Friday, November 15, 2013
W2W4: Jets at Bills
By Mike Rodak
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- It's hard to believe, but the Buffalo Bills' home schedule is nearing an end.
In what will be their second-to-last game at Ralph Wilson Stadium this season, the 3-7 Buffalo Bills will try to snap a three-game losing streak as they host the 5-4 New York Jets.
Like the first meeting between the two teams, when the Jets came away with a 27-20 win, there are are plenty of storylines in this one: two divisional opponents, two rookie quarterbacks, and two defensive minds -- Jets head coach Rex Ryan and Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine -- who are all too familiar with one another.
The pressure is on rookie quarterback EJ Manuel to show marked improvement throughout the Bills' remaining games.
Here's what to watch for:
1. How does Manuel bounce back? With the Bills' playoff hopes on the ropes, this is a game where fans want to see improvement not only for what's left in this season, but for next season. No player needs to get better more than EJ Manuel, who is coming off a disappointing outing in Pittsburgh. The Bills made it clear this week that they're going to let Manuel take his lumps and keep him on the field, so it remains highly unlikely that another sub-par performance would jeopardize his starting job. Still, the Bills' decision-makers would obviously prefer coming out next week and celebrating Manuel's progress rather than having to come to his defense once again.
2. Who catches passes? With Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods both out for Sunday's game, the Bills' passing offense, already among the NFL's worst, is in a major bind. The pressure will be on T.J. Graham to help fill the void, but the reality is, Graham hasn't proven to be much more than a speedy, deep threat. If he can show some versatility as a receiver capable of working the underneath part of the field, it will take pressure off Manuel. Otherwise, the Bills will have to turn to rookie Marquise Goodwin, another speed demon, or Chris Hogan and Marcus Easley, who have limited experience on offense. The odds are heavily stacked against Manuel with his group of receivers.
3. Getting to Geno: The strength of the Bills is their defensive line and pass rush, so if they want to take heat off the offense, forcing Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith to turn the ball over is a great place to start. Smith has been sacked 30 times, fourth-most in the NFL, while he has been intercepted 13 times, third-most in the NFL. The Bills have forced just one turnover in their past three games, and putting pressure on Smith is one way to force him into mistakes. Smith wasn't sacked in the teams' first meeting this season.
4. Monitoring Gilmore: Big plays were a big reason why the Bills lost in the Meadowlands back in September. Smith had four completions of 40 yards or more, targeting a hobbled Bills secondary that was without Stephon Gilmore. This time around, Gilmore is healthy and back at his post as the Bills' top cornerback. The problem for Buffalo, however, is that opposing quarterbacks haven't been afraid to throw at Gilmore in recent weeks. Pettine's defense requires cornerbacks with strong man-to-man coverage skills. Gilmore has that ability and as much potential as any cornerback in the NFL; he'll just need to step his game up Sunday. More successful deep passes or long catch-and-runs will hamper a defense that is getting good play from its front seven.