As I See It: Bills vs Jets

The Buffalo Bills, coming off an impressive road win over their arch-rivals, the Miami Dolphins, last weekend, will finally play their first home game of the season on Sunday against the New York Jets at Ralph Wilson Stadium at 1 pm in a clash of two young, rebuilding AFC East teams that will leave the winner in no worse than sole possession of second place in the division.


When a young, inexperienced team with a new head coach, new offense and a new defensive system with four rookie starters can go into a hostile environment on the road and come away with a victory, like the Bills did last weekend in Miami, that team has passed a critical test and taken a firm first step towards becoming a winning team. While such a victory is but the first of many tests that a team must master in order to become a serious playoff contender and there is still a long way for the Bills to go before they reach that goal, nevertheless, in beating Miami on the road the team and its coaching staff demonstrated that they are heading in the right direction. On Sunday the Bills have an opportunity to take yet another step in that direction by following up their dominant road performance with a win over an equally young division foe on their home field.

This will not just be an important division game in the standings, but a crucial game for the confidence of these two teams that no one really expected much from this season as they go forward. The Jets, led by new Head Coach Eric Mangini, the NFL's youngest head coach, will be coming into the game off a close loss to the New England Patriots last week, after having defeated the Tennessee Titans in their season opener, with Quarterback Chad Pennington finally recovered from the shoulder injury that he first suffered against the Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium in 2004. Pennington and the Jets' passing game, ranked 3rd in the NFL, will provide another stern test for the Bills' impressive rookie-laden defense that shut down Miami last week after nearly upsetting Tom Brady and the Patriots on opening day.

The Ralph will be rockin' as Bills fans, urged to be as loud as possible by Bills QB JP Losman earlier this week, welcome a Buffalo Bills team that has a lot of new faces, a refreshing new attitude and has played with a lot more speed and passion than last year's squad. This is a game that the Bills can and should win if they are able to continue to show the incremental improvement that they have demonstrated in each of their games since the beginning of the preseason and can contain the Pennington-led Jets' passing attack. A Bills' victory would prove that this young Bills team is capable of building on its successes and that last week's win over Miami was not a fluke.

The Buffalo Bills Offense vs The New York Defense:

Statistics simply do not show how effective the Bills offense was last week against Miami, especially in the second half. Indeed, if one only looked at the statistics, with only 171 yards of total offense and 66 net yards passing, it would appear that the Bills offense was horrible against Miami. It was not. While the Bills did not put up big numbers statistically, the offense did what was necessary to put up enough points to secure a win on the road against a tough division opponent in searing 89 degree heat, keeping possession of the ball for 20 minutes in the second half and not turning the ball over for the second game in a row.

mcgahee_jets_fp.JPGWhile the Bills only ran the ball for 105 yards against Miami, with Willis McGahee picking up 91 yards on 25 tough carries, it was their commitment to the run and their ability to be effective with their running game, especially in the second half, that was the key to the victory over Miami as the Bills ran the ball on 32 of their 50 offensive plays. The running game is likely to play just as big a role for the Bills this week against a Jets defense that is 19th in rushing defense in the NFL and has been struggling to adapt to the 3-4 defense that HC Mangini, who was the Patriot's defensive coordinator last season, has brought with him from New England.

McGahee, who will be going up against former college teammate and friendly rival, Jet linebacker Jonathan Vilma, has run very well against the Jets defense in the past. In four career games against the Jets, McGahee has gained 388 yards on 88 carries and scored two TDs, including a career-high 143 yards in last years meeting between the two teams in Buffalo. As in their two previous games, the Bills will need to be effective running the ball to open things up for Losman and the Bills' receiving corps in the passing game. If the Bills' offensive line can continue to improve and McGahee continues to run hard like he did last week in Miami, the Bills have a chance to be able to control the tempo of the game against the Jets' front seven that yielded 145 yards to C.Dillon and L.Maroney of the Pats last week.

