Around the AFC EAST: Insiders Slant

<p>In case you're wondering what is happening around the rest of the AFC East as the Patriots get ready for the Bills on Suncday night, we've got you covered. </p> <p>Get the Insiders Slant on what's happeing around the division and how the Miami Dolphins, the New York Jets and the Buffalo Bills need to prepare for their matchups this week.</p>

Around the AFC EAST
Insiders Slant for the Bills, Jets and Dolphins


BUFFALO BILLS

INSIDERS SLANT

A ball-control offense that limits mistakes and takes pressure off of veteran quarterback Drew Bledsoe. A run-stuffing defense that takes the ball away. Special teams units that turn in momentum-shifting plays.

So what took the Bills so long to finally get with rookie coach Mike Mularkey's program?

"That's the personality Mike has talked about wanting the team to have since he got here," Bledsoe said. "It seems like we're starting to get it, and that's what allows me to have a sense of optimism about what we can do the rest of this year."

The Bills ended the first half of the season on a 3-1 roll and head into the second half filled with confidence. But while optimism has flushed out frustration, Mularkey is in no position to gloat.

His club's 0-4 start severely hurt his club's chances of making the playoffs and five of Buffalo's eight final games are on the road, starting with a re-match at New England Sunday night in Foxboro.

"I think what we're doing is trying to handle them one at a time, which is the right approach because of the hole (we dug)," Mularkey said. "There's no 'I told you so.' I don't know if I'll ever do that."

Certainly not until the Bills can prove they can win while packing a toothbrush.

Counting this year's 0-3 mark, the Bills are 2-13 since midway through the 2002 season on the road. In that block of games, Bledsoe has been sacked 53 times and has thrown 22 interceptions and as a team the Bills are minus-34 in turnover ratio.

Buffalo beating the previously AFC East co-leading Jets (6-2) at Ralph Wilson Stadium 22-17 last Sunday was impressive but beating the first-place Patriots (7-1) at Gillette Stadium would be cause for the rest of the NFL to take notice. In essence, no serious run at the playoffs can be achieved without winning this game. Buffalo has been outscored 90-12 in losing its last three Sunday night prime time games, all on the road.

"I can only speak for this year with no success on the road," Mularkey said. "But just as winning at home, we've got to learn how to win on the road and once you do that, you've got a confidence about you that can carry over (into other road games)."

Buffalo's three victories were all at home and powered by the running of second-year sensation Willis McGahee. But thrown into the mix was a horrible 20-6 loss at Baltimore where Buffalo rushed for just 85 yards on 23 carries and Bledsoe threw four interceptions, one for a Ravens' touchdown. Buffalo went 0-for-3 in goal-to-goal situations.

The Bills hope a heavy dose of McGahee can turn their fortunes around on the road just as they did at home. He didn't have a single touch in their 31-17 loss to the Patriots back on Oct. 3 when Bledsoe was sacked, fumbled and Richard Seymour returned the ball 68-yards for the clinching TD.

Meanwhile, in losing games at New England 27-10 and 31-0 under Bledsoe the past two seasons, Buffalo averaged only 61 yards rushing in those losses.

McGahee could be the difference this time.

Buffalo's ramshackle offensive line is starting to play better, thanks again to his speed at hitting the edges and his powerful second- and third-effort bulldozing runs between the tackles.

Line coach Jim McNally has used a myriad of personnel combinations due to performance and injuries; Sunday's lineup against New England could see two more switches, Ross Tucker for Lawrence Smith at left guard and Marcus Price at right tackle for Mike Williams, who suffered a neck injury in the Jets game and is likely to sit out as a precautionary measure.

"I think they're figuring it out but I'm a little reluctant to say, because I want us to play good next week," McNally said. "So we won't toot our horn too much, let's just do the same thing next week.'

With a consistent running game at his disposal, a more vanilla playbook and better protection all around, Bledsoe has played his most effective football since early last season. He hasn't been sacked or thrown an interception for two games in a row, something that hasn't happened to him since 1995.

He has also helped his cause with some scrambles.

"When we're running the ball like we are and when the pass protection is good, obviously it makes my job much, much easier," Bledsoe said. "It really allows me to function at a much higher level."

Mularkey said the Bills have held nothing back in trying to get Bledsoe turned around and off his back. He said Bledsoe is more confident in his protection.

