What was once pegged as a battle between two hopeless bottom-feeders has developed into an intriguing matchup that could potentially hold playoff implications.
Buffalo has been a relatively easy opponent for the Jets in recent years, as it has had quarterback issues of its own without the benefit of fielding a quality defense to keep games close—until now. For the first time in years, the Bills finally have some direction at the quarterback position and a coaching staff that gets the most out of their personnel.
Let's break down what the Jets need to do in order to secure their second home win of the season and keep themselves in the AFC East title race.
Stopping C.J. Spiller
The Jets are two-for-two when it comes to bottling up young studs at the running back position, but keeping C.J. Spiller contained is a completely different task than stopping Doug Martin or Stevan Ridley, as good as they are.
What separates Spiller from the previous backs the Jets have faced this year is his incredible agility, burst and most of all, speed. As a threat to score from anywhere on the field, Spiller can take runs that would result in four or five yards for most running backs and turn them into huge plays by escaping through gaps before defenders can fill them in a reasonable amount of time.
Just how fast is Spiller? Most running back would have been met by one of these linebackers to be brought down for a solid four- or five-yard gain.
Spiller, however, is able to beat the linebacker to the edge and get to the second level.
Finally, it appears to be the end of the line for Spiller, as a safety coming downhill should be able to catch him…right? Right?
Spiller covers so much ground that he beat the safety to the edge, picking up even more yardage before he is finally chased down for a 46-yard gain. Spiller is able to do this because he was such little movement breaking in and out of his cuts, allowing him to run at full speed all the way through.
The Panthers’ defenders took “conventional” angles to bring down Spiller—and they got burned. Treating Spiller like an ordinary back is only going to turn small mistakes into touchdowns.
If the Jets do allow Spiller to get to the edge and get a nice gain, the safeties on the back end need to take conservative angles that may not be perfect but prevent Spiller from turning a 10-yard run into an 80-yard scamper.
Contain EJ Manuel
Manuel has proved his doubters wrong over the past two weeks by being inches away from a perfect 2-0 record, but that does not mean the Jets should treat him like a seasoned veteran.
Instead, the Jets should treat him like just about any other rookie quarterback getting ready to start his third regular-season game—take away his option to run and force him to beat the defense with his arm.
Despite his big arm and mobility, the knock on Manuel coming out of Florida State was that he was a rather robotic thrower, which resulted in a lot of inaccuracies.
With clean pocket, Manuel is smooth and accurate. With muddied pocket, panicked and highly inaccurate.— NFL Philosophy (@NFLosophy) April 8, 2013
Rex Ryan should certainly mix up his coverages and do everything he can to confuse the rookie, but he should be careful about sending six or seven rushers in critical situations. One missed blitz or assignment can lead to disaster, just as the Jets saw firsthand when Vincent Jackson caught a huge pass in the fourth quarter of Week 1 that set up the go-ahead field goal.
A quarterback as strong and fast as Manuel may not be able to recognize blitzes perfectly just yet—but his ability to escape and make plays outside the pocket could lead to disaster if Ryan isn't careful.
While it may go against Ryan's preferred style, it may be in their best interest to rely on their improved four-man rush to do most of the work getting pressure with some timely blitzes sprinkled as opposed to the other way around.
Get Rid of the Football
Geno Smith’s tendency to hold on to the football for too long was on full display on Thursday night, as he took four sacks that were largely due to his inability to get rid of the ball in a reasonable amount of time.
Going against a Bills front four that features Mario Williams (who had 4.5 sacks last week) and two stud defensive tackles in Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus, Smith will have to get rid of the ball much more quickly if he is going to complete more than half of his passes for the first time since Week 2.
Granted, New York's receiving corps needs a lot of work, but Smith needs to find a way to get rid of the ball somehow. Here, he takes a deep drop with a clean pocket in front of him…
…but for some reason, he decides to drop back four more yards. Not only does this make it more difficult on the tackles to build a pocket by pushing pass-rushers behind them, but it also makes Smith’s throw further and more difficult than it needs to be.
Smith has two dump-off targets to the side, but he still cannot decide what he wants to do with the ball.
As a result, he is eventually sacked for a huge loss.
Let’s take a look at what Geno had to work with:
His best option was Stephen Hill, who, despite his issues with drops, has a significant size advantage over the corner who was covering him. If Geno was intent on ignoring his dump-off options, he had a good chance of picking up a big gain with a jump ball to Hill.
The least Smith could have done was escape the pocket and throw the ball out of bounds to prevent the big loss of yardage.
If the New England Patriots were able to make the Jets pay for Smith’s miscues with their above-average front, the Bills, combined with the innovative tactics of defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, will certainly be able to feast on every misstep Smith takes.
Outside of Smith just improving on his own, there are a handful of tactics the Jets can utilize in order to get their quarterback playing faster. Quick slants and screen passes may be predictable when playing against a rookie quarterback, but they are usually simple reads that minimize a strong pass rush.
Perhaps Smith will be a more efficient player with two games under his belt and playing at home. If he reverts back to his old mistakes, however, the Jets simply will not be able to sustain any kind of offense through the air.
No matter what kind of game plan the Jets put together on either side of the ball, this will not be another automatic tally in the win column like most Bills games are to teams across the NFL. The Bills are more dynamic and progressive-thinking on both sides of the ball, and the Jets have to be on their toes for just about anything.