10 things to look for- Bills vs Jets

Coming off two impressive showings by their defense on the road, the Bills return to Buffalo this weekend for their home opener against a Jets team that is just as young and inexperienced as they are.

In addition to the home field and the support of the rabid Bills fans, the Bills have the advantage of having played the tougher competition—two favored division foes on the road—and of facing a very similar defensive scheme to the ones that they have faced in their two previous games.

The Bills don't stop the run very well, but the Jets haven't been able to run it very well. The Jets, with a healthy and rejuvenated Chad Pennington, have been able to throw the ball very well, but the Bills have played pretty good pass defense, are ranked # 2 in the NFL in sacks and will be facing a young, banged-up offensive line that allowed Pennington to be sacked 4 times last week. In addition, the Jets may be without Lavernaus Coles, who leads the NFL in receiving yards, but has missed practice this week with a calf injury.

The Jets defense has struggled at times this season, but still has some very good, talented players who will play hard and fight to the final whistle. Even though the Bills offense has not been called on to do very much and has struggled with penalties and stupid mistakes, they have shown improvement and the potential to be much better while still doing enough to win a big division game on the road last week.

This sets up as the kind of game that young, inexperienced teams have a way of keeping close. The Bills have an advantage over the Jets in special teams and that advantage just could be the deciding factor in the outcome of the game.

10 Things To Watch For:

1.) Can the Bills avoid committing turnovers and penalties and keep from making mistakes at critical times in the game? The Bills have not turned the ball over on a fumble or interception thus far this season and that has played a major role in their ability to do as well as they did against the Patriots and Dolphins. But, there have been plenty of mistakes and, especially on offense, critical penalties that have hurt the team in those two games. Penalties have directly cost the Bills at least two touchdowns and a crucial first down in those games. A mistake on defense cost the Bills a shutout against Miami, making the game closer than it actually was. A young team like the Buffalo Bills simply cannot afford to continue to make those kinds of mistakes and commit those kinds of penalties, especially against an experienced QB who is capable of taking advantage of their mistakes.

2.) Will the Bills' offensive line be able to open holes for the running game and protect their quarterback more consistently? The Bills must run the ball effectively to control the clock and the tempo of the game in order to keep the ball out of the hands of Jets' QB Chad Pennington and the Jets' potent passing attack. While the Bills were able to run the ball effectively enough against Miami to win the game, 50% of their running plays were stopped for gains of 2 yards or less or resulted in a loss of yardage. They have also allowed their QB JP Losman to be sacked 5 times, forced to run once and given up a safety in two games in which Losman has thrown the ball only a total of 41 times. That is not acceptable and certainly not good enough to insure that the Bills will be able to control the ball and score enough points on offense to consistently beat teams who, like the Jets, are capable of scoring points quickly through the air. The Bills' offensive line must show improvement in this area over their performance last week.

3.) Will the Bills defense be able to put pressure on Jets QB Chad Pennington and keep him from getting into a rhythm in the passing game? The Bills stunned Miami QB Daunte Culpepper last week with the amount of pressure that they were able to put on him early in the game. That pressure threw Culpepper off his game and had him nervously anticipating the rush, preventing him from getting into a good rhythm in the passing game, even in the second half when the pressure lessened a bit. The Bills must get that same kind of pressure on Jets QB Chad Pennington, who has established a good rapport with his receivers and has started the season by throwing for over 300 yards in his first two games, if they want to win this game. And, they must keep that pressure on Pennington, who led the Jets to 17 second half points against the Patriots and was driving his team to a potential tying score before a late interception by the Pats ended the drive, throughout the game to the final whistle. The Jets have a young offensive line that is likely to be missing a couple of key veterans and the Bills must take advantage of that to put pressure on Pennington with just their defensive front four consistently to keep him from getting to a rhythm in the passing game.

4.) Can the Bills defense stop the Jets from running the ball effectively enough to open up their passing game? The Jets have not been able to run the ball very well thus far this season, but they have stuck with the running game enough to force their opponents to respect the threat of the run enough that it has opened things up for their passing game. The Bills did a better job of containing the run against Miami, but they have not yet shown that they can stop an opponents' running game. The Jets will run the ball against the Bills and the Bills must stop the Jets' running game to keep them from controlling the tempo of the game and keep Chad Pennington from being able to using the run to open up things for the Jets' passing attack. The Bills showed considerable improvement against the run last week over their performance on opening day. They must show a similar degree of improvement this week against the Jets' inexperienced offensive line to keep the Jets from being able to run the ball effectively enough to give their offense a chance to score enough points to win the game.