"He's been well protected," he said. "You have to credit the line, the backs, and tight ends. We've used everybody, even wide receivers, in the protection scheme. But with Drew, it hasn't been in the greatest weather conditions here either. It goes around the board but mostly (the credit is on) him."

SERIES HISTORY - 89th meeting of original AFL clubs, Patriots lead the series 48-40-1. New England has won six of the last seven games but the Bills are the last AFC East team to beat the Patriots, 31-0 in the 2003 regular-season opener. The Bills were fueled by the signing of former Patriots defensive captain Lawyer Milloy just days before the game after he was cut loose by the Patriots.

New England has gotten payback twice for that embarrassing loss, beating Buffalo 31-0 in Foxboro to close out last season then winning this year's first match-up in Buffalo 31-17. That win allowed the Patriots to tie the NFL record for consecutive victories with 18. They extended the streak to 21 before losing at Pittsburgh. New England is riding a 15-game winning streak at home.

NOTES, QUOTES

  • The Patriots are getting by with the loss of starting CBs Ty Law (foot) and Tyrone Poole (knee) by using multi-talented wide receiver Troy Brown as their nickel back. Bills QB and former Patriot Drew Bledsoe said he's fearful of a flashback seeing No. 80 out in the secondary. "That's going to be interesting," Bledsoe said. "I'm going to have to be careful when I drop back and throw. I threw a lot of balls to him when I was with New England."

  • RB Willis McGahee's 132-yard rushing day on 37 carries against the Jets last Sunday was even more impressive when you consider he had 11 runs go for zero or negative yardage. Six runs lost 21 yards. He made up for it with five carries for 12 yards or longer, bouncing outside when a hole wasn't there or carrying defenders on his back. "It's a big difference because Willis runs with the football very patiently and he breaks a lot of tackles, sort of like Travis (Henry) did, but he's a big back," wide receiver Eric Moulds said. "When you get a big hit on him, he keeps his legs pumping and still makes plays."

  • Rookie WR Lee Evans, who caught a season-high five passes for 64 yards against the Jets, called it his "breakout" game. He had a finger-tip catch in the coffin-corner of the end zone for a four-yard TD, then made a great sight adjustment with QB Drew Bledsoe to haul in a 27-yarder down the sideline that allowed Buffalo to run out the clock. "I made plays in critical situations and I think it was a big growing-up experience for me," Evans said. "You come to points in the season when you take the next step so that game obviously gave me a lot of confidence."

  • DE Chris Kelsay, who has rotated starts at left defensive end with Ryan Denney, made a huge statement for the full-time job with a monster game against the Jets. He had a season-high five tackles with a key fourth-quarter sack and three QB hits. Both of his two sacks this year have come against Chad Pennington, who has been sacked only eight times. Coach Mike Mularkey indicated that Kelsay would get more playing time the second half of the season, but ducked the issue of starting him full time. To Mularkey, each of his 53 players can start. Kelsay just goes with the flow. "I'd love to be the full-time starter but ultimately it's up to the coaches," he said. "Do I think I should be the starter? Yes I do but I'm sure Ryan does, too. Rotating or starting full time, I'm going to give it my all each time I step on the field. It's a team game and without team chemistry, we'll just stab ourselves in the back."

  • SS Lawyer Milloy, who has 34 tackles, 3 passes defended and 1 interception in three games since his return to the lineup after suffering a broken arm in the preseason: "The first five games of the season were really hard on me, to see our team struggle with the losses and not being able to do something about it individually. Now I'm just here doing my part. I'm not the savior at all, but I do think I bring some leadership, a little bit of awareness out there. I'm just doing my part. Our team knows what position we're in. We're trying to climb out of a hole that we can only blame ourselves for, and the only way to do that is to respect your opponent and take it one game at a time."

  • And the beat goes on. The Bills defense has yet to allow a 100-yard rusher, the only team in the NFL to do so. The lineup they've faced: Fred Taylor (17 carries, 61 yards), Amos Zereoue (9-24), Corey Dillon (19-79), Curtis Martin (22-77), Sammy Morris (18-91), Chester Taylor (21-89), Emmitt Smith (22-64), Martin (19-67).

