Buffalo Bills vs. New York Jets: Full New York Game Preview
The game has been circled on Rex Ryan's calendar for quite some time. In fact, just as the ink was drying on his contract to become the new head coach of the Buffalo Bills, Ryan was likely circling with a fat red marker the first time his new team would play his old one, the New York Jets.
Well, the time has come.
On Thursday night, Ryan and the Bills will hit the road and travel to East Rutherford, New Jersey, where Todd Bowles and the Jets are waiting. Buffalo and New York will square off with second place in the AFC East on the line in prime time, just as Ryan would have it.
But truth be told, as much as every single storyline will be about Rex's return to MetLife, this game has just as much meaning to the Jets as it does to the son of Buddy.
So what's going to happen when the Bills and Jets meet? Here's what to watch for on Thursday night.
Date: Thursday, Nov. 12
Location: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey
Time: 8:25 p.m. ET
TV: NFL Network
Week 9 Recap
The Jets needed a victory last Sunday. It didn't matter how, as long they won. It could have been a blow out, it could have been a nail-biter, as long as the team's two-game skid was snapped.
“We won, that’s the biggest thing,” Jets coach Todd Bowles said after the game. “There were some sloppy things that we have to clean up, but we have to move on to Buffalo right now. We have a short week.”
Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, bum thumb and all, had a solid day, completing 21 of 34 passes for 272 yards with a pair of touchdowns and no interceptions. His day was even more impressive considering the fact that he had no run game to lean on. For the third straight game, running back Chris Ivory failed to get going, managing just 26 yards on 23 carries, though he did score a pair of one-yard touchdowns near the goal line.
Wideout Eric Decker caught six passes for 79 yards and a score, while Brandon Marshall snagged four for 44 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to seal the victory. Kenbrell Thompkins, who's had a nice two games since being called up from the practice squad, caught four passes for 45 yards.
On defense, the Jets secondary allowed Jaguars second-year quarterback Blake Bortles to throw for 381 yards and a pair of touchdowns but sacked him six times and recorded two interceptions, both by Marcus Williams. Rookie linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin led the pass rush, recording the first two sacks of his NFL career.
Kicker Nick Folk didn't attempt a single kick after injuring his quad on the opening kickoff and has since been placed on season-ending injured reserve. In his place, Ryan Quigley went 4-for-4 on extra-point attempts.
The victory for the Jets improved the team's record to 5-3 and gave them sole possession of second place in the AFC East. With Sunday's win also being the fifth of the season, the Jets have officially passed last year's win total.
News and Notes
With injuries piling up, will Jets take a step back?
The injuries are beginning to add up for the Jets. And the worst part? Those who are nicked up and missing time aren't exactly scrubs or reserves.
As the Jets prepare for Thursday's battle with Buffalo, there's a very real chance the team will be taking the field without starting cornerback Antonio Cromartie, starting right guard Willie Colon, starting safety Calvin Pryor, his backup Dion Bailey and second-string running back Bilal Powell.
Oh, the team will also be without kicker Nick Folk, who was placed on the season-ending injured reserve Tuesday. Wideouts Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker will play, but both are banged up, as is the case with center Nick Mangold.
Again, it's not a pretty situation in Florham Park.
In a way, the Jets are actually hurt more by the types of injuries their players have. In the case of a season-ending injury, New York could place said player on the injured reserve, end his season and free up a roster spot for someone to take his place. While that player likely wouldn't be as talented as the one placed on the IR, he would be an able body capable of filling in.
All those players on the injury report are suffering from ailments that will eventually heal and allow them to return to the field this season. That's good. But with the amount of players on the injury list, the Jets are suddenly dangerously thin at a ton of positions, with no healthy bodies to fill in while those banged up rest.
The perfect example? With Bailey and Pryor both suffering from high ankle sprains, the Jets have just two healthy safeties on the roster: Rontez Miles and Marcus Gilchrist. They have a safety on the practice squad, Ronald Martin, but in order to activate him, another player needs to be cut.
The issue with that? Again, because of the amount of injuries the Jets have, there just isn't any fat to trim to add another body.
Darrin Walls? Cromartie is hurt. Dakota Dozier? Mangold is hurt. Zac Stacy? Powell is hurt. Kenbrell Thompkins? Decker and Marshall are both hurt.
There's just no easy answer for Todd Bowles. It's one of the reasons the Jets coach was forced to IR Folk despite the fact his strained groin would only take four weeks to heal. New York simply couldn't afford to keep two kickers.
Against the Bills, it's imperative that those who take the field find a way to stay on it. The reason? There simply aren't any replacements to fill in if they have to come off.
