With three losses against upper-tier NFL squads under the belt, the beat up Buffalo Bills return to Ralph Wilson Stadium this weekend to face their first questionable opponent of the season. Unfortunately, that opponent is the 1-2 New York Jets, a playoff team in 2006 that routinely gives the Bills fits and picked up its first win last weekend with a 31-28 victory over the underrated Miami Dolphins.
Yet by all accounts, the 2007 Jets, led by second year head coach Eric Mangini, are not quite as powerful as they were last season. Chalk it up to a tougher schedule - the Jets' 2006 opponents collectively finished 120-136; thus far, their opponents are 5-4 (the 0-3 Dolphins dropped down that record a bit). The defense is struggling, there's a quarterback controversy brewing and Mangini's "Mangenius" moniker may soon be tossed to the wayside. Yet his Jets present a more-than-formidable challenge for the Bills this weekend; the Bills need to do three things to put themselves in position to pick up their first victory:
Offense: Make the Jets Move
While the Bills' defense has been awful (ranked dead last in the league), the Jets aren't far behind with their 28 ranking. New York is currently surrendering 386 yards per game and has given up 86 points in three weeks - 7 more than the Bills have allowed. Playing a 3-4 defense, the Jets have filled their lineup with some big, lumbering athletes that don't play as well in space. Kurupt said it best in a comment earlier this week:
That indeed is the big key: get the Jets' defense moving. Utilizing the misdirection on runs, screen passes to Lynch and Roscoe Parrish and maybe even a reverse or two will keep the as-of-now undisciplined Jets on their heels. Getting Edwards moving on a few rollouts will help as well, as it will limit the Jets' blitzing effectiveness and split the field in half for the rookie quarterback. If you make the game easier for Edwards, your chances to, you know, score double digit points skyrockets. Pound the rock, shift the defense and move the chains - sounds simple, right?
Players to Watch: QB Trent Edwards, RB Marshawn Lynch, WR Roscoe Parrish
Defense: Don't Sit Back
What has been the Bills' biggest problem defensively? That's obviously very debatable, and many are (correctly) pointing to third-down effectiveness. The Bills are notorious for starting off quickly on defense this season, but their inability to get off the field on third down (coupled with a horrible offense) has worn the defense down late in games. Until that area improves, the Bills will continue to struggle defensively.
But it won't be fixed this week. Why? Chad Pennington is that type of quarterback. If the Bills sit back in their usual soft zones (which is likely, considering the amount of reserves starting tomorrow), Pennington will have a field day hitting underneath routes, moving the chains and slowly eating away the clock. If the Bills want to compete, they'll play their base defense. If they want to win, however, they need to bring the heat - both on Pennington and on his receivers. Blitz Pennington - he can't beat you deep. Jam the receivers - they're good, but better in space. Run blitz - get defenders swarming around Thomas Jones and it erases his quickness and forces him to be a masher. Unless we force the issue here, the Jets could conceivably hold the ball for 40 minutes on Sunday.
Players to Watch: DT John McCargo, LB Leon Joe, CB Ashton Youboty
Special Teams: Be the X-Factor
Three weeks down, one big play. We know that the Bills' special teams are solid - and the fact that they've been performing well is even more impressive considering the amount of roster turnover the Bills have incurred since the start of the regular season. But we need more, and we need it soon.
The units will be helped out by the returns of Terrence McGee and Sam Aiken - both listed as probable this week after missing last week's game with rib and groin injuries, respectively. We need big plays from this unit, and not necessarily from the return men or our lovable punter, either - if the Bills can force a turnover with the kicking units, it would be very productive. Returns and field position are always important, and they'll be important Sunday, but if the Bills can force a Jets miscue from the high-powered Jets special teams, it will really help their chances.
Players to Watch: KR Terrence McGee, P Brian Moorman, WR Sam Aiken