I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm about ready for some Jets football. Coming off the bye, the (4-3) New York Jets will make the short drive to Ralph Wilson Stadium to face the (5-2) Buffalo Bills. Other than the obvious implications in the AFC East race, this game is pivotal for what is sure to be a neck to neck wild card race. Take the jump for the players that need to step up and the match ups that need to be watched.
The upstart Buffalo Bills have began the season on a tear, winning five of their first seven games. They were not expected to contend (given their 4-12 record last season), but have come out firing on offense. They have the #4 overall offense (based on total points scored), and the fifth best running game in the NFL. However, their defense leaves much to be desired, despite proving to be very adept at forcing turnovers. Furthermore, the Jets secondary shouldn't have too many problems shutting down Ryan Fitzpatrick's down-field passing, despite the quarterback's solid start to the year. This is a very winnable game, if the Jets manage to contain Fred Jackson...
Fred Jackson vs. Mike DeVito's knee: This is the match up that will either make or break the Jets.The most recent injury reports indicate that both Mike DeVito and Kenrick Ellis are limited in practice, which would be a huge blow to the Jets' chances of winning this game. I have a gut feeling that we'll find out very early whether or not DeVito is healthy. Buffalo features one of the top runners in the game in Fred Jackson, and they would be smart to test the Jets d-line early and often. A healthy Mike DeVito is a very capable run-stopper, so the matchup has potential to be an explosive one. If DeVito and Ellis don't play, the Jets will be undermanned at the most crucial position. The Bills' star running back has been hailed around the league as a breakout player, but the truth is that Jackson is far from a one year wonder. He's been around 1,000 yards two years in a row, despite limited carries. He has averaged 4.6 yards per carry in his five year NFL career. This year, Jackson has evolved into Buffalo's entire offense. He is on pace for 806 receiving yards to go along with 1650 yards rushing, and will doubtlessly keep the Jets defense on their toes. Bart Scott and David Harris also need to step up, but Fred Jackson's powerful running style indicates that the Jets' interior linemen better come ready to play, or we will be in for a long day.
Shonn Greene: The Bills' biggest weapon this weekend will likely be their running back, and the Jets would be wise to follow suit. The Bills pass defense isn't exactly top-notch (they've allowed the 10th most passing yards), but they are a ball-hawking bunch that leads the NFL in interceptions with 14. It would be best to limit Mark Sanchez' down-field throws, and instead focus on attacking the Bill's lackluster rushing defense, which is giving up 4.9 yards per carry (6th worst in the NFL). I thought that Schotty did a good job of utilizing Shonn Greene against the Chargers, so look for the Jets to continue their newly (re)found ground-and-pound offense. Another running back to watch is Joe McKnight, who will likely be awarded more opportunities on offense. We all know what can happen when he finds open space, so hopefully McKnight will make the most of his increased touches.
Aaron Maybin: Yes, Aaron Maybin REALLY is that good. As I have said before, he is far from a complete player, but he does his job and does it well. Rex schemes for Aaron Maybin to get to the quarterback untouched, which has already resulted in 3 sacks and 3 forced fumbles. It would not surprise me if the Bills completely eliminate Maybin from every game by specifically planning for him, but double teaming Maybin will leave another Jet with an open lane to the quarterback. The Buffalo Bills have only given up 9 sacks the whole year (2nd best in the league), but their LG and LT are both injured. In fact, the backup left tackle has been limited in practice as well. Whether Maybin gets into the backfield or opens up holes for his teammates, he should have no problem doing his job against a hobbled Buffalo line. When Maybin manages to beat double teams, he will make the jump from good to great, but Jets fans will be content with a "good" Maybin until that day.
Mark Sanchez: Earlier in this post, I mentioned that the Bills secondary gives up a large amount of yards, but leads the league in interceptions. Usually, interceptions are a result of a good pass rush, but Buffalo has only sacked opposing quarterbacks 14 times (25th in the NFL). I have posted this link multiple times, but I cannot stress enough how important protecting Mark Sanchez is. Again, Sanchez is literally among the worst quarterbacks when facing a pass rush, but is among the best when he is protected. Since the Bills have been lacking in this category all year (even moreso now that Shawne Merriman is out for the year), Sanchez will have every opportunity to carve up the Buffalo secondary. If he can avoid the ball-hawks (especially George Wilson, who already has 4 picks), the stage is set for Sanchez to have a huge day.
Scott Chandler: Chandler is clearly Ryan Fitzpatrick's favorite endzone target, as he has already racked up 6 touchdowns. Other than Jackson, he is probably the guy that the Jets need to focus on when the Bills are in their goal-line packages.
Breaking the Patterns: The Jets are (0-2) after the bye during the Rex Ryan era. The Buffalo Bills are (4-0) at home, and the Jets are (0-3) on the road. The trends are all working against Gang Green, so it is is up to Rex Ryan to get his team ready to play this crucial game. By the look of things, Rex is most definitely aware of the Jets' struggles after the bye week:
"That was a man’s day today," Ryan said. "That was a real practice -- a lot of fundamental periods, just getting back into hitting and tackling. Really, when you look at it those two years, I want to make sure we do a good job of tackling. I think that’s been a thing where sometimes when you come off the bye week that’s definitely an emphasis would be tackling."
-New York Post, per Brian Costello
Player to Watch: Kyle Wilson has been called out by the Buffalo Bills SB Nation site as the
matchup to exploit. The author does not call Wilson a horrible player, but believes that guys like Donald Jones, Brad Smith, and/or Naaman Roosevelt have a chance of sneaking past Wilson. I think that any matchup of that sort heavily favors Wilson, so I wouldn't mind if Fitzpatrick tries to look his way. Kyle Wilson got the first interception of his career in the last game, and I would look for him to grab his second against the Bills if he is targeted.
Prediction: This is a huge game with far-reaching implications. I think the Jets will come out hungry and motivated, and Ryan Fitzpatrick will have a tough day against the intimidating Jets defense. Sanchez will toss a TD early, and Shonn Greene will run down the clock late.
Lastly, I wanted to remind you guys that I used to write under the username Gallinari's Barbershop, but have now switched to a more generic name. These posts will continue (for as long as you want them), but under this new name. Thanks!