The Jets ran all over the Bills to the tune of 182 yards in Week 3 - and Chris Ivory was barely a factor (five yards on four carries). Now, Ivory is the top running back. How has he changed the Jets' running game?
Butchko: The Ivory we saw against New Orleans was the player the Jets thought they were trading for a guy who can carry the offense. He ran through arm tackles, got to the corner when he bounced outside, and showed a second gear. Was that his breakout game, or an isolated performance against a bad run defense (with extra motivation going against his old team)? Only time will tell. Two weeks earlier, Ivory gained over 100 yards, but with a low average per carry. He did seem to wear New England down in that game, though, and was strongest in the fourth quarter and overtime.
The Jets could really use an effective Ivory to take the pressure off Geno Smith. It's unclear whether he's changed the run game for good at this point. We'll find out more Sunday.
Very few fans in Buffalo have been surprised by how quickly David Nelson has emerged as a valuable target for Geno Smith. Santonio Holmes is likely to return this weekend; with that in mind, how much of a factor will Nelson be on Sunday?
Butchko: Smith has shown no hesitancy to throw contested balls Nelson's way. In what little we have seen, Nelson appears to know how to use his big frame to gain position and get those balls. It isn't just Holmes returning Sunday. Jeff Cumberland should be back from a concussion, and Kellen Winslow returns from suspension. This could limit the number of targets Nelson gets.
Let's give you an opportunity to gush: tell us how excited Jets fans are about a defensive line that is already one of the best in the league, with six players capable of consistently winning one-on-one matchups, and four of which are still under 25 years old.
Butchko: I'm not going to lie. It's pretty awesome. Muhammad Wilkerson has been lining up everywhere on the defensive line and dominating against the pass and the run no matter where he has been. Damon Harrison, a second year undrafted guy out of William Penn, has come out of nowhere to become one of the best nose tackles in the league. He just doesn't lose assignments. Sheldon Richardson has been surprisingly effective as a run stuffer, and he has a burst you usually don't see out of 300-pound men. Kenrick Ellis and Leger Douzable have played effectively in reserve roles.
The only question mark is Quinton Coples, the 2012 first rounder. The Jets drafting Richardson pushed him outside to the edge. Between his new role and an injury in preseason, he has struggled. He did, however, play his strongest game of the year right before the bye against the Saints with multiple hits on Drew Brees and a huge tackle for a loss on a fourth down play. If he has turned the corner, the Jets might have the best young defensive line in football in the second half of this season.
The last time these two teams met, the Jets committed an astonishing 20 penalties, and very nearly handed the Bills a win despite dominating in every phase of the game. Have the Jets since cleaned up their penalty tendencies, or is that an ongoing issue?
Butchko: There haven't been any other games approaching 20 penalties, but they have still been an issue. The Jets have the second most penalties in the league, and their average per game still rates among the highest even if you take out that 20 penalty performance. Presnap penalties have been a huge problem. The Jets have the most in the NFL on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. The defensive penalties might have something to do with the play of the defensive line we mentioned above. The unit has made some big plays by timing and jumping the snap. They have been very aggressive, but that has also resulted in a number of offsides penalties.
If the playoffs started today, the Jets would be a playoff team. They're currently at the top of a long list of middling AFC teams thanks in large part to their excellent defense and solid running game. Geno Smith has had long stretches of good play, but has also paced the Jets in what is currently a minus-10 turnover differential. Can the Jets sustain their playoff momentum without more consistent play from their rookie quarterback?
Butchko: I guess it would be easy to say, "If they are the six seed today with those issues, surely they can stay the six seed." I don't really believe that, though. There is a logjam of teams fighting for the last playoff spot, and one of them is probably going to put together a long winning streak to claim the spot in the second half. For it to be the Jets, they are going to have to clean up the problems they have, and that starts with taking care of the football.