BGA Preview: Bills at Jets

During the season, Bent’s Game Analysis charts games for some of the Jets’ upcoming opponents, enabling a break down of what to watch out for on gameday…

While it’s still early in the season, we can look back at the first two games to get a handle on how this Bills team compares to those of the past few seasons.

After the jump, I break down the positional groupings (BGA-style!) to try and highlight what the Jets need to look out for.

Quarterbacks

While the Bills are a familiar foe, the first of many changes is at the quarterback position. Rookie EJ Manuel has made a pretty good start to his career with a 96.3 rating through two games and (just like his rookie counterpart on the Jets) a fourth quarter comeback and a near-miss against the Pats to his name.

The new Bills offensive coordinator is Nathaniel Hackett, the son of former Jets’ offensive coordinator Paul Hackett, and there are already signs that his system has shades of his father’s dink-and-dunk style. Manuel has thrown 10 yards or more beyond the line of scrimmage just 16 times in two games, completing six. For perspective, Geno Smith is 12-for-25 on such throws. Smith has no touchdowns and three interceptions though, whereas Manuel has two touchdowns and no interceptions.

Perhaps more impressive than any of his other numbers is the fact that he’s only been sacked once. He’s also been effective when teams blitz; 7-for-12 with a touchdown, good for a 119.1 rating. Look for him to get rid of the ball when pressure comes. This might be where the Jets can set some traps in their secondary.

Offensive Line

It’s all change on the offensive line for the Bills too. The personnel remains for the most part unchanged, but they have a new coach and perhaps a different philosophy. The old Bills blocked well as a unit and relied on Ryan Fitzpatrick either getting rid of the ball quickly or avoiding pressure with his legs to mitigate pressure despite a lack of elite individual talent.

The Bills return four starters from last year’s group, but the one new starter, left guard Colin Brown, is a potential major weakness. Brown was a fifth round pick who had started just two NFL games in four previous seasons and he’s had a rough time of it in his first two games. The Bills might need to help him out with double-team blocks, so the Jets might be well served lining Muhammad Wilkerson – who has also been drawing constant double teams – away from him, so that the Bills are forced to choose between leaving Brown to his own devices or trying to block Wilkerson one-on-one.

Of the four returning starters, second year man Cordy Glenn has the most talent and has made an outstanding start to this season with no pressure allowed. That’s despite the fact that the Bills have only left an extra blocker in 13 times in two games (Jets: 46). Eric Wood, Erik Pears and Kraig Urbik fill out the other three spots. All three have been starters for the Bills since late in the 2010 season.

The Bills did pick up former Steelers utility man Doug Legursky in the offseason and he missed the first two games, but even if he’s healthy, apparently they don’t plan to start him over Brown. Legursky is listed as questionable and might not be much of an upgrade anyway, especially with the lack of chemistry he’ll have with the other linemen.

Running Backs

The Jets know all about CJ Spiller, who rushed for 169 yards and a touchdown against them in last year’s season opener and 103 yards against the Panthers last week. The Jets held him to 59 yards on 24 carries in their other meeting with the Bills last year, but he contributed in the passing game instead, with a 66-yard touchdown catch. The Jets have done a good job of setting the edge through the first couple of games, but most of Spiller’s production this year has come rushing over the right side of the line, not to the outside.

Fred Jackson is 32 now, but one of the better backups in the NFL. You may be surprised to learn that Jackson has faced the Jets 10 times in his Bills career and has won just twice while averaging just 28 yards per game and 3.4 yards per carry. They also have Tashard Choice as cover. Frank “the Tank” Summers started at full back last week, just the fourth appearance of the fifth year pro’s career.

Receivers

Stevie Johnson has long been a thorn in the side of the Jets, although the win over the Jets in last year’s meaningless final game was his first as a Bill. A guy who gave Darrelle Revis issues over the years – although some of the damage was done while the Jets were in zone coverage – Johnson was able to rack up 111 yards on six catches in that final game. However, Antonio Cromartie was covering him most of the time and the damage was just four catches for 45 yards with Cromartie on him. Cromartie has made a slow start to the season, which he attributed this week to his hip injury, although he now says he’s close to 100%. This could be a big match-up to watch.

Rookie Robert Woods scored a touchdown on his only catch in his NFL debut and then added four more catches and a two-point conversion last week. TJ Graham, who caught 31 passes last year, is the third receiver, but when the Bills go to three-wide sets, it’s typically Johnson who is the slot guy, so Kyle Wilson could have an important role too.

