With the bye week behind them, the (5-4) New York Jets take their show on the road to Ralph Wilson Stadium, where the (3-7) Buffalo Bills await. The Bills have lost three games in a row, and are struggling to compete on both sides of the ball. Gang Green dominated the first matchup, a 27-20 victory in week 3 that would have been a blowout if not for 20 Jets penalties. Seems like this should be an easy win, right? And yet, the Bills are still considered 1.5 point favorites going into Week 11. Lets take a closer look at some key players and matchups.
Damon Harrison: The Buffalo Bills love to run the ball, and for good reason. They boast two very good running backs in Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, and are second in the league in rush attempts. They are moderately efficient while doing it–4.3 yards per carry–but are facing a Jets team that has the #1 ranked run defense in the league. The Jets need a big day out of nose tackle Damon Harrison, who has been one of the league's breakout stars of the 2013 season. Harrison has been the best run-stopping defensive tackle in the league–Pro Football Focus gives him a grade of 22.7, with second place far behind at 15.2–but his job will take on even more importance against the Bills. Buffalo doesn't grind out its rushing yards like the Jets do with Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell, instead getting chunks of big yardage from their dynamic duo. The Bills lead the league with 4 runs of over 40 yards, including 3 by C.J. Spiller. If Harrison loses the battle at the line of scrimmage even once, there could be hell to pay.
Brian Winters: The Bills do not have a great defense–17th against the pass and 22nd against the run–but they certainly have a dynamic one. They excel in two areas of the game that have given Geno Smith trouble, ranking 2nd in the NFL with 33 sacks and 1st in the NFL with 13 interceptions. While Mario Williams is the big name guy, it is the interior defensive line that stands to give the Jets the most trouble. Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus have combined for 10 sacks, and both appear likely to matchup with rookie LG Brian Winters. Kyle Williams is on of the best interior linemen in the league, and Dareus is coming into his own as well, compiling the most tackles of any defensive tackle in the NFL. The Jets did neutralize the Bills' vaunted defensive line in their week 3 matchup, allowing 0 sacks and rushing for 182 on 41 carries. Doing so a second time would be key to a Jets victory, but they need a big performance out of Brian Winters for that to happen.
Rex Ryan: Coach Ryan has done a masterful job this season, putting a very young team in position to make the playoffs. However, one of Ryan's flaws as a coach is the lackadaisical play of his teams following bye weeks, a trend that is becoming mildly concerning. A 1-3 record does not even begin to tell the tale of the tape, as the Jets have often came out of the bye discombobulated and sloppy, including a 0-9 loss to Green Bay in 2010 and a 7-28 drubbing in Seattle last year. Rex gave the team the week off, himself flying down to New Orleans to visit his brother Rob. Rob Ryan's Saints dominated the Bills two weeks ago, and Rex claims that he was there to pick his brother's brain. Regardless, Rex's motivational tactics will be huge this week. The Jets can't afford to look past the Bills, especially with a game against the defending Super Bowl champions the following week. The good feelings of a 5-4 record could quickly fade with a loss this Sunday and a tough matchup with Baltimore looming.
Chris Ivory vs. Mario Williams: The Bills have a pretty decent run defense, allowing exactly 4 yards per carry. However, the Jets absolutely carved them up on the ground in Week 3, including 149 yards out of Bilal Powell. Buffalo appears vulnerable to the big play, having allowed 10 runs of more than 20 yards (only the Jaguars have allowed more), and Chris Ivory has been capable of taking advantage. Ivory ran rampant on the Saints in Week 9, including runs of 52 yards, 30 yards, and 27 yards. The Bills defensive line is stout at the point of attack, but Mario Williams is definitely a bit of a weak link against the run. A few good runs to Mario's side would slow down his pass rush and would be key in keeping Geno upright.
Players to Watch: Santonio Holmes has missed the last 5 weeks, which has oddly coincided with the downfall of the Jets' passing offense. Geno Smith surprised many people earlier in the year by repeatedly and accurately attacking opposing defenses deep, but has been much more cautious since Holmes' injury. This hasn't resulted in better stats for the young signal caller, as he has only thrown 1 touchdown to 4 interceptions in the last 4 games, with an average of only 6.1 yards per pass. It has also coincided with the disappearance of Stephen Hill, who has 10 catches for 107 yards in the last 6 games after 13 receptions for 233 yards in his first three games. I think that Holmes' likely return will be huge for this offense, and it looks like Tone would agree with that sentiment.
"When we're watching DBs in our (film) room," [Jets wide receivers coach Sanjay] Lal said, "we're like, ‘Man, we can run this route or that route on him.' Like any competitor, he thinks, ‘I want to play so I can turn that guy in circles and catch 10 balls on him.' "
Holmes will likely be eased in this Sunday, but he's gotta be excited to see the Bills' secondary on the opposing sideline, as he torched them for a career high 154 receiving yards and a touchdown in their week 3 matchup. Another player I'll be watching is Antonio Cromartie, especially coming off the bye week. Cro has looked a step slow all season long, as nagging hip and knee injuries have robbed him of some of the otherworldly physical gifts that made him one of the top corners in the NFL. The Jets hope that the bye week gave Cromartie ample time to heal. The results of this game might not mean much given the state of the Bills' receiving corps, but I'll be watching the way #31 is moving on the field. If he looks healthier, the Jets' pass defense could be much improved in the second half.