Thursday night, the Buffalo Bills travel to the Meadowlands to take on Rex Ryan’s former team, the New York Jets. The Bills currently hold a 4-4 record and are coming off a divisional win over the Miami Dolphins. The Jets are 5-3 under their new Head Coach Todd Bowles, thanks to an offseason that featured the acquisitions of talented players such as Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, Buster Skrine and Brandon Marshall.
Both teams are defensive minded with run-oriented offensive game-plans, so this should be a low-scoring game that is ultimately decided by the play in the trenches, as both teams have star-studded defensive lines.
Jets Offense vs Bills Defense
The Jets’ offensive coordinator, former Bills head coach, Chan Gailey, has reunited with former Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, and they’ve enjoyed success this season as Fitz has completed 61.8% of his passes for 1,790 yards, 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He still has his same limitations as he did during his time with the Bills—particularly on deep passes, where he’s completed just eight-of-22 passes for 249 yards and 2 touchdowns with 3 INTs—but he has quality offensive weapons that he didn’t have in Buffalo.
Fitzpatrick’s intelligence is ideal for Gailey’s spread offense that relies on the quick passing game to threaten the short-to-intermediate areas of the field. He averages 2.38 seconds from snap-to-throw, the eighth quickest time in the league.
Brandon Marshall has emerged as Fitzpatrick’s favorite target and he’s caught 54 passes for 730 yards and five touchdowns. The 6’4” 222 pounder has eight catches of 20+ yards and has gained 190 of his yards after the catch. He’s a true No. 1 receiver that will see the majority of his snaps against Stephon Gilmore, who has emerged as a borderline lock-down cornerback in his fourth season with the Bills.
Gilmore has allowed 34 receptions on 64 yards, a 51.5 completion percentage that ranks 12th among cornerbacks and he’s broken up 13 passes, the second-highest total in the league behind his teammate Ronald Darby.
This will be a fun matchup to watch, as both Marshall and Gilmore are big, physical players that will fight for the ball on every snap.
After playing the boundary for the majority of his career, Eric Decker is now used in the slot on 67.8% of his snaps. This means that Decker, who stands 6’3” and weighs 215 pounds will be primarily running his routes against the 5’7” 170 pound Nickell Robey. This is a matchup that the Jets will likely look to exploit, given the obvious size difference between the two.
The Jets’ offensive line has struggled, but due to Fitzpatrick’s quick release, he’s been sacked just nine times. However, left tackle D’Brickishaw Ferguson and right tackle Breno Giacomini have been pretty terrible, ranking 44th and 37th among 57 qualifying offensive tackles. Ferguson’s 27 pressures allowed are the ninth most in the league, while Giacomini’s 22 pressures are 19th. They’ll see the majority of snaps against Jerry Hughes and Mario Williams, who’ve combined for 51 quarterback pressures through eight games this season.
Bills Offense vs Jets Defense
The Bills come into this game after an outstanding offensive display against the Dolphins, in which they became the first team in NFL history to have two 100+ yard rushers and a 150+ yard receiver. That probably won’t happen again this week against the Jets, who’ve played outstanding defense led by one of the strongest and biggest defensive lines in the league. The Jets rank No. 4 in overall defense, allowing just 323.2 total yards-per-game, No. 6 in yards per play, at 5.1, No. 4 in yards-per-pass-attempt at 5.5, No. 5 in rushing yards-per-carry with 3.8 and have allowed the fewest rushing touchdowns in the NFL, with two.
The Jets run a hybrid 4-2-5 defense as their base front, with Muhammed Wilkerson playing five-technique left defensive end, Leonard Williams at the three-technique left defensive tackle, Damon Harrison at the zero or one-technique nose tackle and Sheldon Richardson at the seven-technique right defensive end spot.
Wilkerson and Williams have wreaked havoc in opposing backfields all season, with Wilkerson recording 32 tackles, four passes defensed and a forced fumble, adding five sacks, 14 QB hits (2nd most) and 26 QB hurries (1st). Williams has racked up 27 tackles, one sack, five tackles for loss and added one sack, 11 QB hits (3rd) and 16 hurries (11th). Their 45 and 28 respective combined quarterback pressures rank second and fifth in the league at their position.
This is a huge task for rookie right guard John Miller and second-year right tackle Seantrel Henderson, who’ve been inconsistent this season. Look for Greg Roman to keep Matthew Mulligan or Jerome Felton on the field for the majority of the game to assist in pass protection.
The Jets will be without safeties Calvin Pryor and Dion Bailey, along with starting cornerback Antonio Cromartie, while slot cornerback Buster Skrine is questionable. These injuries should make things a bit easier for Tyrod Taylor and the Bills’ passing attack. Sammy Watkins is coming off of an eight catch, 168 yard performance against the Dolphins and will likely be trailed by Darrelle Revis, who’s allowed a 46.5 completion percentage on 40 targets, surrendering just one touchdown and a 44.0 passer rating against, the 3rd best number among cornerbacks.
The Bills will need their secondary receiving options—most notably Charles Clay and Robert Woods—to take advantage of the Jets’ injuries if they want to effectively push the ball downfield. Roman will look to establish the run early on with the talented tandem of LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams, but that’s been a tough task all season for every opponent that’s faced the Jets, so moving the ball through the air will be crucial to a win.