It's a little too easy, for my taste, to simply blame the Bills' loss in their first game of the 2012 campaign on their four turnovers. I suppose you could just blame Ryan Fitzpatrick, who accounted for three of those turnovers with awful interceptions, and I wouldn't argue with you at all.
But above and beyond that, I believe this game was won and lost in the teams' respective game plans. Divisional foes are like old sparring partners, they know each other's strengths, weaknesses and habits in the ring.
What sets teams apart in divisional games, aside from roster talent, is the coach's ability to develop a game plan that's smart enough to capitalize on those weaknesses and score the clean shots that give one team the advantage.
The Bills were outscored by 20 points even after scoring two meaningless touchdowns in garbage time. It should be pretty obvious where this is going.
The Jets' brain trust of Rex Ryan and Tony Sparano thoroughly outsmarted the Bills' Chan Gailey and Dave Wannstedt, and that trend ain't nothing new. Gailey now has a 1-8 record against Ryan's Jets and Sparano's ex, the Miami Dolphins.
Here's how they did it this time:
Double-team Mario Williams
When unproven Austin Howard wasn't allegedly slapping Williams in the face, the Jets often used former No. 2 overall draft-pick bust Jason Smith in a tight end role to double down. Whatever the case, the Jets effectively neutralized Buffalo's best chance to rush the passer and Sanchez had all the time he needed to find wide open receivers all afternoon.
Use Run Game as a Decoy
The Jets figured the Bills would be preparing their defense to stop the run, given Sparano and Ryan's recent success rushing against the Bills. The Jets also probably were familiar with the game tape from the Bills-Broncos game of Christmas Eve 2011, in which the Bills shut Tebow's run attack down. No one expected Sanchez to air it out, least of all the Bills' secondary who were hung out to dry by the likes of Jeremy Kerley and rookie Stephen Hill, by far was the best rookie on the field.
Don't Throw to Dustin Keller
Who knows if this was strategy or if it had to do with Keller's injury? I suspect a little of both. In their two meetings in 2011, Keller caught eight passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns. Tight ends like Keller have killed the Bills in recent years and the Bills most likely game-planned to try and stop it. In this game, Keller had one catch and Jairus Byrd looked like a fish out of water all afternoon.
Attack the Secondary
I wish I could single out players in the Bills' secondary that the Jets' victimized, but the truth is that they all had a rough day. Early reports from training camp that Leodis McKelvin was dominant as a slot cornerback gave hope to fans who already knew that McKelvin has issues covering passes on the outside. On the Jets' first touchdown, they simply had their slot receiver, Jeremy Kerley, run an outside route and Sanchez tossed it over McKelvin's admirable, but failed, attempt to swat it away.
Make Spiller Fumble
On C.J. Spiller's 56-yard touchdown run, Jets' linebacker Bart Scott had the best chance to catch Spiller but he instead put all his energy into trying to strip the ball from Spiller's right arm, coming up empty. Later, when Spiller caught a 20-yard pass down the field, Jets' safety Yeremiah Bell tackled him from behind and jarred the ball free. Spiller has fumbled five times now in his low-mileage career. While all defensive players are drilled to go for strips, those two plays tipped me off that maybe they had something a little extra in Spiller's scouting report.
Dare Fitzpatrick to Sling
The New York Jets' secondary seemed more in touch with Gailey's playbook than Fitzpatrick. They knew the Bills wouldn't be scared to target Revis, and that cost them. They knew the Bills would try to establish rhythm with short passes to receiver in the spread formation, and that cost them too. The Jets' were one step ahead of the Bills and a lot of that is coaching. If Fitzpatrick could have nailed some deeper throws to keep them honest, it may have been a different story.
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