Friday, September 20, 2013
W2W4: Jets vs. Bills
By Rich Cimini
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- After a 10-day break, the New York Jets (1-1) play another AFC East game, facing the Buffalo Bills (1-1) Sunday at MetLife Stadium. Kickoff is 4:25 p.m., ET. The top storylines:
1. The Rookies: This could be the first of many meetings between Geno Smith and EJ Manuel. Chances are, one team will be able to sit back at the end of Sunday and say, "We picked the right guy." After two games, Manuel has been more efficient than Smith, but he's also being used differently. At 6-foot-4, 237 pounds, Manuel is an oversized point guard, leading a fastbreak offense. (The Bills average one play every 22 seconds, the fastest offense in the league.) He's basically a dink-and-dunk passer, having completed 75 percent of his throws under 10 yards (39-for-52), according to ESPN Stats & Information. Manuel doesn't stretch the field that often.
The Jets should take that approach with Smith, who has struggled on downfield passes. In fact, three of his four interceptions have come on throws of at least 15 yards. This is a big game for Smith, who encountered his first taste of adversity last week in New England. Will that affect his confidence? He says no, but that's what they all say. We'll find out Sunday. For trivia geeks, this mark the second game in Jets history with two rookies starting at quarterback. The first occurred during the 1987 strike, when replacement players David Norrie and Kevin Sweeney (Dallas Cowboys) faced off in an forgettable battle.
Mike Pettine spent 11 years with Rex Ryan before becoming the defensive coordinator in Buffalo.
2. Rex vs. Rex Lite: This game could be decided by which defensive play caller (Rex Ryan or former Jets coordinator Mike Pettine) does a better job of creating misery for the opposing rookie quarterback. Ryan and Pettine, who spent 11 years together, are likeminded coaches in that they like to bring pressure and create confusion at the line of scrimmage.
Manuel is a cool customer -- an 88-percent completion rate under pressure, according to ProFootballFocus -- but you can bet Ryan will hit him with something he's never seen before. The knock on Manuel coming out of Florida State was that he's a one-read quarterback. In other words, shut down his first progression, make him hold the ball and he's liable to make a mistake. Meanwhile, Smith has demonstrated poor pocket presence at times. If Pettine can muddy the pocket, it'll probably lead to bad decisions by Smith.
3. Marty's dilemma: Conventional wisdom says the Jets should protect Smith by emphasizing the ground game, hardly the strength of the Buffalo defense. But Marty Mornhinweg is infatuated with the pass (he actually thinks a pass-run ratio of 63-37 is a lot of running in his offense), and he will be tempted to attack a beat up Bills secondary. They won't have cornerback Stephon Gilmore, and there's a good chance safety Jairus Byrd will miss the game as well. This could be a breakout game for Santonio Holmes, who unlike some of his fellow receivers, can actually catch the ball.
4. Austin needs power: Right tackle Austin Howard, in his first start for the Jets, made defensive end Mario Williams look pedestrian in last season's opener. In fact, Williams was held sackless in two games against the Jets. Ah, but now he's coming off a career game (a team-record 4.5 sacks) and he'll be looking for payback. Howard needs to eat his Wheaties because this will be a power-on-power matchup.
Williams used his bull rush last week, abusing Carolina Panthers right tackle Byron Bell. Williams finished with 11 hurries, according to ProFootballFocus, but he also received help from excellent coverage. Three of the five sacks were coverage sacks, with Cam Newton holding the ball for at least five seconds on each play. Memo to Geno Smith: Don't do that or else you'll be on the ground. A lot.
5. Here comes Spiller: The Jets' run defense, a problem last season, has improved considerably. In the first two games, they held Doug Martin and Stevan Ridley -- both 1,200-yard rushers in 2012 -- to a combined 105 yards and 2.6 per carry. Bills running back C.J. Spiller presents a different challenge because ... well, he's so damn fast. The Jets know all about Spiller, who produced 325 yards from scrimmage against them last season. He will test their perimeter run defense and he could be a major headache when he's split out as a receiver.
Speedy linebacker Demario Davis could play a huge role in their plans to contain Spiller, who has only two rushing touchdowns in his last 12 games -- a curious slump. The Jets can't forget about running back Fred Jackson. The Bills are gashing defenses (7.6 yards per rush) when running Jackson out of a one-back, three-receiver spread formation. In those situations, Davis and fellow linebacker David Harris will have to excel in space.