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Previewing the Jets’ Opposition: Buffalo Bills

Wild Card Round - Buffalo Bills v Houston Texans Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

In their last competitive action, the 2019 Jets held off the playoff-bound Bills for a 13-6 win in the season finale. The teams now square off in the season opener for the third time in four seasons. Let’s review how the Bills roster currently looks:

Quarterbacks

Josh Allen made some strides in his second season, improving his completion percentage and accounting for 20 touchdowns through the air and another nine on the ground.

However, the Bills offense was hardly fearsome down the stretch last year, as they lost four of the last five, including in the first round of the playoffs, scoring less than 20 in each game. They also didn’t surpass 260 passing yards as a team in any game last season.

Allen is backed up by Matt Barkley, who authored a blow-out over the Jets in 2018 and rookie Jake Fromm is their number three.

Offensive Line

The Bills made a move to sign ex-Jets guard Brian Winters after he was released by the Jets at the start of training camp. However, Winters has reportedly struggled at times in camp and may not have done enough to lock down a starting role. The team’s unofficial depth chart offers no clues as it lists three co-starters at both right guard and right tackle.

With the previous starter at right guard, Jon Feliciano, on injured reserve, the Bills have been using Cody Ford as the first-team right guard in camp, although that may have been because Winters wasn’t 100 percent.

Ford split reps with Ty Nsekhe at right tackle last year, but head coach Sean McDermott has said he wants to avoid any kind of a rotation this year. That suggests Nsekhe could start at right tackle, although Darryl Williams is another experienced option.

The rest of their starting line-up will look the same as last year with Mitch Morse at center, Quinton Spain at left guard and Dion Dawkins at left tackle.

Dawkins is their most expensive and impressive lineman, although Morse didn’t come cheap at $11 million per year. Even so, they had 20 penalties between them last year while Spain struggled in the running game.

Aside from whoever doesn’t start, the Bills also have Ryan Bates and Ike Boettger on their bench. Both played extensively in the season finale against the Jets last year, but Bates hadn’t played much prior to that and Boettger hadn’t played at all.

Running Backs

Devin Singletary wrestled the starting running back job away from current Jet Frank Gore in 2019, gradually seeing his workload increase over the course of the season. He ended up as the Bills’ leading rusher with an average of over five yards per carry and added 29 catches although he only had one 100-yard game and fumbled four times.

TJ Yeldon didn’t play much in a reserve role last year and will now compete for additional work with third round rookie Zack Moss. The Bills also signed Taiwan Jones, but he’s mostly a special teamer.

The Bills did have a former pro bowl blocking back in Patrick DiMarco, but he was released with an injury settlement on Tuesday.

Pass catchers

In 2019, the Bills’ passing game was headlined by John Brown, a thousand-yard receiver, and Cole Beasley, who caught 67 passes last season. The combination of the speedster Brown and the possession receiver Beasley worked well as each caught six touchdown passes.

However, the Bills offensive struggles down the stretch persuaded them to make an offseason move for Stefon Diggs of the Vikings. Diggs also had a thousand-yard season in 2019, although he was very inconsistent. In the last 12 games, he had five 100-yard performances but less than 50 receiving yards in each of the other seven games.

Buffalo’s most productive reserve last year, Isaiah McKenzie, returns in 2020. He caught 27 passes in 2019 but averaged less than 10 yards per catch.

Andre Roberts, who is mostly there to return kicks, and two rookies - Gabriel Davis and Isaiah Hodgins - round out the rotation, although Hodgins will start the year on injured reserve.

Duke Williams, who impressed at the end of last season, was on the Covid-19 reserve during camp and has ended up on Buffalo’s practice squad. However, don’t forget that he - or any of the other practice squad members - could be activated in the lead-up to kickoff.

At tight end, Dawson Knox is the starter having caught 28 passes last year. Off the bench, Tyler Kroft is mostly there to provide run blocking and Lee Smith is probably the best at pass protection.

