Cardinals to win the first road game since October of 2002. The stellar Miami secondary contained WRs Anguan Boldin and Fitzgerald until late when they erupted with huge plays late...culminating with the TD pass at the end of the game.

Miami is now 1-8 with a bye week coming up followed by back to back road trips to Seattle and San Francisco. The South Florida rumor mill is swirling about Head Coach Dave Wannstedt getting axed soon and Defensive Coordinator Jim Bates being plugged in as in as interim coach. Now would be the most realistic time to make a change...unless owner Wayne Huizenga wants to continue the agony...and just in case he missed the 30,000 or so empty seats at Pro Player on Sunday. On a positive note, the Dolphins are in one race, the race for the #1 overall pick in the 2005 Draft with other one-win wonders Carolina and San Francisco.

Analyst: Chris Dellapietra

Buffalo Bills:

The Bills this past week beat the Jets as the first decent opponent that the team has beaten all season. Lee Evans had his first game indicative that he may have first receiver potential. With Eric Moulds' contract status looming following this season the timing on this may be excellent. Fans and media should keep an eye on Evans as Moulds eventual, possibly as early as next season, replacement. Moulds is in the driver's seat on the issue. He will be asked to restructure with the outcome of the negotiation being entirely dependent upon his response.

Willis McGahee had a big day yardage wise, but on 37 carries. He posted 137 yards with a less than impressive 3.6 yards-per-carry however. He will continue to get the nod throughout the season as he should, however at this time he has still not accomplished what Travis Henry has in past seasons. In 30+ carry games Henry over the past two seasons, on very similar teams, has done exceedingly better in all respects. More on that in subsequent articles.

Humpty Dumpty had a decent game at QB although nothing that "drove" the Bills to the win. In fact, the defense either set up or scored (safety) 12 of the team's 22 points, again. An interception and fumble recovery gave the Bills the ball at the Jet 24 and 21-yard lines respectively resulting in only one touchdown on the duet. While all the GM's men have tried to put Humpty together again, all that they have accomplished this season is to create a Neil O'Donnell type of QB. Humpty still has yet to take over a game and become the primary reason for leading this team to a win and he did not do it on Sunday. In fact, on two of the teams scoring drives all he did was to hand the ball off.

One first for this team however is that they put together their longest TD scoring drive of the season putting it into the end zone starting from their own 23-yard line. The actual official "longest drive" was the drive in which Moorman botched the punt handle in the New England game after a stalled drive at the Bills' 25-yard line while rushing for 39-yards to set up a fresh drive. I mention this because it took a special teams "lucky" play to put that one together as the offense had failed miserably on the first leg of that drive.

The Jets having come off a big Monday night victory six days prior seemed somewhat flat in this game and it showed. Most of the league realized that the Jets were not as good as their record, but they clearly played worse than they truly are on Sunday benefiting the Bills.

The Defense was stellar in this game and has actually outperformed last season's defense to the mid-season mark. In fact, it has been the defense and special teams that are the offensive MVPs this season for the Bills. Of 51 drive starts from within their 30-yard line, the Bills this season have managed to score a touchdown on only two of them with one of them having been the "Moorman drive" which technically ended well inside Bills territory on the "first leg." Minus that, this number reduces to one (1) and less than 2%. Not good!

Of 62 drive starts beginning from within their own 37-yard line, the Bills have scored on only three of them, or two if you discount the "Moorman drive." Again, not good. This explains the value of the defense and special teams, not only in this game, but overall on the season. If there is another team in the league whose defense and special teams have set them up, or scored, as great a percentage of points as the Bills defense and special teams have, I would like to know which teams those are.

47.4% of the points scored by the Bills' offense have resulted off of drives begun at the opponents' 37-yard line or closer. That's nearly half of all points scored by the offense, 54 of 114 points, have begun well into opponents' territory. This is exactly how it was on Sunday as well. On the season, the defense and special teams have directly scored 23 points or 17% (1-in-6) of the team's points this season as well.

There is much hoopla being generated by fans and media regarding this three game/win "resurgence." However, it will likely be very short lived as the Bills finish out the season with five of eight on the road and vs. much better teams. To date, of eight games, other than two games vs. divisional opponents the Jets and one vs. the Pats, the Bills have yet to face a team with a scoring offense above 19th and usually much worse. That will change on Sunday.

How much the defense and special teams can contribute to putting points on the boards by setting the offense up well into opponents' territory when those opponents have offenses worthy of respect remains to be seen. As well, McGahee will have his first real test vs. a team not coming off of a Monday Night game or not vs. two of the worst defenses and/or rushing defenses in the league. This will be an apples-to-apples game for contrasting McGahee with Henry thus far on the season as Henry started the first game between the two teams.

