The New York Jets and Buffalo Bills travel up to the Great White North tonight to square off in a not-so-key AFC East divisional battle. It's a home game for the Bills, but the atmosphere isn't expected to resemble that of Ralph Wilson Stadium in any way. Both teams are coming off of strong defensive performances and look to continue their success in the Rogers Centre.
Mark Sanchez is battling a minor knee injury, but is expected to play, while the Bills will be going with Ryan Fitzpatrick's hot hand again. In the teams' first meeting, Thomas Jones ran for 210 yards, while Sanchez threw an absurd five interceptions. Fitzpatrick came off the bench for a concussed Trent Edwards and connected with Lee Evans for the game-tying touchdown; Rian Lindell hit a 47-yard field goal in overtime to win it. It was an ugly game, and the good people of Toronto are hoping for a more explosive affair this time around.
What do the Bills need to do to give their pseudo-home fans reason to celebrate? We've got six key factors for you after the jump that, if met, will make Buffalo's job infinitely easier this evening.
Ride Fred Jackson: With Jackson getting the start last week against Miami and picking up the majority of the touches out of the backfield, the Bills' offense looked better than it has since very early in the season (coincidentally with Jackson as the starter then). It's pretty evident that behind this patchwork offensive line, Jackson's talents are better suited to picking up chunks of yards than those of Marshawn Lynch. Perry Fewell seems more comfortable with Jackson, and that needs to continue this week. With Jackson netting 73 yards rushing on 15 carries, the Bills finished with 129 total yards on the ground. In the first matchup, the team rushed for 142 yards against the Jets. With an emphasis on Jackson, establishing the run and going against a Jets run defense without their best player in Kris Jenkins, the Bills could very well have one of their better rushing games of the season. Jackson was also more involved in the passing game last week (five receptions for 43 yards), so look for more of that this week. The Bills will probably go as Jackson goes in this one.
Hit some big plays: The vaunted Fitzpatrick-to-Terrell Owens connection has combined for 14 receptions, 293 yards and two touchdowns the past two weeks. Under Fewell, there has been a strong push to get the ball into T.O.'s mitts. It has worked as the Bills had hoped it would when Owens was signed earlier this year. Look for the Bills to try hitting some deep balls with Owens again this week, especially if the running game is keeping the Jets' safeties honest.
Take advantage of Lito Sheppard: Darrelle Revis might be the best cornerback in football right now. He has shut down some of the best receivers in the NFL all season, including Andre Johnson, Randy Moss (twice), Marques Colston, Steve Smith and that T.O. guy. Those five big-time receivers combined for just 19 receptions, 144 yards and one touchdown in six games against Revis. He's as good as it gets. Opposite Revis, however, is the mediocre Sheppard, a guy the Bills really need to target in the passing game this week. Evans beat him for the touchdown in the first game. Expect the Bills to work Sheppard's side with both Owens and Evans this week. If they can take advantage of the opportunities, those big plays could be there.
Pressure Sanchez: We all saw first hand how bad Sanchez can be when he feels some pressure and is forced to make plays down the field. With Jerricho Cotchery playing this week and the controlled indoor conditions, it won't be as easy to force Sanchez into mistakes. Therefore, he needs to feel the pressure. Buffalo's defense seemed to get after Chad Henne a lot better in the fourth quarter last week, leading to three poorly thrown interceptions. Sanchez is obviously mistake prone; it's up to the defense to force him to make them again this time around.
Key on Thomas Jones: Jones had the two longest runs of his career in the first game... on consecutive carries. The Bills' rush defense was terrible that day, allowing well over 300 yards on the ground. Jones will be the centerpiece again this week, and he's having a terrific season. After witnessing Sanchez implode against the Bills in the Meadowlands, don't expect the Jets to rely on him too much if they don't have to. The Bills will need to keep Jones under wraps and prevent him from moving the chains. Do that, and we might get to see some Sanchez turnovers again.
Keep up the intensity and confidence: The Bills have looked like a different team under Fewell. His energy and controlling presence on the sidelines have really given a spark to his players. In what is expected to be a sterile environment in Toronto, Bills players will again need to dig deep and continue playing tough, confident ball. If they come out flat and play without any passion, this could be one boring game.
It's kind of cool getting a Bills game in prime time on a Thursday, isn't it? The Bills could move to 3-2 in the division with a sweep of the Jets in front of a "nation television audience." My advice to you all is to get through the work day as soon as possible, grab some Labatt's and plant yourself on the couch to root for the Bills on foreign soil. Go Bills, eh?