Undrafted rookie Reggie Gilliam is on the roster as the fourth tight end at the moment with Tommy Sweeney on the PUP list.

Defensive Line

The Bills got rid of the only two players they had with more than five sacks last year as Jordan Phillips and Shaq Lawson had 15.5 sacks between them. However, they’ve potentially replaced that output with a pair of former Carolina Panthers.

Vernon Butler, the former first round pick, is slated to start alongside last year’s first-rounder Ed Oliver on the inside. Butler had a career-high six sacks last year after the Panthers opted not to exercise his fifth year option and the Bills will hope Oliver takes his game to the next level with Butler alongside him.

The other former Panther lineman the Bills added was 33-year old Mario Addison who is expected to come off the bench at defensive end. Addison has 39 sacks in the past four seasons, including 9.5 last season. Starters Trent Murphy and Jerry Hughes had just 9.5 between them in 2019.

The Bills’ top draft pick, second-rounder AJ Epenesa, will make his debut off the bench while Darryl Johnson - a seventh rounder last year - is also available.

For depth on the inside, the Bills brought in veteran Quinton Jefferson to line up with Harrison Phillips, a former third round pick entering his third season. Star Lotulelei opted out during the offseason, though. These players could get some extra work because Butler is listed as questionable for the game.

Linebackers

The Bills bring back Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds to play a full time role in 2020. Each had over 100 tackles in 2019 with Edmunds leading the team and they added nine passes defensed each.

With Lorenzo Alexander announcing his retirement at the end of last season, the Bills brought in AJ Klein to replace some of his experience. Klein started 42 times over the past three years with the Saints but he’s more of a coverage linebacker than a pass rusher. He probably won’t play an every-down role.

The Bills don’t have much experience on their bench. Tyler Matakevich, an offseason addition from the Steelers, has started just one game in his careeer and he’s joined on the bench by two undrafted free agents from last year who did not play at all as rookies; Tyrel Dodson and Del’Shawn Phillips.

Defensive Backs

At cornerback, the Bills can rely on Tre’Davious White who just signed a big-money extension. White is one of the league’s best cover corners and racked up six interceptions and 17 passes defensed last season.

There’s less certainty on the other side though. Josh Norman is listed as a starter but he’s been ruled out due to injury. Levi Wallace, who started 16 games last year, looks set to replace him.

The fact that EJ Gaines opted out during the offseason didn’t seem like a big deal at the time but could end up being important in light of these early injuries. However, Wallace himself only ended up as a starter because he was forced to start due to some injuries, so perhaps someone will step up if required.

Taron Johnson started seven games last year, albeit in the slot. However, McDermott has said he believes Johnson is versatile enough to play outside if needed. The versatile Siran Neal is another option. Neal and Johnson both played on the outside in the season finale last year.

At safety, the situation is a lot more straightforward as Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde have started 48 of the 50 regular and postseason games together over the past three seasons missing just one start each. Poyer had over 100 tackles and two interceptions last year, while Hyde played well in coverage.

Reserves Dean Marlowe and Jaquan Johnson were two more players that saw extensive action in last year’s season finale with the Bills resting Hyde and Poyer for the playoffs. Prior to that Marlowe had played sparingly as the third safety and Johnson hadn’t played at all.

Special Teams

The Bills are bringing back young punter Corey Bojorquez following a decent 2019 season, although he did have a punt blocked and returned for a touchdown.

They also drafted Tyler Bass in the sixth round to be their kicker this year. Bass made four out of five field goals from beyond 50 yards last season.

In the return game, Roberts is coming off his second straight pro bowl appearance, although he actually had an underwhelming season in 2019. Hyde, Jones and McKenzie are alternative options. Hyde had a touchdown return on a botched onside kick in 2019.

Jones will also help them in kick coverage, where he had 11 special teams tackles last season, placing him just outside the top 10 in the league. Neal led the Bills with 10. The Bills were good in kick coverage in 2019, but Jakeem Grant did return a kickoff for a score against them.