Looking ahead, the Bills put up 10 offensive points vs. the Pats in game one. Terrence McGee added seven on a kickoff return as well. While McGee has turned into a bonafide threat to take one to the house on every kickoff, the odds are that it will not happen in this game putting a greater share of the burden on the offense. Whether the offense will respond remains to be seen. But the Bills have yet to have a game in which they score 14 points on the merits of their offense alone. Even in the Cardinals game, 31 of 38 points were either scored by the special teams and defense or set up at the Cards' 11, 19, 26, and 30-yard lines. Vs. the Jets this past week, the defense set up 10 of team's 22 points at the Jet 21 and 24 and added two more via a safety.

Will the Pats yield that kind of field position on turnovers and failed drives from deep within their own end of the field? It remains to be seen. The weather forecast for Sunday includes a wintry mix including another windy day meaning that McGahee will truly be challenged to carry the load offensively for the Bills. The result will either confirm or challenge early assessments that he is better than Henry.

More to come in my midseason grades piece; but the bottom line is that simply because you beat Arizona, a team that coming into Buffalo on a 16-game road losing streak, Miami, arguably the worst team in the league, and then the Jets, again, at home, following a Monday Night letdown for them, all on the merits of the defense and special teams doing most of the offensive work, does not make you one of the underrated teams in the league. The truth is that statistically the Bills offense is worse thus far this season through the first half than they were last season. Again, more on that in my midseason grades piece.

If the Bills can remain competitive in this game, then "being better than their record" can begin to be discussed. Otherwise, a few home wins vs. a couple of scrub teams without any road wins to date vs. poor or mediocre teams hardly qualifies for accolades.

Early game prediction: Bills 13, Pats 30 in what may be a blowout if the weather is not as bad as forecast.

Early second-half prediction: 1-4 on the road, 2-6 overall for 5-11 at year's end.

Analyst: Mark Weiler;

New England Patriots:

The Patriots, playing without their top three cornerbacks on the road, against three future Hall-of-Famers in Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt and Marshall Faulk, dismantled the high powered Rams on Sunday, 40-22 as Bill Belichick once again out-coached the over-rated and under prepared Mike Martz. The Patriots decimated secondary included the legendary practice squad player, Earthwind (and Fire) Moreland, free agent rookie Randall Gay, (who started exactly one game at LSU last year) and WR Troy Brown, who caught as many passes (3) as he made tackles in the St Louis secondary on Sunday.

Credit should also go to Romeo Crennel and the defensive front seven, who dominated the line of scrimmage, registering five sacks (by five different players) and numerous QB pressures, forcing Marc Bulger to get rid of the ball quickly, thus avoiding the potential exploitation of the aforementioned injury riddled secondary.

The Patriots also lost another injured player for the year, (that's eight in as many games) when starting RT Tom Ashworth was placed on IR prior to the game. It's no wonder that against the Rams we saw LB Mike Vrabel catching a TD pass, DT Richard Seymour lining up in the backfield to block and Adam Vinitieri throwing a TD pass. All 53 players are forced to contribute on this Patriots team and there was no better evidence on display than what we saw on Sunday.

Both Corey Dillon and David Givens (three games in a row) again surpassed the 100 yard plateau, forcing the defense to respect both the line of scrimmage and the deep ball against a perfectly balanced (32 pass plays- 32 rushes) offense. Givens, (also an excellent blocker) at 6'0" and 215 pounds and Dillon at 6'0" and nearly 230 pounds, allow the Patriots to play smash mouth football and compete with anyone in the trenches.

TE Daniel Graham couldn't get a sniff on Sunday and was shut out for the 3rd game in a row, despite the fact the Patriots completed passes to 8 different receivers. Graham continues to do a superb job blocking and adds immeasurable value to the offense in ways that simply won't show up on the stat sheet.

Statistically the Patriots don't overwhelm anyone, as they rank 13th offensively and 19th defensively. In fact, other than guts and character, they don't lead the league in anything. But they do sit at 7-1 and atop the AFC East at the halfway point of the season, while the Pittsburgh debacle of two weeks ago seems like a distant memory.

This Sunday, the Patriots host the surging Bills, winners of three of their past four and a team that could easily be 6-2 if three or four plays had gone their way during the first half of the season. GM Tom Donahoe's job is on the line if the Bills don't win at least nine games this year and Donahoe has responded by inserting Willis McGahee into the lead RB role over incumbent Travis Henry, who could start for most teams in the NFL.

It seems Donahoe should be more concerned about the injury to RT Mike Williams and his (overall) hideous offensive line play, than switching out one good running back for another. Buffalo has never had a legitimate O-Line in Donahoe's tenure and despite drafting the mammoth Williams out of Texas a few years ago, the line has never been able to compete with its defensive front seven counterpart (in practice) talent wise.

If this game were at Buffalo, I'd give the Bills a chance, but Drew Bledsoe -who has had only one good year (2002) in the last five- is a shadow of his old self and can still be seen making the same mistakes he made 10 years ago; patting the ball, throwing off his back foot, being unable to feel the pass rush and making ill-advised throws- simply has no chance to defeat a Belichick coached defense.

I expect a low scoring affair in the chilly New England night this Sunday, with Tom Brady once again out playing his former mentor and friend. Pats 20 Bills 13

Analyst: Craig Natale;

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