- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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Some observations after reviewing the tape of the Jets' 27-20 win over the Bills:
The Jets controlled the game in several areas, but the most dominant unit was the defensive line. This is a young, talented group with swagger.
"We want to be the best in the league, nothing short of it," rookie DT Sheldon Richardson said Monday. Asked where he sees the line in, say, eight weeks from now, Richardson replied, "We should be doing the same thing we're doing now -- dominating."
What made the eight-sack performance so impressive was that most of the pressure was generated by the line. Rex Ryan didn't have to rely on exotic pressure schemes to rattle rookie QB EJ Manuel; the front four did the trick by itself. Let's take a closer look:
Seven of the eight sacks came with the four-man rush -- and we're not talking about tricked-up, four-man rushes, either. Five of those seven sacks were accomplished with the usual cast of characters among the rushers, meaning defensive linemen and rush linebackers such as Quinton Coples, Antwan Barnes, Calvin Pace and Garrett McIntyre. They blitzed inside linebackers David Harris and/or DeMario Davis on only two sacks and there were no defensive-back blitzes. Yes, safety Antonio Allen recorded a sack, but he cleaned up from a shallow zone in pass coverage.
I'd say three of them were definite coverage sacks, as Manuel was forced to hold the ball at least 5 seconds. Two of the unsung heroes were Harris (one sack, three tackles for loss) and Coples (two QB hits, one tackle for loss). At times, Harris appeared to be in a "spy" role, lurking behind the rush and mirroring Manuel's movements in the pocket. Coples, in his 2013 debut, applied pressure in certain instances that freed up teammates for sacks.
It's interesting how the defense has evolved over the past couple of years. The back end used to be strong enough to compensate for the lack of a pass rush, but now the front four appears strong enough to camouflage some obvious deficiencies in the secondary.
Air Geno: Unofficially, Geno Smith was 5-for-7 on passes that traveled 20 or more yards in the air. In fact, the Jets ended up with four pass plays of at least 40 yards, two shy of last season's total. It was exciting, a rare bombs-away attack by the Jets. But let's keep things in perspective. We're not talking about the reincarnation of the "Greatest Show on Turf" here.
The air show resulted from the confluence of a few factors. The Bills' defense, under former Ryan protégé Mike Pettine, played a lot of press-man coverage with a single-high safety, straight out of the Ryan playbook. The problem with that approach is that it doesn't work if you don't have the cornerbacks. Because of injuries, the Bills played with two second-string corners. Pettine never adjusted; he continued to play aggressive man-to-man instead of going conservative. Even the Jets' receiving corps, as maligned as it is, was good enough to win its share of one-on-one matchups -- with the help of terrific pass protection.
It's good that offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has enough confidence in Smith to let him sling it, but he's smart enough to take what the defense gives him. Against the Bucs and Patriots, teams that used mostly two-safety looks, the Jets weren't nearly as aggressive down the field. In fact, they had only two pass plays more than 30 yards in the first two games.
Geno's best moment: The 69-yard touchdown to Santonio Holmes garnered the headlines (after all, it was the game-winner), but Smith's best play of the season was his 51-yard scoring strike to Stephen Hill.
Smith was hammered by DT Kyle Williams, who beat LG Vladimir Ducasse with an inside move, as he threw the ball. Smith saw him coming, yet still managed to set his feet and throw an accurate ball to Hill. That's a big-time play. Overshadowed on the play was the role of TE Kellen Winslow. He was chipped by two defenders on his release and held the attention of the safety in the middle of the field long enough to give Hill man-to-man coverage on the outside. The Bills showed a lot of respect to Winslow throughout the game, which helped create opportunities for others.
Odds and ends: Ryan likes to talk about how they're one of the few teams in the league that can use base personnel against three receivers. Well, they got burned on one play, when Allen was matched against WR Stevie Johnson. The result was a 23-yard completion. ... Scott Chandler's 33-yard TD reception is a bit of a mystery. The Jets dropped seven into coverage and forgot to cover the tight end. Pace jammed him at the line and passed him off, but no one picked him up. S Dawan Landry, in the deep middle, cheated to the opposite side and got spun around. If he had been more decisive, they probably would've tackled Chandler around the 10. ... Smith's 8-yard TD run, on a designed play, resulted from nice blocks by G Willie Colon and Winslow. It also was a niece piece of running by Smith, who had two safeties bearing down on him. He split the safeties and plowed into the end zone, with an assist from LB Kiko Alonso, who drilled Smith from behind and pushed him forward.