Third round pick Marquise Goodwin – an Olympic sprinter – fumbled on his only NFL catch. He’s out with a hand injury, anyway.

At tight end, Scott Chandler remains backed up by Lee Smith, just like last year.

Defensive Line

The big change on this side of the ball was the addition of Mike Pettine and the introduction of a defensive system with which Jets fans should be more than familiar. They’ve been blitzing a lot (37 times through two games – Jets: 23) and have recorded nine sacks and seven quarterback hits.

Pettine has something he never had as defensive coordinator with the Jets and that’s an elite edge rushing talent, which was punctuated by Mario Williams’ 4.5 sack performance last week. Williams had a lot of success against Byron Bell, but hopefully Austin Howard will handle the assignment better. Howard famously shut him down last year in his first game as a full-time starter, as Williams was outspoken in his complaints about Howard’s physical play, then shut him down again in the final game of the year. Make no mistake though, Williams is a major threat, especially with Smith’s propensity to hold the ball for too long. Oh, and I’m treating him as a lineman despite the fact he’s listed as an outside linebacker because they run the same hybrid system as the Jets whereby the rush backer is more of a lineman than a linebacker, regardless of whether or not he plays with his hands in the dirt.

On the interior, the Bills are strong too. Kyle Williams is healthy again and always tough to move. Alongside him, Marcell Dareus is someone you can take advantage of in the running game, but he can get into the backfield and make plays.

The Mark Anderson experiment didn’t work out, so the Bills are back to Alex Carrington as their other defensive end. The 2010 third round pick didn’t start last year, but was in and out of the starting lineup in 2011, with six starts in total. He’s another potential weak link.

In terms of backups, the best known is veteran Alan Branch, a former second round pick.

Linebackers

Opposite Mario Williams, the Bills have been starting Manny Lawson. Lawson was a first round pick in 2006, but has recorded just six sacks since 2009, despite starting 43 games. He’s the Bryan Thomas of this defense, playing a variety of roles, although he is smaller than Thomas, so he probably won’t play on the line as often.

On the inside, second round pick Kiko Alonso is already a three-down linebacker and leads the team with 11 solo tackles. Arthur Moats has been lining up alongside him. Moats is a versatile player, who was more of an OLB/DE in previous seasons. He barely played on the inside at all last year, so maybe this is an area in which the Jets can exploit the lack of experience.

The backups include former first round pick Jerry Hughes, old friend Jamaal Westerman and special teams specialist Nigel Bradham. They also have another former Jet in Marcus Dowtin, who had a great preseason, but has only played on special teams in the first two games.

Defensive Backs

Jairus Byrd is the star of the Bills secondary, but he’s missed the first couple of games with a foot injury. He is set to return though – he’s listed as questionable having been doubtful in the first two weeks.

With Byrd out, the Bills have been using last year’s starting cornerback Aaron Williams at safety and he’s been doing pretty well. The second round pick from 2011 is not going to move back to cornerback when Byrd returns, so it will be interesting to see whether he drops to the bench or Da’Norris Searcy does. Searcy was drafted in 2011 and made three starts as a rookie, but didn’t start last year.

At cornerback, the Bills are a couple of men down. One of the players who remains out is Stephon Gilmore, last year’s 10th overall pick and the player some Buffalo fans think will be Pettine’s “Revis” in his version of Rex’s defense. The Bills have been starting Leodis McKelvin – an even higher draft pick from five years ago who has failed to live up to expectations – and Justin Rogers – a 7th rounder from 2011, who mostly played in the slot last year.

Nickell Robey is the third cornerback and usually plays in the slot. He’s an undrafted rookie. The third safety is another familiar face – former Jet Jim Leonhard.

Special Teams

The Bills kicker is Dan Carpenter who had a cup of coffee with the Jets in preseason. He’s made three of four field goals so far this year. Shaun Powell returns as punter, after taking over the job as an undrafted rookie last year. In terms of returns, backup receiver Marcus Easley has been back deep (although Goodwin is listed as the #1), but every kickoff so far has been a touchback anyway. McKelvin has been returning punts, but Leonhard would be another option.

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I’ll be back tomorrow to recap the game!

Stats from PFF were used in the completion of this article.

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