The Bills signed Williams and former New England Patriot DE Mark Anderson to lucrative contracts this offseason, and the pass-rushing pair (coupled with DT Marcel Dareus) should lead what looks like the best defensive line in football.
They've also got playmakers on offense: the two-headed rushing attack of Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller is tough for opposing defenses to adjust to, and Stevie Johnson is a top-flight wideout (when he keeps his antics in-check).
Let's take a look at how the Jets might be able to stop the upstart Bills and deliver a statement win in Week 1.
Find Creative Ways to Slow Mario Williams
Jets fans, for better or worse, are about to learn a lot about RT Austin Howard.
Howard is an unknown quantity. He's a 2010 undrafted free-agent who has bounced around from the Eagles to the Ravens and now the Jets in three years. He beat out former-Jet Wayne Hunter for the starting tackle position.
Howard's size (6'7") and agility (he's a former TE) are assets, but according to his 2010 Sports Illustrated draft profile, he has technique issues that result in a failure to sustain blocks:
"He gets lazy with his hands at times and does not stick them into defenders. Does not finish blocks and tends to fall off defenders."
He'll be tasked with blocking the relentless Mario Williams, a pass rusher that just received the largest contract ever for a defensive player.
Even if it helps slow Williams, there are two problems with this strategy.
First, leaving Keller in to block takes away Mark Sanchez's favorite receiving target. Second, double-teaming Williams likely leaves one of the Bills' other linemen with an easy path to the quarterback.
There's one simple set the Jets could run that might solve both problems.
Rather than having Keller block through the whistle, Jets' OC Tony Sparano could have Keller simply chip Williams, then head out into the flat for a pass. If Sanchez bootlegs towards Williams' side of the field, it will buy him some time to escape pass rushers from his blindside. This simplifies Sanchez's reads, as he'll only need to survey the right side of the field.
Even if Williams gets by Howard, Sanchez should be able to find Keller or a RB on a drag route.
It's a set that can only be run so many times before the Bills flood that side of the field, but it could be effective in setting the Bills' ferocious pass rush back on his heels.
Slowing that pass rush is crucial to the Jets' keeping Sanchez in one piece, and this is one way they might do it.
Keep a Safety Over the Top on Stevie Johnson
It’s true, this strategy runs contrary to the whole concept of Revis Island.
Still, if there is one player that matches up well with Jets’ CB Darrelle Revis, it’s Stevie Johnson. Johnson torched Revis (by the CB’s lofty standards) for 11 catches, 159 yards and a touchdown in two games last season. It would have been more if it weren’t for a TD-saving tackle by former Jet Brodney Pool, and one or two bone-headed drops by Johnson himself.
Johnson is able to use his quickness and athleticism to break free from Revis’ jams at the line of scrimmage, at which point he can use his jailbreak speed to establish separation. Revis can’t shut down Johnson on his own.
Given the Bills personnel, he shouldn’t have to.
Put simply, the Bills have few viable receiving options between the 20s outside of Johnson. The rest of their pass-catching weaponry is well-suited to the red zone, including TE Scott Chandler and big slot-receiver David Nelson. But neither of these options are elite route-runners or threats in the open field.
Their starting WR opposite Johnson is Donald Jones, who has yet to catch more than 23 passes in a season, and missed half of last year with an ankle injury.
That’s hardly enough to counter the Jets’ formidable defense, which has ranked in the top-five in yards-allowed-per-game each of the last seasons.
Keeping a veteran safety like Yeremiah Bell shaded towards Johnson’s side of the field to help Revis seems like the best way for the Jets to stop the Bills’ only receiving threat.
After all, Revis can always return to his Island next Sunday.
Contain the Bills RBs on the Outside
Though Williams and Johnson pose huge problems, the biggest mismatch in the Bills’ favor might come on the ground.
The Jets have a talented but aging linebacker corps that includes Calvin Pace, Bryan Thomas, and Bart Scott, who are all on the wrong side of 30. As a group, they’re strong and aggressive but lack the athleticism to set the edge with consistency.
The Bills counter with two playmaking runners in Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller, who are adept at bouncing the play outside and turning upfield.
When they’re in a nickel (five defensive back) package, the Jets may want their two on-field linebackers to play zone defense behind each C-gap (outside the tackles). Then they can leave a quicker defensive back to play press-man coverage on the RB if he heads out into the flat for a pass. If it’s a run play, the linebackers will already be cheating to the outside to set the edge effectively.
Of course, the entire success of this strategy relies on the Jets’ D-line holding their gaps and shedding blocks quickly to force the RB to the outside.
Thankfully for the Jets, the talent on their D-line is capable of doing just that.
Bills’ castoff Aaron Maybin, stout DT Sione Pouha, and DE Muhammad Wilkerson anchor a great Jets’ line. They’ve also got Kenrick Ellis, who has shed blocks with ease in preseason, and first-rounder Quinton Coples, who has displayed a nice motor early on.
With four former first-rounders on their line, the Jets absolutely have the skill, strength and athleticism to hold the line against the Bills and force Spiller and Jackson into the hands of waiting linebackers.
They can also bring a run-stopping safety like LaRon Landry into the box to help slow the Bills' rushing attack.
If the Jets can stop the run, they’ll be able to get the Bills’ offense off the field quickly, and tire out Buffalo’s aggressive D.
That should be enough to lead the Jets to a Week 1 win on Sunday.