Rex Ryan has been Ryan Fitzpatrick's nightmare
On a conference call with New York media, Bills coach Rex Ryan was asked his take on Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who's enjoying a pretty impressive season.
Through eight games, Fitzpatrick has completed 61.8 percent of his passes and thrown for 1,790 yards with 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He has a quarterback rating of 89.3.
"I like him," Ryan said. "I don't like the beard [laughs]. On paper—you know I'm saying it—I just don't like the beard. But you know he's a tough guy. He's the same guy he's always been, except he's a little more experienced. So that makes him more dangerous."
Hmm, Rex likes Ryan? That's, um, not really surprising. See, Rex has had "Fitzmagic's" number of late.
In Fitzpatrick's 11-year NFL career, he's faced a "Rex Ryan Coached Defense" nine times—once when Rex was the defensive coordinator of the Ravens, then eight times during Rex's tenure with the Jets. In those games, Fitzpatrick completed only 48 percent of his passes and threw just 12 touchdowns compared to seven interceptions.
Fitzpatrick's career record versus Rex? He's 3-6.
While Fitzpatrick isn't the "key" to the Jets offense, he's a big part of it, and with the run game struggling as it has been in recent weeks, the quarterback cannot afford to lay a dud on Thursday.
So will Fitzpatrick finally be able to turn this around against someone who's had his number for the last seven years? Only time will tell...
Set to start, can Marcus Williams continue surprisingly impressive sophomore season?
If you took someone who followed football for the last five years, hid him from watching a single game these past nine weeks and then asked him who would be leading the Jets in interceptions, you'd likely get one of three answers: Darrelle Revis, (the obvious choice), Antonio Cromartie (another pretty obvious choice) or Buster Skrine, (a little less obvious, but the argument could be made).
The one name you wouldn't get is the formerly undrafted and now second-year cornerback Marcus Williams. But through eight games, of which he's played seven, it's Williams whose name is atop the list of most picks this year.
Despite playing sporadically as a reserve corner and spot-duty safety, Williams is back to the ball-hawking ways that made him a campus legend at North Dakota State (he picked off 21 passes in four years). Playing just 276 snaps (281 less than Revis and 215 less than Cromartie), Williams leads the Jets with four interceptions.
Those four interceptions are accompanied by seven passes defensed, 17 combined tackles and half a sack, too.
Not bad. Not bad at all.
The fact is, with how well Williams is playing, it may not be long before he takes over for the struggling Cromartie. See, while Williams is putting up mind-blowingly good numbers, Cromartie is putting up mind-blowingly bad ones.
This year, according to Pro Football Focus, Cromartie has allowed 464 passing yards on 24 completions, six touchdowns and a QB rating of 135.3. The touchdown total is the second-highest among cornerbacks that have played at least 50 percent of their team's snaps; the QB rating is the worst in the NFL.
While he's played significantly fewer snaps, a quarterback's rating when testing Williams is a 58.8.
Speaking on Tuesday, Bowles said it "didn't look good" for Cromartie's chances to play Thursday due to a deep bruise in his thigh. In the likely scenario Cromartie doesn't suit up, Williams will be given the nod, according to Bowles. If Williams plays well, the spot may be his for the remainder of the year.
Cromartie's contract is worded in such a way that while it's a four-year, $32-million deal, nothing past this year is guaranteed. Williams could be the team's cornerback of the future.
And showing he's deserving of that spot could begin with a start Thursday night.
Latest Injury Report
Chart Codes: TBD (to be determined); DNP (did not practice); LP (limited); Probable (75 percent chance of playing); Questionable (50 percent chance of playing); Doubtful (25 percent chance of playing); Out (zero percent chance of playing)
Tuesday, Nov. 11 update: Speaking to the media, Bowles indicated that Willie Colon, Dion Bailey and Antonio Cromartie likely would not play Thursday; Nick Mangold will.
Jets offensive line vs. Bills defensive line
A season ago, the Jets and Bills squared off twice.
Neither game was pretty for those decked in green.
Buffalo won the two games by a combined score of 81-26. Both games were downright ugly from a Jets perspective. And a big reason Buffalo was so dominant was due in large part to the impact of its defensive line. Whether it was Geno Smith or Michael Vick, both quarterbacks were running for their lives for the majority of the two games' eight quarters.
The Jets line, which aside from James Carpenter remains largely the same from a season ago, allowed 10 quarterback sacks, six quarterback hits and 25 quarterback hurries to the Bills' Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes. While Kyle Williams won't play on Thursday, the other three will, and Jets center Nick Mangold says the team is getting ready.