The key to the Bills offense, as always, will be the performance of the offensive line which has shown improvement, but has yet to be consistent in either run-blocking or pass-blocking. While the Bills' offensive line did a good job of run-blocking early in the game against Miami, particularly on the Bills' first quarter drive that resulted in a FG during which they ran the ball 8 consecutive times for 49 yards, they were very inconsistent after that, allowing McGahee and back-up RB Anthony Thomas to be stopped for two or less yards on 18 of the team's 32 carries (50%), with the Bills losing yardage or getting no gain on 8 of those carries. That is simply not good enough for the Bills to be able to consistently run the ball effectively. The Bills offensive line must do a better job of opening holes consistently for McGahee and Thomas if the Bills are to take advantage of the Jets' front seven which has personnel like defensive tackle Dwayne Robertson and defensive end Shaun Ellis who are more suited to playing in a 4-3 defense than a 3-4 defense and have been having a hard time adapting to Mangini's new defensive schemes.

smith_jets_sm.JPGIt is imperative that the Bills run the ball effectively to open things up for their passing game. But, it is also important that, when the Bills do pass, the offensive line does a better job of protecting JP Losman. While the Bills need to run the ball to open things up for passing game, they need to be able to throw the deep ball in the passing game to make their running game more efficient and put points on the board. The play that resulted in the pass interference on Evans was the only time in two games that the Bills have thrown a pass deep, in part because Losman has not gotten good enough protection from the offensive line.

Against Miami, Losman was sacked twice in the first seven times that he dropped back to pass. In addition, even though Losman only threw the ball 18 times during the game, he was hurried on at least 5 of those throws and forced to scramble for a 9 yard gain on another attempt. In the fourth quarter, with the Bills attempting to run out the clock, offensive linemen Mike Gandy and Tutan Reyes committed two of the Bills' four penalties on the day, each one effectively putting an end to the Bills' possession. That's not acceptable, especially when the Bills face a team, like the Jets, that has the ability to move the ball quickly through the air and put points on the board. Even though the Bills' offensive line did improve on its performance against the Patriots on opening day and managed to do just barely enough to allow the offense to be effective against Miami, they must continue to improve and be more consistent in opening holes for the running game and in protecting JP Losman when he drops back to pass if the Bills are to beat the Jets.

With the Bills grabbing early leads in their first two games, the Bills have not had to pass the ball very often this season, putting the ball up total of only 41 times against New England and Miami. JP Losman has spread his 26 completions amongst seven different receivers in the first game and six in the second and, as a result, none of the Bills' receivers has particularly outstanding numbers, with WR Josh Reed leading the team with 7 catches for 79 yards and the team's lone passing TD. Lee Evans, facing a constant diet of double-teams, has caught only 4 balls for 44 yards, but made a big contribution to the win over Miami by drawing the pass interference call that set up the Bills' lone TD in the game on a play that would surely have resulted in a score had he not been interfered with. Even though Evans has faced a lot of double-coverage, Peerless Price has not seen much of the ball, but has done a nice job of route running, opening things up Reed and Roscoe Parrish underneath. Parrish only had one official catch for 4 yards against Miami, but showed what kind of scoring threat he can be on a 15 yard screen pass that he took into the end zone in the third quarter that was called back on a penalty against Reed for blocking downfield while the ball was in the air. With the Jets having a potent aerial attack that is capable of putting points on the board, the Bills may need to get more production out of their passing game this week than was required against Miami. If they do, the Bills could have some success against the Jets' secondary that Tom Brady was able to throw for 220 yards against despite having a depleted receiving corps.

Like the entire Jets defense, the Jets' secondary has undergone some big changes since the two teams met in the final game of the 2005 season for both teams. Gone is cornerback Ty Law, who led the NFL with 10 interceptions last season, replaced by Andre Dyson. Second year man Justin Miller has replaced David Barrett as the other starting CB, with Barrett now taking over as the nickel-back. Free safety Kerry Rhodes and strong safety Eric Coleman are still the starting safeties, but Derrick Strait, who the Jets tried to trade during the preseason, has been seeing more playing time at strong safety thus far. Dyson is an experienced, talented corner who leads the Jets with two interceptions and the speedy Miller has come on well in his second season, but both can be beaten. Rhodes is a play-maker who has a sack and an interception to go with his 15 tackles. Look for him to be around the ball all day.

