5 Matchups to Watch During Bills-Jets Game
Gang Green went 8-8 last season and didn't do much to upgrade their roster besides adding the gimmicky Tim Tebow and his relentless media circus.
Buffalo, a team that hasn't been to the postseason since 1999, was aggressive in its attempt to improve a weak squadron that went 6-10 in 2011.
While strong team efforts are needed to win in the NFL, specific individual performances are typically the catalyst to a victory.
One-on-one battles usually determine the winners on Sunday.
Let's take a look at the five most vital matchups to watch when the Bills take on the Jets to start the 2012 campaign.
Mario Williams vs. Austin Howard
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This matchup was precipitated this offseason when the Bills decided to upgrade their most glaring weakness—the pass rush—by aggressively pursuing and ultimately signing Mario Williams to a $100 million deal, while the Jets failed to address their most glaring weakness: the right tackle position.
Sure, Wayne Hunter, the target of vast criticism in 2011, is gone, but former practice squad member Austin Howard, a guy who's started four games in his career, has taken Hunter's spot for this severely vital one-on-one matchup in the season-opener.
There's no getting around it—Williams is one of the league's most physically-gifted edge-rushers, and the Bills will undoubtedly look to exploit the inexperienced Howard as much as possible.
If Williams consistently beats Howard en route to quarterback Mark Sanchez, it may very well be a long, agonizing and humiliating day for the Jets, who are under immense pressure this season.
If Howard holds his own and Williams is kept at bay, Sanchez and the New York offense could be much more efficient throughout the duration of this divisional contest.
Marcell Dareus/Kyle Williams vs. Nick Mangold
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As if dealing with Mario Williams wasn't enough of a daunting task, the Jets must stymie Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams, two guys who arguably formulate the most ferocious defensive tackle tandems in the NFL.
Center Nick Mangold is a reigning four-time All-Pro, the league's preeminent center.
He will receive help from guards Matt Slauson and Brandon Moore, but that trio has yet to face Dareus and Williams simultaneously, as Williams was injured before the first game against the Jets in 2011.
With Mario Williams and Mark Anderson attacking off the edge, the interior offensive linemen of the Jets, especially the supremely talented Mangold, will have to hold strong against the Bills' powerful and deceptively agile duo of Dareus and Williams if they want to establish the "ground-and-pound" rushing offense we've heard about all summer and keep Sanchez upright.
Stephon Gilmore vs. Santonio Holmes
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There's a chance Stephon Gilmore will occasionally line up with Stephen Hill, but as he's assumed the Bills' No. 1 cornerback role, he'll likely match up with Santonio Holmes for the majority of the afternoon.
He was held in check last season in the two meetings with the Bills, totaling a combined five catches for 51 yards.
However, he did have two touchdown catches, including the eventual game-winner in the team's 28-24 Week 12 victory.
Gilmore's been lauded by his teammates and the Buffalo media as an NFL-ready cornerback who can make a significant impact in his rookie year, and he'll undoubtedly be tested by the nimble, crafty and historically clutch veteran wideout in the season opener.
Fred Jackson vs. Jets Front 7
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This intriguing matchup extends beyond the playing field and onto the sidelines, where defensive guru Rex Ryan will have the task of stopping one of the AFC's most versatile and elusive running backs, Fred Jackson.
He ran for 86 yards at 4.6 yards per carry and added three catches for 38 yards in his only appearance against New York last season, a 27-11 Week 9 loss.
Last year, the Bills demonstrated a propensity spread out the field and throw it often. Don't be surprised if Ryan Fitzpatrick's shortcomings lead to more emphasis on the running game for Buffalo in 2012.
Gailey will look to utilize Jackson (and C.J. Spiller) as creatively as possible, and Ryan look to counter with his relatively stout front seven.
Muhammad Wilkerson is a blossoming young star, and if he has no trouble fighting off blocks and forcing Jackson out of intended running lanes, it'll give the Jets defense ample time to bring Jackson to the turf before he picks up big chunks of yardage.
The availability of nose tackle Sione Puoha will have major implications on Ryan's gameplan and the effectiveness of the Jets front when attempting to slow down Jackson.
Steve Johnson vs. Darrelle Revis
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The matchup between Steve Johnson and Darrelle Revis may not be getting as much publicity as Mario Williams vs. Austin Howard, but it deserves the most attention.
In 2011, Johnson had unparalleled success against the league's best corner compared to nearly every other receiver in the NFL, having totaled 15 catches for 159 yards in two games against Revis.
Buffalo's top receiver has displayed an uncanny ability to beat press coverage—a staple of Revis' game—and an unconventional route-running style that helps him get open.
The Bills will likely run the ball to control the clock and rely on their defense, but you better believe they are relatively confident in Johnson in this matchup and will target him frequently.
Revis will shadow Johnson all afternoon and will look to take away Buffalo's most established and productive wideout in hopes of rendering the Bills' passing attack less dangerous.
Can Johnson piece together a solid game on Revis Island that leads to a win?