BY THE NUMBERS: 67.7 -- The combined QB rating of the last four quarterbacks Buffalo has played (Jay Fiedler, Kyle Boller, Josh McCown, Chad Pennington).

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I've never seen anything like that in my career, a guy carted off in an ambulance. I was very worried. It almost brought tears to my eyes. When I heard he was back in the locker room in the fourth quarter and moving around, it took a big burden off your mind. Sometimes it makes you sit back and think to yourself. When I got home, my wife just gave me the biggest hug. Football is our job but at the same time, when things like that happen, it makes you realize the violence of the game." -- OG Chris Villarrial, reflecting on the neck injury suffered by blocking partner Mike Williams last Sunday against the New York Jets.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Bills will consider moving DT Justin Bannan to offensive guard on a full-time basis next year, line coach Jim McNally said, and Bannan isn't opposed to the idea. The rugged 6-3, 305-pound Bannan has been used as a pulling left guard in certain situations and on goal-line plays with great effectiveness the past two weeks. He has thrown key blocks on three Willis McGahee touchdown runs.

"He's quick as a cat," McNally said of Bannan. So what about taking him over to his side of the line permanently? "It's maybe something we'd come up with during the off-season, but we just don't have time now because he has to play defense, too," McNally said. Bannan started taking practice reps on offense over the past month because bodies were short due to injuries. The more McNally watched, the more he envisioned using him in a real game. Bannan is much more nimble on sweeps and traps than Lawrence Smith. "I have to credit him. He just kind of spotted me," Bannan said of McNally.

"If coach McNally and coach (Mike) Mularkey want me to do another position, I'll do it. But it's really up to them where they want to take me," Bannan said. "Who knows? It's a crazy game. Bottom line is I just want to play and help the team."

Meanwhile, Ross Tucker, who subbed four games at center for Trey Teague (knee), then replaced Smith at starting left guard two series into the Jets game, will continue to pull down some starts depending on the game plan and the opponent, Mularkey said. "I think we have six starting linemen right now and based on what we're doing offensively, who will start will be determined," he said.

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

  • QB Drew Bledsoe needs three TD passes to pass Hall of Famers Terry Bradshaw (212) and Y.A. Tittle (212) for 19th place on the NFL's all-time list.

  • WR Lee Evans has a catch of at least 20 yards in five games so far and 12 of his 16 catches have come on third-down, showing the faith QB Drew Bledsoe is developing in the rookie out of Wisconsin.

  • LB Jeff Posey will play in his 100th game on Sunday night. Posey is quietly doing some good work with 34 tackles, one interception, one fumble recovery and three QB hits.

  • DE Chris Kelsay, who has two sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery, is doing better than two of the four defensive ends picked ahead of him in the 2003 draft, all first-rounders: Michael Haynes (Bears, one sack), Jerome McDougle (Eagles, one sack), Calvin Pace (Cardinals, four sacks), Tyler Brayton (Raiders, 2.5 sacks). Kelsay was a second-round pick, 48th overall.

GAME PLAN: For the Bills to win in New England, it's all about running the football and protecting it. In losing both previous visits to Foxboro with QB Drew Bledsoe at the controls, Buffalo has averaged only 61 yards rushing and turned the ball over nine times. A heavy dose of Willis McGahee turned the tables on the New York Jets last Sunday. If the Bills can dial his number up 37 times again, and stay out of difficult third-and-long situations that the Patriots thrive on defensively, their chances of winning increase greatly. As for Bledsoe, he's got to pick his spots attacking a Patriots' secondary missing All-Pro corner Ty Law. Defensively, the Bills have never fared well against Tom Brady, who carved them up in early October for 298 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers. They need to find some way to get pressure on him. The return of CB Troy Vincent from a knee injury - maybe at free safety - would be huge, allowing single coverage on talented wideouts like David Patten and David Givens, so Buffalo can blitz more. Vincent was hurt on the first series in the first Bills-Pats game and Patten and Givens went on to catch a combined nine passes for 199 yards and a TD.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Bills SS Lawyer Milloy vs. New England's TEs - David Graham and Christian Fauria combined for four catches for 59 yards and a touchdown in the first meeting, but Milloy didn't play. He's back from his broken forearm and eager to show up Belichick, who scathed him in his book, "Patriot Reign." In the book, a Patriots team scouting report called Milloy "a negative leader" and "selfish."

Bills LBs vs. New England RB Corey Dillon - Dillon was held to 79 yards on 19 carries but that's still a healthy 4.2 average. Takeo Spikes can't wait to crash into his old Bengals' teammate again.

Bills WR Eric Moulds vs. New England CB Troy Brown - Yes, wide receiver Brown is seeing time on defense with All-Pro Ty Law out injured. Moulds had a big game in year's first meeting with 10 catches for 126 yards and a 41-yard TD catch.

Bills OL vs. New England DL - This Bills have no chance if they can't protect QB Drew Bledsoe, who was sacked seven times in the first meeting and coughed up the clinching sack/fumble.

Bills CB/KR Terrence McGee vs. New England's special teams - Patriots rank 30th in kickoff coverage thanks to McGee returning one of his two kickoffs for touchdowns 98 yards in the first meeting.

INJURY IMPACT:
RT Mike Williams, who suffered a neck injury in the Jets game and had to be carted off by ambulance, took part in the walk-through portion of practice only on Wednesday. Coach Mike Mularkey said precautionary tests done on Williams on Monday all came back negative but that he's very sore and stiff. "I think it's a day-to-day thing," Mularkey said about Williams being able to play against the Patriots. "It's how he feels, how the doctors feel on clearing him or not. But once he is cleared, it's really him and his pain threshold." If Williams can't go, Marcus Price will start. The Bills have done very well with Price in the lineup before and there should be no severe drop.

Meanwhile, CB Troy Vincent would need to make rapid progress over the next several days for him to return to the lineup. He has missed five games after injuring his knee in the first New England game and undergoing surgery. He only did light work on Wednesday.

Regardless of Vincent's availability, however, Mularkey said Terrence McGee would remain the starting left cornerback and Vincent, as an option, would be moved to starting free safety in place of Izell Reese (one interception).

McGee gave up six catches for 163 yards and a 51-yard TD against the Jets last Sunday but overall has been a big playmaker with 41 tackles, five pass breakups and two kickoff returns for touchdowns.

"If you replaced somebody every time they have a bad day at work, how many would be sitting in this room right now, including myself?" Mularkey said. "It was a day that if anybody could take back it would be Terrence McGee. I'm hoping that he's learned a lesson from some of the things that happened. But he's done a lot of good things ... and give the guy credit for some of the things he's done."

Also sitting out and not likely to play Sunday were WR Josh Reed (knee), SS Coy Wire (abdomen). Reserve DE Constantin Ritzmann (foot) is out.


MIAMI DOLPHINS

INSIDERS SLANT

The reality that Dave Wannstedt has been replaced as Miami's head coach on an interim basis by defensive coordinator Jim Bates hit home during Wednesday's practice. "Of course it's different," Dolphins cornerback Patrick Surtain said. "You're kind of used to hearing Dave's voice out there. For him not to be out there, it's going to take a little while to get used to."

But by the time the Dolphins adjust to Bates, the season may be over and the search for a new head coach will be in full swing. Dolphins General Manager Rick Spielman said he already has started the process of preparing to find a replacement for Wannstedt, who resigned Tuesday with his team off to a 1-8 start.

"What I've done is go through each minute detail in football operations from the offense, defense and special teams," said Spielman, who was told by Dolphins owner H. Wayne Huizenga that he will be returning for a second season as general manager. "We have very specific questions, and part of that process is in the interviews you want to get to know this person and how he's going to handle things. "I'm sure part of the interview process will be some scenarios that will be brought up. We've had to deal with a few scenarios this year. It would be interesting to see how people handle those scenarios."

Some of those scenarios - particularly the unexpected offseason retirement of tailback Ricky Williams and 11 season-ending injuries - led to Wannstedt's undoing. A combination of factors led to his resignation, notably the news from Huizenga that he wouldn't be returning in 2005 as well as Wannstedt's concerns that he was becoming a distraction to the team.

"I felt that the negative attention that would surround me personally and professionally for the remainder of the season would only serve as a deterrent toward the ultimate goal of our team making progress," Wannstedt said in a team-released statement. "As you know, I've always believed, and I told the players, that the team must come first. I believe this is what's best for our team."

Bates, who served as Miami's defensive coordinator since Wannstedt was hired in 2000, isn't believed to have much of a shot at keeping his coaching position. But Bates could enter the picture if the Dolphins are able to turn their miserable season around starting Nov. 21 against Seattle.

"It is a fresh start," tight end Randy McMichael said. "Everything around here that indicates we're 1-8, he just pretty much erased it all. This is a new season. We have a new coach and a new attitude around here. Right now, we're on 0-0. We're just going to try and finish out the season strong."

NOTES, QUOTES

Coach Dave Wannstedt's resignation drew reactions ranging from sadness to anger from several of his veteran players.
Dolphins cornerback Sam Madison was so upset that he fought back tears while rambling about what Wannstedt meant to him. Defensive end Jason Taylor said it would be unfair to compare Wannstedt's decision to leave the Dolphins to that of RB Ricky Williams, who didn't gave the Dolphins adequate time to find a replacement at tailback.

"Ricky quit. Dave stepped aside. There is a big difference," Taylor said.

One of the players who will likely be most affected by Wannstedt's departure is quarterback Jay Fiedler, who served as the team's starter for almost 41/2 seasons. The Dolphins are expected to start giving backup A.J. Feeley playing time at quarterback to better determine whether he can man the position in 2005.

"It's (Bates') decision on where we go," said Fiedler, whose injury problems may sideline him against Seattle. "Certainly, Dave has always been a big supporter of mine from day one. I've been a big supporter of his as well. The mutual respect that we have as people that go about their business, do what whatever it takes on the field, off the field, whatever needs to be done and help the team become better and help the team win every week. I think we respect that out of each other."

-- Dolphins President Eddie Jones confirmed he will be retiring in early 2005. Jones said he plans to serve whatever role owner Wayne Huizenga wants him to in the search for a new coach.

"We're not happy with where we are. Let's be honest," Jones said. "I'm not going to stand here and tell you, 'We're OK, don't worry about it.' We're not. But I can tell you this, we are going to fix it. I think we have the people to do that and the resources to do that."

BY THE NUMBERS: 0 - Number of in-season coaching changes in the Dolphins' 39-season history before Wannstedt resigned.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I know I'm going to get paid better." - Bates on the difference between this head coaching stint and the one he had 20 years ago with the San Antonio Gunslingers of the United States Football League. Bates was short-changed on his salary with the Gunslingers in his last head coaching job.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Dolphins didn't wait long after coach Dave Wannstedt's resignation to begin reshaping their roster, as free safety Antuan Edwards was waived Wednesday despite starting eight of Miami's first nine games. "He (Edwards) played well during the preseason and stuff and had struggles here as of late," GM Rick Spielman said. "We felt we had to move on."
A six-year veteran who was signed to a one-year, $530,000 contract in the offseason, Edwards had a blown assignment on a key play in last Sunday's 24-23 loss to Arizona. Edwards failed to provide sufficient coverage help for cornerback Patrick Surtain, who was beaten by wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald for a 48-yard completion that put the Cardinals in position for the game-winning score.

Edwards, though, had a team-high eight passes defensed and ranks sixth on the Dolphins in tackles with 45.

The Dolphins are expected to replace Edwards with Arturo Freeman for a Nov. 21 game at Seattle. But Spielman also is anxious to get a look at 2003 sixth-round draft choice Yeremiah Bell in that role.

-- Miami's beleaguered offensive line took another blow this week when left guard Jeno James underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. James is expected to miss three to four weeks, which will likely push Rex Hadnot into the starting lineup against Seattle.

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

  • FS Antuan Edwards was waived Wednesday despite starting eight of nine games this season and the fact he leads the team in passes defensed with eight. The Dolphins say the move was prompted by a decline in Edwards' play in recent weeks as well as the desire to evaluate other players at the position, especially second-year safety Yeremiah Bell.

  • FS Arturo Freeman will start Nov. 21 at Seattle with the Dolphins having waived Antuan Edwards on Wednesday. The Dolphins cut ties with Edwards because of a belief his play was declining and the desire to evaluate other players at the position, especially second-year safety Yeremiah Bell.

  • S Yeremiah Bell is expected to compete with Arturo Freeman for the starting free safety position with the Dolphins waiving Antuan Edwards on Wednesday. The Dolphins would like to gain a better assessment of Bell heading into the 2005 offseason.

  • K Matt Bryant was waived Wednesday after reaching agreement on an injury settlement. Bryant, who hurt his right quadriceps during last Friday's practice, became expendable with Olindo Mare (calf) set to return against Seattle.

  • G Rex Hadnot is expected to start at left guard in place of the injured Jeno James for a Nov. 21 game at Seattle. Hadnot is a 2004 sixth-round draft pick who would be making his first NFL start.

INJURY IMPACT: Safety Shawn Wooden, who will spend the entire season on the reserve/PUP list with a herniated disc in his back, said he plans to retire in the offseason. Wooden has played eight of his nine seasons with the Dolphins as a starter and special-teams player.


NEW YORK JETS

INSIDERS SLANT

With quarterback Chad Pennington down again, maybe for as long as a month with a strained right rotator cuff, the Jets are hoping their work thus far will keep them from losing too much of a beat with Quincy Carter filling in, starting with Sunday's 1 p.m. game against Baltimore at the Meadowlands.

"The important thing that we learned is having a guy come in and think he can run the offense in its entirety is foolish," said offensive coordinator Paul Hackett. "That doesn't happen. That didn't work."

Giving Vinny Testaverde just a handful of snaps in the preseason last year, the Jets and the veteran quarterback were thoroughly unprepared when Pennington went down with a fractured left wrist in the preseason finale. That led to a 2-5 start under Testaverde.

This year the Jets planned ahead. Even though Carter was signed in late August, three weeks after his release by Dallas, the Jets put him to work right away.

Carter has been practicing against the first-team defense for the last two months and has also had reps with the starting receivers sprinkled in. Hackett also designed a package of plays within the West Coast offense tailored to Carter's strengths - mobility and a strong arm - the day he arrived. Carter has the ability to dart out of the pocket away from trouble, throwing off his back foot or across his body, to create something when there was nothing. Carter was a creative quarterback for the Cowboys, leading them to 10 wins and the playoffs last year.

While the Jets don't want Carter to lose the playground in him, they don't want him making the mistakes that led to 36 interceptions and him taking 68 sacks in Dallas in 31 starts either. "As long as he doesn't make the obvious mistake, just trying to make a play so hard," coach Herman Edwards said. "Don't try to force anything. Just play. You don't have to make every play. You don't have to make every throw. Just play. Sometimes it's going to be a bad down. We need to accept the bad down and move on. We can't get into the turnover game."

What the Jets want now is to give him structure, one that stresses the importance of not turning the ball over to a Baltimore defense that has produced four scores - three interceptions and one fumble returned for a touchdown.

To get that mindset, Carter has been watching and absorbing Pennington carefully all season, watching him orchestrate a West Coast offense that has only been intercepted three times and lost four fumbles - the fewest turnovers in the AFC and tied for second fewest in the league. "I've been watching No. 10 (Pennington) and I have a great example of someone who takes care of the football," Carter said. "The biggest thing that's I've (seen) No. 10 do is that you don't have to make a great play out of every play."

SERIES HISTORY - 4th meeting. Ravens lead series 2-1. The last time these teams met they were going in different directions. Closing out the 2000 season, the Jets traveled to Baltimore and fell 34-20. The loss capped a three-game losing streak for the Jets that kept them out of the playoffs while the Ravens finished the year with seven straight wins on their way to the postseason and an eventual Super Bowl win.

NOTES, QUOTES

Walking through the hallway of Weeb Eubank Hall, Jets LB Sam Cowart gave an enthusiastic thumbs up to coach Herman Edwards, signifying that he's ready to play after missing the last six games with a sprained knee.

There was however, no discussion of whether Cowart would be getting his starting job back now that rookie Jonathan Vilma has been playing so well. "I leave that to Herm and (defensive coordinator) Donnie (Henderson)," Cowart said. "Vilma is going to be great linebacker in New York for years to come. I wasn't going to come back until I was comfortable with my leg."

Cowart still isn't at full strength and said it would likely be a few more weeks until he's in complete game shape.

  • Despite the recent hiccup of 157 yards rushing allowed to the Bills last week, the Jets are ranked 11th against the run, allowing an average of 108.5 yards a game. A big reason for that is a much faster linebacking group. The Jets have tackled opposing running backs 28 times behind the line of scrimmage and have 15 tackles for no gain.

    Rookie linebacker Jonathan Vilma and Eric Barton have combined or 10.5 tackles for a loss, totaling minus-20 yards.

  • The 17.3 points allowed per game is the fourth lowest mark in team history.

  • With a 31-25 record, coach Herman Edwards has the third-highest winning percentage among Jets coaches (.554). Two straight wins would put him in second, passing AL Groh who was 9-7 (.563) in 2000.

  • FB Jerald Sowell's 26 receptions are the most of any fullback in the NFL.

BY THE NUMBERS: 7 - Number of turnovers by the Jets, the lowest total in the AFC.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think we're a good football team. We have a chance to get better, obviously, but we're a good football team. We're a young football team." - coach Herman Edwards on how he judges his squad at the halfway point.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Obviously the biggest change will be Quincy Carter in at quarterback for the injured Chad Pennington (strained right rotator cuff). That will change the offensive game plan in that you may see even more of running back Curtis Martin. The Jets won't shut down the passing game but Carter may not prove as effective off the play-action as Pennington was. The Jets, however, will not be afraid to let the mobile Carter loose if he gets in trouble.

Expect the Jets safeties (Erik Coleman, Reggie Tongue and Jon McGraw - if healthy) to be involved in the run defense much more. The Jets have to stop Baltimore's Jamal Lewis and with the Ravens unlikely to air it out early, they can focus up front and take their chances on man coverage with corners Donnie Abraham and David Barrett.

MLB Sam Cowart will make his return this week and is expected to get about 10-15 plays, particularly when the Jets go to a 3-4.

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

  • LB Sam Cowart is probable Sunday against the Ravens. Cowart has missed the last six games with a sprained knee but he'll come off the bench and get in on about 10-15 plays this week. Rookie Jonathan Vilma will remain the starter and will even be on the field with Cowart on some plays.

  • DE Shaun Ellis remains questionable with a groin injury. Bryan Thomas would start in his absence with rookie Trevor Johnson getting some added time.

  • FS Jon McGraw is still questionable with an abdominal pull, the same injury that kept him out of the season opener and limited him in the first few games. McGraw will be needed this week along with the rest of the Jets safeties as a major part of the run defense.

  • CB Derrick Strait is probable for Sunday against the Ravens. If he plays he'll be in in the nickel and dime defenses.

  • S Rashad Washington (foot) will miss Sunday's game against the Ravens. Newly signed Oliver Celestin will likely take his spot, playing straight man coverage in the dime.

GAME PLAN: With Quincy Carter at quarterback, the Jets won't take many chances. They'll still throw the ball but stress to Carter not to turn it over. Carter will also be told to run if the pocket starts collapsing but they don't want him losing the football. The short passing game isn't Carter's strong suit but will design an offense that will keep mistakes at a minimum.

The Jets defense will stack eight up front to shut down Jamal Lewis and the Ravens running game and take their chances against the erratic arm of Kyle Boller. The Ravens are dead last in the NFL in both the passing game and in overall offense.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

Jets C Kevin Mawae vs. Ravens MLB Ray Lewis. The Jets must block Lewis out in order to get their running game going and Mawae is the best man for the job because he's one of the few centers quick enough in space to catch up to Lewis. If Mawae, who is having possibly his best year as a Jet, can't handle Lewis, the Jets won't be able to run up the middle at all or have much chance outside either because Lewis can run down anyone.

Jets MLB Jonathan Vilma vs. Ravens RB Jamal Lewis. Lewis is a pure cutback runner so he could prove tough against the rookie Vilma. The Ravens' offensive line has so much size that it can handle the Jets up front. The question is will Vilma make the right decisions in going after Lewis. A step in the wrong direction will have him behind on the play. Second-year LB Victor Hobson will have the same dilemma.

INJURY IMPACT: LB Sam Cowart told coaches this week that he's ready to return after missing the last six weeks with a sprained knee and he will play, probably getting in on 10-15 plays. He won't be 100 percent. ... DE Shaun Ellis remains questionable with a groin injury. He didn't practice Wednesday, which is never a good sign. ... CB Derrick Strait is listed as probable but he's missed the last five weeks with a stress fracture in his right foot, so he may still be a week away. ... FS Jon McGraw re-aggravated an abdominal pull that hampered him early in the season and it may keep him out this week. He's questionable and there probably won't be a decision on his availability until Friday.

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