holcomb_jets_2sm.JPGA couple of years ago the Jets had one of the top defenses in the NFL and they still have a lot of talent on that side of the ball. Inside linebacker Jonathan Vilma is one of the best young LBs in the NFL and a veritable tackling machine. Eric Barton and Victor Hobson have great speed on the outside and, with Brad Kassel who was signed as a free agent from the Titans, Matt Chatham and rookie Anthony Schlegel, they give the Jets a formidable linebacking corps to go with a decent secondary. The Jets' problems on defense thus far this season have centered on their defensive line and making the transition from the 4-3 defense that former Jets HC Herm Edwards ran to the 3-4/4-3 hybrid defense that new Jets HC Eric Mangini has brought with him from the Patriots. While DE Bryan Thomas has made a good transition to the new defensive scheme that the Jets are running and free agent pick-up Kimo von Oelhoffen played in the 3-4 with Pittsburgh, former first-round picks DT Dwayne Robertson and Shaun Ellis, as well as their linebackers, have had trouble adjusting to the new scheme which is the one that Coach Mangini ran as the Patriots' defensive coordinator last season.

Since the new Jets' defensive scheme is very similar to the one run by Bill Belichick in New England and by his former defensive coordinator Nick Saban in Miami, the Bills will have the advantage of seeing virtually the same defense for the third week in a row. While the personnel will be different and Miami runs the 3-4 less often than the Pats or the Jets, this should make it easier for the Bills offense to recognize what the defense is doing and what their assignments are when they run their offensive plays. As against the Pats and Miami, it will be essential for the Bills to run the ball effectively and pick up the blitzes on pass plays. The Bills were able to improve in both of those areas over the past two weeks and if they can continue that improvement, they should be able to improve on their offensive production against the Jets. Because the Jets have shown that they can move the ball through the air on offense with Pennington at QB, it will be important for the Bills to control the ball and the tempo of the game. To do that, they must continue to protect the ball and avoid turnovers or drive killing penalties. If they can do those things, they have a chance to put up enough points on the Jets defense to win the game.

The Buffalo Bills Defense vs The New York Offense:

While the Jets do not have an elite running back and their rushing attack has struggled thus far this season, they do have a stable of running backs who have the potential to be effective. Starter Derrick Blaylock, who is coming back from an injury that limited him to just seven games as Curtis Martin's back-up last season, is a shifty runner. Blaylock, who was very effective in 5 starts filling in for Priest Holmes with Kansas City two years ago has gained just 44 yards on 25 carries this season for the Jets, but has 5 receptions for 29 yards in their two games. Kevan Barlow, who gained 1024 yards in 2003 for a very weak San Francisco team, leads the Jets in rushing this season with 77 yards and a TD on 25 carries. Barlow, who the Jets have been slowly working into their lineup since acquiring him in a trade from the 49ers in the preseason, is a bigger (6-1, 234) running back who could take over as the starter as soon as this week.


While Cedric Houston, who is slower than Blaylock and Barlow, has been inactive for the Jets first two games this season, Houston started the last four games of last season for the Jets, gaining 55 yards and scoring a TD on just 16 carries against the Bills in the season finale. Rookie Leon Washington is small, but has speed to burn and was impressive in limited action in the preseason. With Blaylock struggling to find his groove, Washington, who has only one carry thus far this season, could see significantly more playing time against the Bills.

jets_5fp.JPGWhile the Bills did a better job of stopping the Miami rushing attack, particularly in the second half, than they did against the Patriots running game, given their ability to rush the passer and the problems that they have had stopping the run, it is very likely that the Jets will test the Bills with their running game and try to establish the run early on in the game, if only to keep the Bills defense honest and prevent them from teeing off on Chad Pennington. Jets Offensive Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has shown a willingness to stick with the run, even when trailing and when it has not been particularly productive. The Bills will have to continue to get better at stopping the run to prevent the Jets from being able to run the ball well enough, often enough, to be effective in keeping them off-balance defensively and blunting their pass-rush.