5.) Will Willis McGahee have a break-out game and have another good day running the ball against the New York Jets? Willis McGahee has rushed for 388 yards and 2 TDs on 88 carries in four career games against the Jets, averaging 129.3 a game in the last three, including a career-high 143-yard day in the Bills win over the Jets in Buffalo last season. Willis ran hard last week against Miami, gaining 91 tough yards on 25 carries. The Bills need to have Willis run just as hard this week against a Jets defense that has had some difficulty adjusting to HC Eric Mangini's new defensive scheme. The Bills must run the ball to control the clock and keep the ball out of Chad Pennington's hands and what better way to do that than to have McGahee have another big game rushing the ball against the Jets.

6.) Will JP Losman throw the ball more and can the Bills offense put up more points if it has to in order to win the game? With the Bills getting early leads in both of their games thus far and their defense playing so well, JP Losman has not been called on to throw the ball that much and, when he has, penalties and sacks have kept the offense from putting up many points. The Jets have shown that they can score with Chad Pennington at QB. Going against a Jets team that does not have the same personnel, but plays the same defensive scheme as the two teams they have already faced, will the Bills call on Losman to throw the ball more often? If the Jets are able to put up points with Chad Pennington throwing the ball, the Bills may need to have Losman and the offense produce more points than they did in their first two games in order to win this game.

7.) How will this young Bills team react to the excitement of their first home game of the season and the support of the raucous Bills fans? Will they get too "amped up" or will they feed off of the support throughout the game? JP Losman admitted in the offseason that there were times last year when he got too excited at the beginning of games, lost his focus and, as a result, made mistakes that hurt the team. That's something that does happen to some young, inexperienced, emotional players. The Bills have a lot of young, inexperienced players who will be playing in the NFL before a psyched-up home crowd for the first time, players that they are counting on to play key roles in this game and that are bound to be excited. The Bills cannot afford to have their young players get so "amped up" that they lose their focus and make mistakes. But, at the same time, the energy of the home crowd can be a big help to the team, especially on defense, where the Bills' smaller players can use all of the energy and inspiration that they can get to keep from being worn down as the game goes on.

8.) Can the Bills special teams win the field position battle and control the game the way that they did against Miami? With punter Brian Moorman dropping 5 of his 6 punts inside the 20, four of them inside the 10, with Coy Wire blocking a punt to set up a FG, and Roscoe Parrish averaging 14.4 yards on 5 punt returns, the Bills special teams dictated the field position in their win against Miami and play a huge role in the victory. The Jets special teams have not been nearly as good overall. If the Bills can once again win the field position battle, putting the offense in position to score and forcing the Jets to go the length of the field to get points, the Bills special teams could play a deciding role in the outcome of the game.

9.) Will the Bills' coaching staff be able to make better and more timely in-game and halftime adjustments than the Jets' coaching staff? Head Coach Dick Jauron and his coaching staff have had the Bills well-prepared and ready to play in both of their games this season. But, very often in the NFL, it is the team and the coaching staff that is able to make better and quicker adjustments to the game plan during the game and at halftime that ends up winning. Bill Belichick and the Patriots' staff made some excellent adjustments on offense at halftime after the Bills out-played the Pats in the first half and the Bills were not able to keep the Pats from coming back to win the game. Against Miami, Jauron and his staff out-coached Nick Saban and his staff, especially OC Mike Mularkey, making the better and quicker adjustments during the game. Jets' HC Eric Mangini and his OC Brian Schottenheimer are very young and new in their positions, but they have understudied with some great head coaches. Once again it will be important for the Bills' coaching staff to make better and more timely adjustments this week than the Jets are able to make during the course of the game.

10.) Will the Bills be able to throw the ball deep on the Jets? Throughout the off-season and preseason Bills HC Dick Jauron and OC Steve Fairchild emphasized that Bills offense would have to throw the ball deep in order to open up the running game and make their offense more effective. While the Bills, playing with leads in both games and with WR Lee Evans struggling to adapt to a steady dose of double-coverage, have not needed to air the ball out, in their two games thus far, the Bills have gone deep only once, resulting in a pass interference call that set up their lone TD against Miami. Other than that, their longest pass of the season has covered just 20 yards. With the Jets defense not being quite as formidable as the Pats and Miami, will this be the week that the Bills finally throw the ball deep in a regular season game the way that they did so successfully in the preseason? With the Jets having an aerial attack that can put points up on the board quickly, the Bills just might have to throw the ball more if weather conditions permit.


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