The Jets will be heading to Western New York to begin their 2017 season this Sunday with first place in the AFC East on the line against the Bills. Here are some things to know going into the matchup.
Bills Offseason Changes
Like the Jets, the Bills also seemed to take a major turn in the rebuilding direction with their roster moves. Earlier in the offseason, they cut starting safety Corey Graham. Through free agency, they lost cornerback Stephon Gilmore, wide receivers Marquise Goodwin and Robert Woods, and running back Mike Gillislee. Later in the offseason, they would trade away wide receiver Sammy Watkins, cornerback Ronald Darby, and their 2016 second round pick, linebacker Reggie Ragland.
The biggest headline for the Bills in free agency, was their re-signing of quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who will play on Sunday after suffering a concussion. They also signed safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer. Their first round selection, LSU cornerback Tre’Davious White, seems to be in line to start Week 1, in addition to former Ram E.J. Gaines.
For the Bills, the major injury question was Tyrod Taylor, but he’s been cleared to play in this game.
For the Jets, there is still the mystery of Lorenzo Mauldin. He was in line to start the season outside along with Jordan Jenkins, but has not appeared in a preseason game or practice in a while and will not play this game.. Austin Seferian-Jenkins will serve the first game of his two game suspension and Rontez Miles will sit out with an eye injury, but otherwise there are no Jets starters in danger of missing the game.
2-20: That’s the W-L record of the Jets starting quarterback over the last three seasons. Fans want a tank, but the team is going to try and win, and it will be a challenge for them to figure out how to do it with McCown. For what it’s worth, McCown’s best season was his 2013 run with the Bears in which he went 3-2 in five starts with 13 touchdowns, 1 interception, and a quarterback rating well over 100. His quarterbacks coach that season? Jeremy Bates, who will serve the same role for the Jets this season.
1: The amount of teams that ran the ball more than the Bills did last year (Cowboys). With none of their top four most targeted wide receivers from last year on the field for this game, they could figure to rely a ton on the run game. Brandon Tate is the only Bills receiver from last season who is on the team’s active roster right now (former Jet Walt Powell is suspended).
Jets Offensive Plan
While preseason isn’t a direct preview of what is to come when the games count, the Jets did run a very conservative offense through their four preseason games, and that could be the approach this year. Buffalo ranked eigth in sacks last year, but allowed the fifth highest yards per carry average and second most rushing touchdowns. This could be a low-scoring game, so the Jets’ best plan on offense would likely be to simply lean on Matt Forte and Bilal Powell in the run game.
In the passing game, the Jets are running out two starting receivers who joined the team in the past ten days. Already considering the limitations at quarterback, when you add in this it’s hard to expect the Jets to get too ambitious throwing the ball.
With that in mind, I’d expect the screen game to be a factor. Forte, Powell, and also rookie Elijah McGuire are all pass-catching factors out of the backfield. They could also look to breakout rookie ArDarius Stewart in the screen game, who was an absolute force with the ball at Alabama and continued to showcase that in the preseason. He could be an unexpected wrinkle to throw into the passing game.
All things considered, it’s tough to expect much from the Jets passing attack right away.
Jets Defensive Plan
Tyrod Taylor has some really impressive stats but it’s a general consensus that he’s not nearly who those numbers say he is. While superbly athletic and possessing a tremendous deep ball, he can struggle reading the field and feeling pressure. With a pretty solid offensive line last year, Taylor still took the most sacks in the league with 42.
When the Jets and Bills met Week 2 last season, their gameplan seemed to be to contain Taylor in the pocket and drop extra men into coverage. It worked for the most part, as outside of Darrelle Revis getting toasted by Goodwin and a ridiculous coverage breakdown that combined for 155 yards, Taylor only had 142 yards on 28 attempts (5.0 per attempt).
While that second touchdown to Greg Salas was mainly on the coverage breakdown, Taylor still had a huge amount of time to fire a perfect deep pass, as he took little pressure. If someone gets free deep, Taylor will find them about as often as any quarterback. In a game where one or two touchdowns could be plenty, it’s going to be on the defensive line, specifically Muhammad Wilkerson and Leonard Williams, to generate enough consistent one-on-one wins to lessen the chances of those plays happening.
Buffalo will likely still be a run-first team, though. LeSean McCoy hasn’t shown signs of slowing down yet and should still be a threat, but the Bills are without the #2 threat they’ve had the last two years in Gillislee and Karlos Williams. Stopping the run has seldom been a problem for the Jets, but keeping McCoy in check and putting the pressure on a thin receiving group will be a priority.
Offense: Matt Forte
Forte had three touchdowns in the first win over Buffalo last season. With a quarterback limited, stitched-together offense, Forte could see a major load put him on both in the passing and running game. He could be burnt out early in the year.
Defense: Muhammad Wilkerson
While Leonard Williams has shown little reason to believe he won’t continue to ascend towards being a top-three caliber defensive linemen, Wilkerson gave fans every reason to think he’s trending away from that last year. Wilkerson is completely capable of elite playmaking, as he’s consistently shown throughout his career. Was he limited by injuries last year? Or has he folded after signing a big deal? If the Wilkerson of old shows up and can consistently win against the strong Bills offensive line, this could be a successful day for the defense.