As good as the Bills pass rush has been this season, it will have to be even better to keep Jets QB Chad Pennington and the Jets' passing game, ranked 3rd in the NFL, from getting in rhythm. Pennington, who was on the verge of becoming one of the top QBs in the NFL when he was first injured against the Bills on Nov. 7, 2004, has finally recovered completely from the shoulder injury that required two surgeries and cost him all but three games last season because he tried to return from the injury too soon. While Pennington, never known to have a particularly strong arm in the first place, does not have the kind of arm-strength that JP Losman and many other NFL QBs have, he has been throwing the ball as well or better than ever this season, easily beating out Patrick Ramsey, who the Jets acquired in a trade with Washington, and rookie Kellen Clemens, as well as the now-departed Brooks Bollinger, in the Jets' QB competition this preseason and getting off to a terrific start in the regular season. Last week against the Patriots, Pennington completed 22 of 37 passes for 306 yards and 2 TDs, with one interception, in rallying the Jets after they fell behind 17-0 to the Pats, has thrown for more than 300 yards in each of his teams first two games, going 46 of 70—a 65.7% completion rate—for 625 yards and 4 TDs on the season.

Chad Pennington may not have the strongest arm in the NFL, but he is an intelligent and accurate passer who has a solid group of wide receivers and can pick apart a defense if given time to throw. Pennington's favorite receiver is Laveranues Coles, who the Jets reacquired from Washington last season in a trade for Santana Moss after he bolted New York as a free agent. Coles, with 14 catches, an 18.1 yard per catch average and a TD, is leading the NFL in receiving yards with 253. While Coles has been hampered this week with an undisclosed calf injury and is listed as questionable for the game, it is likely that he will play. If he does, he gives the Jets a reliable, deep threat and Pennington a target that he is very comfortable throwing the ball to. If Coles does not play, he will be replaced in the Jets starting lineup by Justin McCareins, who started opposite Coles last season, but fell into Coach Mangini's "dog-house" in the preseason and was beaten out for his starting job by third year WR Jerricho Cotchery. Cotchery is an explosive young receiver and return man that the Jets have been waiting to come into his own as a wide out. With 12 receptions for 183 yards and 2 TDs, including a highlight-reel 71 yard catch and run against the Patriots last week, Cotchery has already begun to reward the Jets for their patience with him in the first two games of this season. Tim Dwight, the speedy WR and return man that Coach Mangini brought over to the Jets from the Pats, is questionable for the game with a thigh injury. If Dwight cannot play, the Bills are likely to see quite a bit of the Jets' intriguing rookie WR/QB Brad Smith, a big, physical "Slash"-type player out of Missouri, where he played QB, who impressed in the preseason with his running, catching and throwing ability. Even though Smith is the fifth receiver in the Jets' receiving corps, the Jets have been devising ways to get the ball into his hands—he already has 2 carries and a reception in the first two games of the season—and, if the preseason is any indication, they will be trying to find ways to get the ball to Smith more often. With Dwight unlikely to play and Coles banged up, Smith is likely to see action in the Jets' 3-receiver and 4-wide out packages on Sunday and the Bills will have to keep an eye out for trick plays that utilize Smith's powerful running and/or his throwing ability whenever he is in the game.

While the Jets do not have an outstanding tight end in the mold of a Ben Watson or Randy McMichael, who the Bills have faced in their first two games of the season, Chris Baker is a solid blocking TE who has a knack for making important catches that move the chains. And Pennington will look to his tight ends when he is under pressure and his wide receivers are covered in big situations. While Baker and fellow TE Sean Ryan are only averaging 8 yards a catch, Baker has five grabs and a TD, while Ryan has another two. In addition to Baker and Ryan, the Jets added former Saints TE, Zach Hilton to their active roster this week to go with back-up James Dearth. While the Bills' linebackers and rookie safeties Donte Whitner and Ko Simpson did a good job of limiting McMichael and the Patriots' outstanding TEs in their first two games and it is likely that the Jets will keep their tight ends in to help their young offensive line protect Pennington most of the time, the Bills' young safeties and linebackers Angelo Crowell, London Fletcher-Baker, Takeo Spikes and Keith Ellison will have to keep an eye on the Jets' tight ends on crucial third down situations, when Pennington is most likely to look for them to get a first down conversion.

To keep the Jets from running the ball effectively and Pennington from getting into a rhythm in the passing game, the Bills' front seven must dominate the Jets' young, inexperienced and banged-up offensive line. Starting offensive guard Pete Kendall, the Jets' most experienced offensive lineman, missed last week's game against the Pats and is listed as questionable for this week's game. If Kendall can't play, which is likely, the Jets are hoping that Trey Teague, the Bills' starting center last season will be able to step in for him. However, Teague, who has been slow to recover from a preseason ankle injury, is listed as doubtful and is also unlikely to be ready to play significant minutes as well. Which means that the Jets may end up starting three rookies—center Nick Mangold, back-up OG/C Nick Katnik and first round draft pick OT D'Brickashaw Ferguson—on the left side of their offensive line, as they did last week against the Patriots. With Brandon Moore, the only returnee from last season, at guard joining free agent acquisition Anthony Clement on the left side, the Jets will be facing the Bills' revamped defense with four new starting offensive linemen who have not been able to work together with one another for very long. While Ferguson and Mangold both have a bright future and Moore has developed nicely into a solid player, the Bills defensive line has to be licking its chops at the prospect of facing an offensive line that frankly has not been very good at opening holes for the running game and allowed the Pats to sack Pennington 4 times last week after the Titans got to him twice the week before.

It is important for the Bills to get pressure on Pennington consistently with their front four because Pennington is a rhythm passer who is very good at finding the open man and can string completions together if he is given time to throw the ball. While the Bills DEs, Aaron Schobel, Chris Kelsay and Ryan Denney have done a good job of getting penetration and pressure in the Bills' first two games, the Bills will need to have their DT rotation of Kyle Williams, Larry Tripplett, Tim Anderson and John McCargo, bring more consistent pressure up the middle on Pennington. The DTs will have to get into Pennington's face quickly and throughout the game to keep him from being able to pick out his open receivers and establishing a rhythm with his passing. If the Bills can do that, the sacks will come and the Bills will be able to put the Jets in long yardage situations because Pennington is not the most mobile QB in the NFL to say the least and he is not at his best throwing the ball on the run. While Ferguson is gifted and will be a great player in the not too distant future, he is still raw and, for all of his experience, Anthony Clement is a journeyman at best, having spent his career playing for the Cardinals and, last year, the 49ers on offensive lines that were quite simply not very good. If the Bills' DTs can beat Moore and the two rookies that they are going to be facing in the middle of the Jets' offensive line, their DEs should be able to get to Pennington.

For the Bills, much of the onus will fall on the shoulders of their linebacking corps which will have to shut down the running lanes so that the Jets cannot run the ball effectively enough to take the pressure off of Pennington and prevent Pennington from dumping the ball off to his TEs and RBs to keep the chains moving for the Jets. While the Jets have not run the ball very well in their first two games of the season, they are sure to test the Bills' run defense, particularly if Takeo Spikes has not recovered fully enough from his hamstring injury to play in the game. If Spikes is unable to play, Keith Ellison will start at WLB and Angelo Crowell will slide over to Spikes' spot at SLB, as they did last week. With the Bills' defensive line going all out to get penetration into the Jets' backfield and pressure on Pennington, Crowell and Ellison, along with the Bills' rookie safeties, will have to use their speed to make sure that MLB London Fletcher-Baker isn't left alone trying to stop the Jets' RBs. The Bills did a good job of gang-tackling Miami's RBs last week, but the they must do a better job of diagnosing the run, getting to the ball-carrier quickly and stopping him on the initial hit than they have been doing if the Bills want to keep the Jets running game from getting untracked.

If the Bills can continue to improve at stopping the run enough to limit the effectiveness of the Jets' running game and can put pressure on Pennington consistently with their front four, their secondary, even with the rookies Whitner and Simpson starting at the safety positions, has the ability to keep Pennington from throwing for 300 yards again this week. If they can do that, the Bills will have a good chance to win the game.

The Buffalo Bills Special Teams vs The New York Special Teams:

Last week the Bills special teams showed why they finished # 1 overall in special teams play the last two seasons. As good as the Bills defense was against Miami, their special teams were even better, playing a huge role in determining not just the outcome, but the way the game was played.

Punter Brian Moorman only averaged 41.3 yards per punt on his 6 punts, but five of the six landed inside the Miami 20 yard line, including one 52-yarder, with four of those ending up at or inside the 10. Moorman kept the Dolphins pinned in their own end for much of the game, forcing them to go the long field to get points, which was a tremendous help to the Bills defense in the Miami heat. It would be unfair to expect a similar performance against the Jets on Sunday, but with the winds likely to be swirling at Ralph Wilson Stadium and Moorman a master at kicking in the windy conditions there, the Bills' All-Pro punter from last year could well play a crucial role in determining the outcome of the game once again.

As good as Moorman's performance against Miami was, he did not win the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week award last week, teammate and Bills' special teams ace Coy Wire did. Wire, who many thought might not make the Bills roster, had a textbook block of a Donnie Jones punt.

Kicker Rian Lindell also played a big role in the Bills victory, knocking through FGs of 33, 45 and 43 yards to help secure the win. Lindell, who is averaging 61.5 yards on his 10 kickoffs this season also played a role in helping the Bills to win the field position battle against Miami. As did punt returner Roscoe Parrish who averaged 14.4 yards on 5 punt returns, including a 26 yard return that helped set up a third quarter FG and a 22-yarder from the Bills' 7 yardline with 10:01 remaining in the fourth quarter that got the Bills out from under the shadow of their end zone.

For their part, the Jets have struggled a bit on special teams at the beginning of this season. Australian punter Ben Graham, whose kicking style makes his punts difficult to field, ranks last in the NFL in gross punting average at 39.8 yards per punt, with a net average of 36.6 yards that ranks 23rd in the league. Second year placekicker, Mike Nugent has gotten off to a bad start this season missing an extra point and two of his four FG attempts, both from under 40 yards. Nugent's longest FG this season is a 42-yarder and he is averaging 63.4 yards on his 9 kickoffs thus far. Rookie Leon Washington the Jets' punt-return man is very fast and elusive, but he is averaging only 5.7 on 3 returns thus far this season as the Jets rank in the bottom third in punt returns. And, the Jets rank 27th in the NFL in kickoff coverage, allowing opponents an average of 26.1 yards a return.

In CB Justin Miller, the Jets do have a capable kickoff returner. Miller is averaging 25.8 yards a return this season with a long of 41 yards. Miller is definitely a threat to break a big return at anytime. The Jets' punt coverage teams are also decent, giving up an average of only 7.3 yards a punt return.

Overall, though, the Bills have a distinct advantage over the Jets on special teams. If the Bills defense plays well enough for the quality of the Bills special teams to have an impact on the game, it could be a deciding factor in this game, as it was last week against Miami.


With two young, inexperienced teams, anything can happen. Both of these teams have shown improvement in their first two games and, at the same time, played inconsistently. The Bills have played the stiffer opposition, going on the road to New England and Miami for their first two games, and this will be their opening game before what promises to be a raucous home crowd at Ralph Wilson Stadium where the Jets have not played well in recent years.

Both teams are adjusting to new coaching staffs and new schemes and have had their struggles at times. The Jets have an advantage at QB with a healthy Chad Pennington, but with a banged up offensive line and a poor running game to support him, the Bills' young defense is in a position to limit the amount of damage that Pennington and the Jets' passing game can do, if they can continue to improve on their performance against Miami. That will be tough for them to do, so the Bills offense may be called on to do more and to put up more points that they have been able to score in their first two games. With the Jets still having some difficulty adjusting to HC Mangini's new defensive scheme and not having the same quality of personnel to fit that scheme as the Patriots and Dolphins do, the Bills offense, who will be seeing this defensive scheme for the third week in a row, should be able to move the ball effectively and efficiently enough to do that. While it is always hard to predict the impact that special teams may have on any given day, the overall superior quality of the Bills special teams should give them an advantage in a close game and could determine the nature and outcome of the contest as they did last week against Miami.

The Bills got a big road win against Miami last week and are favored to win this game. If they can demonstrate that they are mature enough to play well again after coming off of an important and emotional road win and continue to improve on their performance again this week, they should beat the Jets. It won't be easy—the Jets have shown that they are a resilient team that won't quit and, like the Bills, they still have plenty of talent and firepower on their team. So, the Bills cannot afford to take a backwards step this week and must continue to get better in all phases of the game to secure a victory. With the excited Bills fans behind them and supporting them, this young Bills team is certainly capable of taking this next step forward against the Jets.

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