"Shoot, you look at them and they're unbelievable," Mangold said. "They've got the speed, the power. [Dareus] is probably one of the best defensive tackles in the league. ... You look at Mario Williams, the freak he is, Jerry Hughes. They're loaded up front. It's going to be a big test for us."
Mangold said the Jets' key to slowing them will be how fundamentally sound they are up front. If New York makes even the slightest mistake in its technique, Buffalo will take advantage.
Helping the Jets just a bit, though? Mangold and Co. did practice against Rex's defense for quite a few years each and every day of training camp.
"Seeing it, you watch it enough in camp and spring and everything," Mangold said. "Seeing it as a team that you're going up against, you see little things you remember, and a few wrinkles added in. You can fall back a little on experiences, but we know Rex will come in with a whole bunch of different stuff."
Bills offense vs. Jets secondary
When the season began, and really through the first 30 percent of it, the Jets defense was as good as advertised. Maybe there was a play or two given up here or there, but for the most part, the back end was as shutdown as everyone thought it would be when Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, Buster Skrine and Marcus Gilchrist were brought in during the offseason.
But over the last three weeks, things have changed, and not for the better. Derek Carr, Tom Brady and Blake Bortles have made a mockery of a group that once considered itself the league's best.
How bad has it been? In their last 12 quarters of football, the Jets secondary has allowed 1,069 yards and eight touchdown passes while intercepting just two.
That's actually not bad—it's horrible. And Bowles? Well, he's not concerned. Not one bit.
"They weren't missed assignments," Bowles said. "They were just mental busts. The assignments were there, we just had mental busts. I understand it's situational football."
While he's dealt with injuries this year, when Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor has been under center, Buffalo's offense has been quite good. And with second-year receiver Sammy Watkins now recovered from his knee injury, things are just getting better.
The Jets are going to need their secondary not only Thursday but for the remainder of the year. Can the team step up? Or will the Jets who have taken the field the last three weeks be the team we'll see in the final seven?
For better or worse, the Jets are about to see what Rontez Miles is really made of.
A fan favorite, Miles has been a member of the Jets ever since he signed with the team as an undrafted free agent out of California PA in 2013. He's been on the team's practice squad each of the last two years and a portion of this season but now suddenly finds himself a potential starter for Thursday night.
Known for his hustle and nonstop motor, Miles is one of just two healthy safeties on the Jets roster. Calvin Pryor, the team's starter, and Dion Bailey, the team's backup, are both nursing high ankle injuries and have yet to practice this week. Speaking on Tuesday, Bowles wasn't exactly optimistic either would play.
That leaves, by default, Miles and Marcus Gilchrist.
Prior to last Sunday's game against the Jaguars, Miles was activated to give the Jets a little insurance at said safety position. He played primarily on special teams early in the game, but when Bailey was injured, Miles stepped in. He saw action on rundowns, and on passing situations, cornerback Marcus Williams would come in to play safety.
But not only are Bailey and Pryor banged up, but Antonio Cromartie is, too. That means Williams doesn't give the Jets the luxury of moving him over to safety, as he'll now have to start at cornerback.
And that means Miles, in the span of two weeks, will have gone from practice squad player without one regular-season defensive rep under his belt to NFL starter.
With Miles in the lineup, Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor will likely look to test him again and again and again. The Jets know that, and Miles likely does, too. Can he step up and show he belongs?
This game means a lot to the Jets. It does. A victory would be huge in the division race, but also for what it means for the playoff picture.
But with all that being said, this is "it" for Rex Ryan. This is, no matter what he says about the Patriots, his Super Bowl.
On Thursday, Ryan will be standing on the visiting sideline of the place he called home for six years. The same place he went to two AFC Championships, guaranteed fans so much more and wore his heart on his sleeve, for better or worse. The years Ryan was with the Jets were some of the best the franchise has seen in quite some time, and he knows it. But he also remembers how bad things got at the end.
The Bills are a talented bunch who likely would give the Jets a run for their money no matter who their coach was, which they proved that last year. But this game, at MetLife Stadium, it's hard not to see Rex coming out on top.
The crowd in East Rutherford will be in a tizzy. Ryan will have his players ready to go, and the Jets just won't be able to match that emotional high. But still, that's not the real reason the Bills are going to win this one.
Truth be told? The Jets are just too damn banged up. Seriously, who on the Jets roster isn't listed on the injury report? Randy Bullock? The two-day-old kicker?
Prediction: Bills 28, Jets 20
Connor Hughes is the New York Jets beat writer for the Journal Inquirer and Scout.com. All quotes, practice observations and advanced stats referenced are gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted.