Last week's Thursday night match-up against the Patriots knocked Jets fans down a few notches. We now know that the Jets aren't going undefeated, Dee Milliner won't immediately establish his own island, and Geno is not Peyton Manning (yet). Still, there is a ton to be hopeful about, as the defense looks as dominating as ever and the offense looks competent enough to remain competitive. This week's match-up pits the (1-1) New York Jets against the (1-1) Buffalo Bills, a team that is actually quite similar to Gang Green. The Bills are piloted by a rookie quarterback, will try to establish the run behind a two-headed running back committee, and have a dynamic defense that gets after the quarterback. This leads in to the Jets' first key to victory.
Chris Ivory vs. Mario Williams: Chris Ivory's Jets career began with a thud against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in week 1, but Ivory bounced back with flashes of game-breaking ability against the Patriots. The Bucs and Patriots both feature stout run defenses, but the Bills run defense is weak and vulnerable. After giving up 5 yards per carry (2nd most in the NFL) and an NFL-high 23 touchdowns last season, the Bills are surrendering 4.2 yards per carry (tied for 9th most in the NFL) and 141.5 yards per game this season—the third most in the NFL thus far. The Bills have a fearsome pass-rush, including former All-Pro Mario Williams. Williams has been dominant so far, leading the NFL in sacks with 4.5. He was especially disruptive against the Carolina Panthers in week 2, racking up 11 pressures in 41 pass rushing snaps. For all his talents rushing the passer, Williams is weak against the run, having been "sealed inside a couple of times and...guilty of losing outside contain," according to Pro Football Focus. Pounding the rock with Ivory and Bilal Powell would serve two purposes—it neutralizes the biggest strength of the Bills' defense while simultaneously exposing its biggest flaw. We all know that Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg is seemingly allergic to running the ball, but he should consider heavily emphasizing Ivory and Powell in this week's gameplan.
Damon Harrison vs. Colin Brown: Bills' left guard Colin Brown has been downright atrocious through two weeks, and has the tough task of going up against one of the most dynamic defensive lines this Sunday. After a poor showing in week 1 against the Patriots, Brown allowed four hurries in 45 pass blocking opportunities in week 2, and fared even worse against the run, where he was often dominated at the point of attack by rookie Star Lotulelei. On the other hand, Damon "Big Snacks" Harrison has been a revelation thus far, grading out as PFF's best run defender at his position through two weeks. Against a Bills team that runs early and often—their 67 attempts and 285 rushing yards are 4th most in the NFL—this will be a critical matchup. Slowing down C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson would severely inhibit the Bills' offensive game-plan.
E.J. Manuel vs. Rex Ryan: Through two weeks, E.J. Manuel has taken one sack. To a certain extent, that is by the opposing defensive design, as NESN's Doug Kyed wrote that the Patriots "didn't bring much pressure...rarely blitzing. The goal was to contain Manuel's legs as much as it was to pressure the rookie." The Panthers also failed to bring the pressure, as their edge rushing duo of Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy registered 2 pressures between them. Some credit must go to Manuel, of course, as he has shown good pocket awareness at times and has gotten rid of the ball before the pressure could get to him. However, a quick look at the film indicates that he isn't playing as well as the (admittedly impressive) stats look. Aside from a bad interception against the Panthers, Manuel made a few other bad throws that were lucky to not be intercepted (including a throw where wide receiver Robert Woods took an offensive pass interference to prevent the interception). Manuel is a rookie quarterback with only two games of experience under his belt, and rookies tend to make mistakes when pressured. Rex Ryan has again created a dominant defense, and will undoubtedly present Manuel with some looks that he has never seen before. The Jets will need to respect Manuel's athleticism and scrambling ability, but putting some pressure on the rookie quarterback could help in the all-important turnover battle.
Players to Watch: While I believe that getting the running game going will be critical to the Jets' success this Sunday, I'm going to be watching Geno Smith to see if he can rebound after a sub-par performance against the Patriots. I thought that Geno played reasonably well for the majority of the game, but obviously his 4th quarter left much to be desired. Can he bounce back against a team with a great pass rush? Can he overcome his receivers' lack of concentration and stone hands? If he comes back with a vengeance, we may have to rethink the ceiling of this team. Another player that I will be watching is Vladimir Ducasse, the suddenly revitalized left guard in his first season as a starter. He will be going against two very talented players in Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams—the latter being one of the best defensive linemen in the league. In years past, hearing those names alongside Ducasse's would make any sane Jets fan shudder, but Vlad has already faced off against two Pro-Bowlers in Gerald McCoy and Vince Wilfork, and has more than held his own. Against the Patriots, Vlad looked downright dominant at times, showing a tantalizing mix of athleticism and strength throughout the night. PFF's Ben Stockwell praised Ducasse's performance after the game:
Midway through the second quarter I thought we might have been looking at one of the best displays from a guard in recent seasons from the Jets' Vladimir Ducasse. As it was, his performance slipped away in the second half of the game but his +2.5 overall grade marks out the best performance of his career...Ducasse got the game underway with some terrific run blocking against a variety of defenders, but most notably against Vince Wilfork. In line, he principally did his work sealing, and often driving, defenders to his outside but also climbed up to the second level to seal Jerod Mayo on a couple of occasions.
As mentioned before, establishing the run will be very important for the Jets this Sunday. A big game from Ducasse would open the holes for Ivory and Powell to carry the Jets to victory.