While football is a team sport, games are typically decided by a handful of matchups. With that in mind, every week I’ll be highlighting one matchup that I think will be extremely important in determining the outcome of the game.
For the first week game between the New York Jets and the Buffalo Bills, one key matchup is that between Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs and the Jets starting cornerbacks (Sauce Gardner, DJ Reed, and Michael Carter II).
Why is this opposing player so important?
Last year, the Buffalo Bills were among the highest volume passing teams, with the 8th highest number of passes per game. While the Bills had the 13th highest percentage of pass plays per game overall, this number was largely brought down by their overall team success, which allowed them to run out the clock towards the end of the game by rushing the ball. In support, the Bills had the 4th highest percentage of pass plays if the 4th quarter is omitted. So in general, the Bills pass to take the lead and then run the clock out, making the passing game a crucial part of their team identity.
Where Diggs factors into that is that he’s really the lynchpin of the Bills passing game. Specifically, Diggs had the fifth most targets in the league, the sixth highest target rate in the league, and the third highest yards per route run. In line with that, Diggs had more yards and catches than the next three receivers on their depth chart combined, reflecting the huge market share of the passing offense that is allocated to him.
How can the Jets stop him?
Putting all that together, Diggs is THE guy in the Bills offense. Thankfully, the Jets defense is tailor made to stop a guy like Diggs. Specifically, while the Bills line Diggs up all over the field in order to find a favorable matchup, the Jets have plus players at each boundary corner position (Gardner and Reed) as well as in the slot (Michael Carter II). If these three defenders can all put together a plus performance and hold Diggs in check, then the Bills offense is likely to sputter, giving the Jets a greater chance to win the game. If they don’t and Diggs runs wild, then the Jets offense may have to score 30+ points to win this game.