On Sunday the New York Jets (4-3) take on the Buffalo Bills (5-2) at Ralph Wilson Stadium (1 p.m. EST). The Jets enter the game a rested team coming off of a bye, while the Bills come stampeding in after a dominating effort over the Washington Redskins. Lets take a look at some of the keys to the game from the Jets perspective.
Avoid the bye week blues- The New York Jets offense has repeatedly started off games slow, but this trend cannot continue on Sunday. Gang Green’s offense must come out firing on all cylinders to A) take the fired up crowd out of the game B) begin to wear down the Bills defense and C) keep the Buffalo offense off of the field. The last thing that the Jets offense wants to do is start off the game with a couple of three and out series which will not only give the Bills defense confidence, but it will also put the hometown crowd in a frenzy, making playing conditions especially difficult in the passing game.
Ball control- In order for the Jets to have success on Sunday the offense must limit turnovers and play the ball control game. The offensive line must come out with a physical attitude and win the battles at the line of scrimmage which will set the tone for the Jets offense. Gang Green must then find ways to run the ball against a very average Bills defense that is ranked 20th in the NFL giving up 120 yards a game on the ground. If the Jets can effectively run the ball Mark Sanchez and company can then take advantage of a very aggressive Buffalo secondary with the play action pass and vertical passing game.
The longer the Jets offense can keep Ryan Fitzpatrick and Fred Jackson off the field, the better off the team will be. Time of possession is going to be a huge key to the game.
Dustin Keller- Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer must find ways to get tight end Dustin Keller involved early on in the passing game. Keller is a huge target for quarterback Mark Sanchez that can find holes in the middle of the Bills defense. Once Keller gets on track the Jets offense should then work plays out of the slot position utilizing the athletic ability of both Santonio Holmes and Jeremy Kerley. It is no secret that the Bills secondary likes to jump routes (as evidenced by their league leading 14 interceptions), therefore the Jets should try and take advantage of their aggressive nature. If the Jets play their cards right with Keller over the middle and the slot receivers, there could be some deep plays opened up for Plaxico Burress.
Spread defense- The Buffalo Bills spread offense is built around their ground game and running back Fred Jackson, who is 4th in the NFL in rushing with 721 yards. The Bills will try to spread out the Jets defense with 3 and 4 wide receiver sets and then run the ball. Gang Green must find ways to contain the running game without selling their souls on blitz packages. This will be no easy task as defensive linemen Mike Devito and Kenrick Ellis are banged up and linebacker Bryan Thomas (one of the Jets best run defense backers) is out for the year. The Jets will be looking to several young players to fill in for Thomas, so keep an eye on linebackers Josh Mauga and Jamaal Westerman.
Tame the wildcat- I think it is safe to assume that the Bills are going to use the wildcat offense, led by former Jet Brad Smith, several times throughout the game. Smith is a dual threat out of the wildcat formation and I would not be surprised to see him try to throw the ball a couple of times in order to get the Jets defense off balance. Gang Green must find ways to contain Smith and the wildcat, possibly with run blitzes.
Cromartie, Wilson, Strickland- The Bills spread offense is going to put a ton of pressure on the Jets secondary. Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick loves to spread the ball around to all his receivers, running backs, and tight ends, therefore coverage must be consistent throughout the Jets secondary. Antonio Cromartie, Kyle Wilson, and Donald Strickland must all play at a high level covering the second, third, and fourth options while All-Pro defensive back Darrelle Revis does his best shutting down the Bills leading receiver Stevie Johnson (39 catches, 439 yards, 4tds) . Gang Green’s linebackers and safeties must also keep an eye on running backs Fred Jackson and C. J. Spiller catching passes out of the backfield.
Scott Chandler- It is no secret that the Jets defense has struggled covering tight ends and in Scott Chandler the Bills have a huge target. Chandler stands at 6’7 and is often looked to in the redzone as evidenced by his 6 touchdown grabs (only 15 catches on the season). The Jets must find someone to put on a body on Chandler, possibly Brodney Pool, and not allow the tight end to beat them repeatedly over the middle.
Time for Mayhem- Jets linebacker Aaron Maybin plays against his former team for the first time on Sunday, a game he must have had circled on his calender since the season began. Maybin has been a tremendous addition to the Jets defense, leading the unit in forced fumbles and sacks. Look for Aaron to get a ton of chances to go after Ryan Fitzpatrick and disrupt the Bills passing attack.
This game has huge playoff implications for both teams as the result has an impact on the race for the AFC East division title as well as for wildcard playoff seedings (conference record is one of the tiebreakers). I think the atmosphere in Ralph Wilson Stadium is going to be intense which will help the Jets get rid of their bye week cobwebs. At the end of the day it is going to come down to Mark Sanchez making some big plays in the passing game while the defense finds ways to neutralize Fred Jackson. I am taking the Jets in what is going to be a very physical game. 21-17