Almost an entire year has passed since Chad Pennington hit the turf at Ralph Wilson Stadium. He still hasn’t gotten all the way back up, and neither has the Jets franchise. So it will be something like Custer returning to Little Big Horn on Sunday when the Jets return to Buffalo to play the Bills for the rights to join the Dolphins in the basement of the AFC East.
When the Jets Have the Ball:
The good news is that the Bills have been one of the worst defenses against the rush this season, suffering from the loss of DT’s Pat Williams to Free Agency and Ron Edwards to injury. The bad news is that the Jets will be incapable of taking advantage of Buffalo’s main weakness. If Curtis Martin, averaging a mere 2.8 YPC on the season, is to take advantage of a soft Bills interior defense, his offensive line will have to be more aggressive than they’ve been in the early part of this season. With the loss of little-used back-up Derrick Blaylock, there’s a chance that rookie Cedric Houston could get some carries. Martin will be playing with what Herm Edwards is calling a “sore knee,” and if he’s not ready to get his usual 25 carries per game, then it will fall to Houston to carry the rock and take pressure off of Vinny Testaverde. The Bills rank next to last in the NFL against the rush, yielding over 160 yards per game, to the tune of an eye-opening five YPC. If there was ever a game for a struggling old hand, or a promising young buck, to run the ball effectively, this is the one.
On the other side of the ledger, the Bills have been exceptional against the pass. Not in terms of average yards per game (when teams are running it so well against you, they don’t need to pass), but in terms of holding opposing QB’s to a 59% completion percentage and picking them off seven times already on the year. Vinny Testaverde will face a tough test, throwing into the swirling Buffalo winds against two ballhwaks at corner in Nate Clements, one of the most under-rated players in the league, and Terrence McGee, who possesses tremendous speed and quickness at the corner slot. If Vinny throws up one of his characteristic “who was he throwing that to, anyway” heaves, these two will surely turn him over. Vinny needs to operate like he did in last week’s win against Tampa Bay, by just taking what the defense gives him and controlling the clock. If Martin and/or Houston can find some running lanes, the Mike Heimerdinger will be sickeningly conservative, allowing the Jets defense to win the game again for the Jets.
When the Bills Have the Ball:
If you want to see the diametrical opposite of Curtis Martin, watch out for Bills running back Willis McGahee. Where Curtis is slow, patient, and calculating, McGahee is quick, speedy and aggressive. Averaging 4.2 YPC on the season despite playing behind a porous offensive line and against 8-man boxes, McGahee is again showing that he will soon be mentioned among the top backs in the league. Starting the first four games of the season with JP Losman at QB, McGahee started off slow, but has picked it up. Now, with teams having to respect the passing game after the benching of Losman for the far more steady Kelly Holcomb, McGahee will no doubt find it easier to find openings to pick up yards.
As for Holcomb, he will start the game at QB for the second straight week for the awful JP Losman. Losman, whose first four starts rank with the worst in NFL history (earning a QB rating of 55.9), was mercifully benched before last week’s win against the Dolphins and he watched as Holcomb went an amazingly efficient 20 for 29 for 169 yards and a TD. Holcomb is finally getting his chance to start after showing signs of near-greatness in his back-up role in Clevelend, and, some say, completely out-playing the erratic Losman in training camp. If coach Mike Mularkey gets Holcomb playing to the level that he had jpourneyman QB Tommy Maddox playing during his days as the Steelers OC, this could be the start of a big year for the Bills. Throwing the ball to Jet-killer Eric Moulds and the speedy Lee Evans, who has also ruined the Jets early in his career (two long TD’s in only two games), Holcomb will have to hope that his offensive line can hold up against the surge of John Abraham (4 sacks) and reigning Defensive Player of the Week Dewayne Robertson. Robertson single-handedly collapsed the Tampa Bay front, as Jon Gruden elected to double-team Abraham on the outside instead, and leave his center and guard over-matched against Robertson’s quickness. That was the design that Terry Bradway surely had in mind when he traded up for Robertson in the first place. It is just now starting to work.
Tom Shane’s Prediction: Testaverde will make enough plays, and Curtis Martin will get healthy against a weak Bills’ front line: Jets 24 Bills 14