Stephen Haynes back with you for this week's installment of GDL. What we do here is provide stats and live updates during the game, and some useless analysis before it. Read up!
Realized something: a title or classification can be placed on every game of the NFL season. It's often cheesy, but we called last week's the “Opportunity Game” and today we've got the ol' “Trap Game.” The Jets are coming off a close win against the hated Dolphins and next week they'll take on a talented and somewhat desperate Vikings team led by Brett Favre, the legend who maybe jilted the Jets in favor of Minnesota a couple years ago. Yeah, and today they've got the Bills, who could serve as the cream between two tough cookies. (Pastry theme) Should be a cakewalk. Maybe. But as the bromide goes – on any given Sunday... As cliché and sometimes empty as they are, sayings don't become sayings unless they've held some truth over time. Sometimes the pushover fights back and catches the aggressor off-guard. So the Jets had better shove hard.
One way New York can try to avoid the trap is by remembering how they stepped in it last season. Lest we forget, the Jets lost to Buffalo, 16-13, in Week 6, which extended their losing streak to three. They were coming off a tough game against Miami then, too. It was around the time last year when if an oracle had told a Jets fan his team would reach the conference title game, he'd have risked getting slapped for mocking. In that game, the defense did its part and the running backs put on (Thomas Jones went for 210 yards and Leon Washington added 99), but Mark Sanchez had probably his worst game as a pro, throwing five debilitating interceptions.
Today the Jets come in rolling. There's a new level of confidence in and about the team, an assurance they've acquired since the teams last met (on December 3rd, the Jets won a 19-13 tussle). Between then and now, the Jets' swag and cachet around the league has grown exponentially. There was that opening night slip-up against the Ravens, but back-to-back wins against division foes and first place in the standings have them about where they'd like to be at this juncture. That, and Sanchez's consecutive three-touchdown games have set sights even higher. But they can not afford to have the 0-3 Bills mess that up for them.
Zooming out a bit: The Vikings next week is a game they can very well lose. As turnover-prone as Minnesota is, they've got weapons, a quarterback who can (gun) sling it as well as anyone when he's on and a stout defense. The Jets may, and probably should be favored in that tilt, but it's certainly a game that can go either way. And a 2-3 record wouldn't be acceptable for this team. So in a way, that makes today's game a “Should and Almost Have to” win. Not quite “Must,” but it's less earnest cousin.
The Bills haven't picked off a pass yet this season, but they were second in the NFL with 28 interceptions last season and do have some ballhawking talent in the secondary. Free safety Jairus Byrd in particular, who had nine interceptions as a rookie last year. But Sanchez is on a hot streak and the Jets passing game is clicking. How eager will the quarterback be to atone for last season's sloppy performance against Buffalo?
How will the running backs' carries be dividied? LaDainian Tomlinson has outperformed Shonn Greene and last week got the start. He ran for 70 yards and scored his first touchdown as a Jet on a plunge at the goal line late to seal the win. Has LT secured the starting job? Will the Jets go back to more of a platoon or has Greene's role been minimized?
With Darrelle Revis sitting out a second game to nurse his hamstring and Ryan Fitzpatrick's having been inserted as the Bills QB (Trent Edwards was released), how will Buffalo look to attack the Jets' secondary? In keeping with that, how will Antonio Cromartie play Lee Evans, a smaller receiver with tremendous straight-line speed?
Can Mike Westhoff's special team's unit contain rookie C.J. Spiller, who averaged 37 yards on five kickoff returns and broke a 95-yard touchdown on the Patriots last week?
Should Braylon Edwards reach the end zone today (he has three times in the last two games; one a two-point conversion catch), will he dance again? Edwards took some heat from the fans and media last week for rug-cutting after his 67-yard touchdown. Many argued that he should've shown more contrition and been reserved after having been benched for a quarter of that game following a DWI arrest. Will the receiver be affected by that reaction and keep it mellow today? If he does score and dance, will it be The Dougie again?
The Jets can't get lulled by the opponents' offensive ineptitude and start out overly conservative against the Bills, and risk winding up in a three-point game late. The strategy should be, “Kill 'em early and have them buried by the fourth quarter.” Which means passing to start and being in attack mode. Sanchez has had a great thing going with tight end Dustin Keller (13 catches, 213 yards, three touchdowns) the last two games and the Jets should be able to continue that. The Bills linebackers aren't rangy and none has the speed to stick with Keller down field or on intermediate crossing routes. His involvement early could force Buffalo to commit a safety to him (probably Donte Whitner), thus weakening the secondary and allowing some one-on-one matchups outside.
The Bills are giving up a whopping 7.32 yards per carry to backs going around the left end (off right tackle). That's the second worst YPC allowed on that side in the league right now. Defensive end Spencer Johnson and linebacker Chris Kelsay have struggled in that department. The Jets usually have good success running to their right behind RT Damien Woody, and if the averages hold up, that could mean big things for Tomlinson and Greene. Should the Jets get that big lead, we may even see Joe McKnight, who is active for this game.
The Bills don't have many good options in the passing game, but their biggest threat is Evans. He's not consistent and doesn't run a great variety of routes, but Evans is the kind of receiver who can break out for five catches, 115 yards and two touchdowns – just off long receptions – in any game. The Jets can afford to and should consider double-teaming him.
This goes for defending all running backs, but especially so against the Bills': maintain the gaps and don't overpursue. Marshawn Lynch isn't a burner, but he's nimble and has surprising change-of-direction. Fred Jackson has good vision to spot and anticipate holes. And Spiller is just a game-breaker. He's probably among the five fastest backs in the league (behind Chris Johnson and Jamaal Charles and up there with Jerius Norwood and Felix Jones). He's also a capable receiver out of the backfield. The Bills' backs must be contained.
They've got Fitzpatrick again. He started both games against the Jets last season. In the win, he went 10-for-25 with 116 yards and a touchdown. In the Bills' loss, he was 9-for-23 with 98 yards and an interception. Fitzpatrick doesn't have any exceptional skills (although, the Harvard graduate did finish the Wonderlic test in record time and tied for the highest ever score on it), but the biggest difference between him and Edwards is his willingness to attempt more difficult throws. Fitzpatrick takes more chances and throws a better deep ball, which allows the Bills to threaten beyond 20 yards. He's also got some speed. Fitzpatrick isn't a scrambler, but he does have enough quickness to break the pocket and run for a first down.