The New York Jets (5-4) are in full-blown grudge mode as they prepare to take on the struggling Buffalo Bills (3-7) in Week 11. Gang Green is about to endure a legitimate playoff race in which they stand a terrific chance to earn a berth.
The Jets' journey toward the promised land officially gets underway on Sunday, when they'll travel upstate to challenge a divisional rival. A win for the Jets would launch the team to a season-high two games over the .500-mark. It would also represent the first time in the Jets' previous 28 contests that they've won consecutive games under head coach Rex Ryan.
The Bills have struggled under first-year head coach Doug Marrone, losing three consecutive games while failing to execute at an efficient level on offense. Buffalo now prepares to face a "salty" defense, led by beastly defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson and nose tackle Damon Harrison. For the Jets to upend the Bills and win an unheralded second straight contest, they need to rely upon their strengths: running the football, stuffing the run on defense and neutralizing the opposition's best receiving target.
Chris Ivory (Jets' RB) vs. Bills D-line
Jets running back Chris Ivory enjoyed his best game in a green and white uniform against his former team, the New Orleans Saints (7-2), in a crucial Week 9 win. Ivory rushed for 139 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. He's displayed consistent signs of increased durability, leading to the donning of a new cowbell back in New York.
The Jets rank ninth in the NFL in rushing offense, averaging 129 yards on the ground per game. Running the football has been a staple of the Jets offense during the Ryan era. It's a strong-suit that appropriately complements the team's defense.
Buffalo surrenders over 117 rushing yards per game, a weakness that New York will assuredly attempt to exploit on Sunday. The Jets racked up 513 yards of total offense in their Week 3 win over the Bills, including 182 rushing yards. New York only eked out the win by a touchdown though, largely because they committed an eye-popping total of 20 penalties.
The Bills 4-3 base defense is headed by All-Pro defensive lineman Mario Williams, who has played exceptionally well through 10 games in 2013. Williams has already recorded 11 sacks on the season. At 6'6'' and 290 pounds, he features an uncanny ability to explode off the edge and pummel ball carriers.
Williams typically lines up on the blindside, which means he'll sometimes tangle with rookie left guard Brian Winters on Sunday. If the Jets are going to effectively execute a run-oriented game plan against the Bills, they need to prevent Williams from wreaking havoc in the backfield.
Fred Jackson vs. Jets D-line
Bills running back Fred Jackson has done a solid job of handling a bulk of the workload on offense in the absence of banged-up tailback C.J. Spiller and rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel. Jackson will be hard-pressured to efficiently run the football against the Jets' vaunted rush defense in Week 11 though. New York ranks No. 1 against the run, giving up a meager total of 73.8 yards per game.
If the Jets can stuff the run in typical fashion against the Bills on Sunday, Manuel will be forced to make more throws than the Bills would ideally like. Manuel completed 19 of 42 pass attempts for 243 yards and a touchdown against the Jets in Week 3. He also ran for 40 yards on six carries. He's a versatile playmaking threat, but hasn't developed the type of consistency necessary to win on a frequent basis in the NFL.
Jackson rushed for 72 yards on 10 carries against the Jets in Week 3, although a bulk of that total came on one blazing rush attempt. Jackson sprinted up the middle for 59 yards on a third-and-short in the first quarter, leading to a field goal. It will be crucial for the Jets to limit Jackson's explosiveness, which means nose tackle Damon "Big Snacks" Harrison needs to clog the middle.
Harrison has been a big-time playmaker on defense for the Jets, forcing Jackson to fumble in the fourth quarter of the Jets' Week 3 triumph. At 340 pounds, Harrison is more than a handful for the opposition to block. He's a game-changer for the Jets and a large proponent of a run-stuffing defense.
Antonio Cromartie (Jets' CB) vs. T.J. Graham (Bills' WR)
Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie struggled through the first eight games of the 2013 season, combating multiple nagging injuries that prevented him from performing at a peak level. Cromartie showcased excellent coverage skills against the Saints' vaunted air attack in Week 9 though, effectively complementing the Jets' premier pass rush.
The Jets currently give up 251.4 passing yards per game, ranking 24th in the NFL. That number is somewhat inflated, given that teams often rely heavily on the pass against the Jets due to their stout rush defense. Cromartie would draw the matchup against Steve Johnson if the six-year veteran were able to play. Johnson has been hampered by a groin injury and didn't not participate in practice on Wednesday, according to the Bill's official injury report.
If Johnson doesn't play, Cromartie will be responsible for shutting down T.J. Graham, who has performed at a minuscule level in comparison to his veteran teammate, catching 16 passes for 198 yards and no touchdowns. Johson has recorded 24 first downs and 145 yards after catch. The Bills are banged-up on offense, which means neutralizing Graham could completely stall Buffalo's offense.
The Bills will also be without No. 2 receiver Robert Woods, who possesses game-changing speed but hasn't been outrageously electric in his rookie season. Woods has caught 26 passes on 61 targets this season, struggling to develop chemistry with Bills quarterbacks. He's totaled 349 total receiving yards, but only 65 yards after catch.
The Jets' brute style of gameplay is dependent upon dominant defensive efforts. New York should ultimately be able to manhandle the Bills if they're able to prevent the big play.