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Previewing the Jets’ opposition: Buffalo Bills

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NFL: Preseason-Minnesota Vikings at Buffalo Bills Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The last time these teams met, Elijah McGuire’s fourth down touchdown run gave the Jets a late 27-23 win. However, that came less than a month after a 41-10 blowout for the Bills at Metlife Stadium. Who knows what to expect in week one?

Let’s break down each position:

Quarterbacks

Bills fans will be hoping Josh Allen is going to make a leap this year, in much the same way as Jets fans are counting on Sam Darnold to take his game to the next level.

His 2018 season ended on a similar upward trajectory, albeit perhaps not as sharp as Darnold’s post-injury ascendance. Allen passed for over 200 yards in each of his last five starts, which doesn’t sound like much, but he only did it once in his first six. However, he never had a real breakout game, with no 250-yard games as a passer.

He racked up a lot of yards with his legs though, twice rushing for over 100 yards and with one other game where he had 99. While the Bills will probably try and dissuade him from relying on scrambling too often, that’ll be a threat the Jets will be keen to mitigate after he had 101 yards on nine carries against them back in November.

Backup Matt Barkley doesn’t strike fear into many teams but Jets fans will be wary of him after he quarterbacked the Bills to that blowout win last October.

Offensive Line

The Bills made protecting Allen a major priority during the offseason, bringing in six offensive linemen with starting experience. This should be a very different unit this time around but how long will it take for them to gel?

Left tackle Dion Dawkins is the only returning starter and Conor McDermott is the only returning reserve after the Bills traded Wyatt Teller and Russell Bodine last week. Dawkins is solid but had 13 penalties last season. McDermott is yet to make his first NFL start.

The rest of the starting group is made up of offseason acquisitions with second round rookie Cody Ford at right tackle and Quinton Spain, Mitch Morse and Jon Feliciano on the interior. The big money acquisition was Morse, who missed all of preseason with a concussion so this is shaping up to a battle of veteran centers who are playing for the first time with their new teammates.

Morse and Spain should help the Bills’ pass protection, but Feliciano had a poor season last year so could be a weak link if he doesn’t bounce back and play like he did in 2017.

Ex-Jet Spencer Long and veteran tackle Ty Nsekhe bring some experience off the bench while undrafted rookie Ryan Bates and Ike Boettger bring some youth. Another offseason acquisition, LaAdrian Waddle, is on injured reserve.

Running Backs

With LeSean McCoy gone, veteran Frank Gore is now the Bills’ lead back. In 2018, Gore ran for 722 yards for Adam Gase in Miami which was his lowest output since his rookie year. However, his 4.6 yards per carry average was his highest since 2012 so he still has something left in the tank.

Third round rookie Devin Singletary should give them a dynamic option off the bench. In preseason, he had 88 yards and a touchdown on 18 touches.

Veteran TJ Yeldon can contribute along with Singletary on passing downs. Yeldon scored two touchdowns against the Jets last year with Jacksonville, but hasn’t had a 100-yard rushing game for almost two years.

Fullback Patrick DiMarco is a former pro bowler but doesn’t handle the ball much. He had one carry and three catches last season.

Pass catchers

There are wholesale changes to the Bills’ receiver group too. Only starter Zay Jones and reserves Robert Foster and Isaiah McKenzie return from last year’s team. Jones led the Bills with 56 catches, 652 yards and seven touchdown catches last year, while Foster and McKenzie played a role in the second half of the season. Foster came off the practice squad to catch a deep ball on Trumaine Johnson last year and had the first of three 100-yard games that day. McKenzie is an option on jet sweeps and end arounds.

The additions to the group this year are Cole Beasley, John Brown and, of course, Andre Roberts. While Roberts should mainly feature on special teams this season, Beasley provides a solid possession option, while Brown will give the team another downfield threat. Beasley caught 65 passes last year, while Brown - who had a thousand-yard season in 2015 - averaged a career-high 17 yards per catch.

It’s all change at tight end too, although blocking specialist Lee Smith returns to the team having played for them from 2011 to 2014. The new starter is Tyler Kroft, who barely played last year for Cincinnati after catching 42 passes in 2017. He’s working his way back from foot surgery, though, so he’s unlikely to play.

The Bills drafted two tight ends - Dawson Knox and Tommy Sweeney - to round out the rotation at this position.

Defensive Line

The Bills have some good continuity on the defensive line, although Kyle Williams’ retirement will hit them hard. They boosted this group by drafting Ed Oliver in the first round and Darryl Johnson in the seventh. Oliver and Jets’ rookie Quinnen Williams could be two players who are linked together in much the same way as Darnold and Allen are expected to be.

The rest of the rotation are returning from last year’s team, including the other three starters - Trent Murphy and Jerry Hughes on the edge and Star Lotulelei inside. Hughes led the Bills last year with seven sacks (and 18 hits), but Murphy was a disappointment with just four.

Shaq Lawson pitched in with four sacks of his own off the bench and played well against the run, but has yet to live up to being a top 20 pick having just turned 25.

Jordan Phillips and Harrison Phillips provide depth on the interior with the latter having shown enough promise in his rookie year that he could be a candidate to replace Lotulelei in the starting lineup sooner rather than later.

Linebackers

Tremaine Edmunds, the 16th overall pick in last year’s draft, was productive as he led the team in tackles with 121, but will need to improve his consistency in year two, especially in coverage.

Matt Milano, who was formerly regarded as a special teamer, has established himself as a starter. He intercepted a pass against the Jets last October.

Lorenzo Alexander turned 36 in May and hasn’t been as good as he was in his breakout 2016 campaign over the past few years, but still contributed well with 6.5 sacks in 2018 and should play some edge in 3-4 sets.

The most familiar name on the bench is ex-Jet Julian Stanford. Maurice Alexander and Corey Thompson join him in filling out the rotation.

Defensive Backs

Tre’Davious White is the Bills’ top cornerback having been a first round pick in 2017. Other than him, the Bills will also use Levi Wallace, Taron Johnson and Siran Neal, each of whom got an opportunity to play down the stretch as rookies last season. Wallace, who was undrafted, will start on the outside, while the former fourth-rounder Johnson will play in the slot.

Neal, a fifth round pick who will come off the bench, can also contribute as a safety.

The only offseason addition to the cornerback group was to sign former first round pick Kevin Johnson after he got released by the Texans. However, he’s still listed as a reserve.

Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde return as the starting safeties. They’ve combined for 15 interceptions over the past two years.

Kurt Coleman, a journeyman who spent last year with the Saints, provides experience off the bench, while sixth-round rookie Jaquan Johnson brings the youth. Dean Marlowe, who made one start last year, rounds out the rotation here.

Special Teams

Stephen Hauschka returns as the kicker for his third season with the Bills. His performance in the blowout win over the Jets last year won him the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week award.

At punter, Corey Bojorquez makes his return after a shoulder injury cut short his rookie season in 2018.

Roberts is the new kickoff and punt returner after the Jets controversially let him walk following his pro bowl season in 2019. However, he’s missed some time this week with a quadriceps injury and has been ruled out.

Backing up Roberts are players like McKenzie and Hyde. McKenzie has been prone to muffs and fumbles within this role though. Singletary could be an option on kickoffs too.

In coverage, most of their most productive players from last year are gone, but Neal was their leading tackler. Veterans like Coleman, DiMarco and Stanford should also contribute.