Sloppiness doesn’t even begin to describe the scene at the New Meadowlands on Sunday as the New York Jets moved to 2-1 with a 27-20 victory over the division rival Buffalo Bills. While the Jets were seemingly in control for the majority of the game, they were keen to let the Bills move the ball down the field through a well-rounded mix of defensive penalties. It nearly came back to bite as Buffalo tied the game at 20 with 9:47 to go in the fourth quarter but Jets’ quarterback Geno Smith showed some poise in answering right back with a 69-yard touchdown to wide receiver Santonio Holmes that proved to be the game winner.
While it’s still early here in Week 3, both AFC East rivals found themselves in an unexpected crossroad game as the division has proven tougher than most would have believed. The Jets’ victory keeps them in the mix with the 3-0 Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots, while the Bills may be as battle-tested as any team in the league despite their 1-2 record.
Assuming the Jets haven’t been flagged for any more penalties, let’s take a look at the key performances from Sunday’s game.
Buffalo – Three Performances of Note
The Rookie Battle: Manuel’s Struggles
As with any rookie quarterback, there will be growing pains and E.J. Manuel certainly had his first-year issues on Sunday. He seems extra cautious to take care of the ball, which is certainly not a bad thing, but it perhaps takes away from his ability to make plays down the field. The Jets routinely challenged Manuel to throw deep, but he was only able to connect on 1-of-8 passes beyond 20 yards and he often led his WRs too far out of bounds. Perhaps that was his carefulness taking over, but the Bills’ simplified offense will be opened up at some point, and those are the plays that eventually need to be made.
Though he was certainly careful to keep the ball away from Jets’ defensive backs, he did have a couple slip-ups. One, as he was trying to do the right thing by throwing a pass away when no one was open but the throw ended up right into cornerback Kyle Wilson’s hands for what should have been an easy interception. Then there was the curious play that came at the end of his 21-yard scramble with 13:16 to go in the fourth quarter. He clearly put the ball on the ground for a fumble, but an apparent inadvertent whistle saved possession for the Bills in what turned out to be their penalty-induced game-tying drive.
In addition to the ball security issues, Manuel was inaccurate for much of the game – underthrowing slants and overthrowing go routes – while showing some indecisiveness in the pocket at times as we charged him with two of the seven Jets’ sacks.
Picking on Rogers
Often times our PFF grades will reveal something that was difficult to see during the original broadcast, but CB Justin Rogers’ (-3.8) difficult game was as clear as day for everyone. We also warn to take caution when comparing coverage metrics to coverage grades, as the metrics don’t always tell the whole story, but again in this case, the numbers speak for themselves. Rogers was targeted eight times and surrendered six receptions for an absurd 247 yards. That represents 74% of the Jets’ gross passing total.
It started early as WR Stephen Hill got separation on a double move for a 45-yard gain with 14:00 to go in the first quarter and then Hill got him again at the 7:06 mark of the second with the go route for a touchdown. It didn’t get much better for Rogers, as he picked up a pass interference on yet another deep route from Hill and then was the culprit on the game-winning touchdown to Holmes. He completely lost track of the ball in the air before losing track of Holmes as well. Rogers finished the day with a -5.3 coverage grade.
Bills’ fans have been clamoring for some Kiko Alonso (+2.8) love in our Race for Rookie of the Year, but this week marks the first positive grade of Alonso’s young career. He showed well in coverage, and picked off a pass for the second week in a row, this time reading Smith’s eyes and jumping in front of a slant route. The improvement in Alonso’s game came against the run where he got in on four stops and did a better job of playing and attacking his gaps. It wasn’t perfect but it was a definite improvement over the first two weeks.
In addition to Alonso, the Bills got strong work from LB Manny Lawson (+3.7) who was all over the field in the run game. He got in on 12 tackles, seven of which were stops, as he had his way with Jets’ tight ends throughout the game.
New York – Three Performances of Note
The Rookie Battle: Smith Bounces Back
Again, it’s extremely early to be pulling out our jump-to-conclusion mats, but throughout Smith’s college career and draft process, he appears to have the personality to handle the rigors of New York. Coming off a disastrous fourth quarter in Week 2 against the New England Patriots, Smith came out firing as he hit on the aforementioned deep throws to Hill. Even as things turned sour in this game, he showed the necessary short-term memory needed to succeed in the league. There were bumps in the road as he certainly telegraphed the interception to Alonso and it was a potential game-changer, but even when the Jets’ lead deteriorated to nothing, Smith bounced right back with the big throw to Holmes for the game winner.
Whether it’s recovering from a bad throw, a bad outing, or even bouncing back from some pundits giving him the “bust” label after a few throws in OTA’s, Smith has continued to answer the call. He finished the day 5-for-7 for 229 yards and two touchdowns on throws beyond 20 yards.
In a performance that may even had DeAngelo Hall cringing, CB Kyle Wilson notched a whopping five penalties on his way to a -3.7 overall grade. He and WR Stevie Johnson spent much of the fourth quarter chirping at each other and Wilson was just unable to keep his hands to himself, both before and after the play. He was flagged for a defensive hold and an illegal contact on back-to-back plays and followed it up with personal foul penalties on the next two plays. The Jets were left with no choice but to take Wilson off the field before things got even further out of hand. On plays where laundry wasn’t flying, Wilson did some nice things in coverage as only 3-of-10 passes were completed his way, but the yardage he handed over to the Bills in the fourth quarter is hard to ignore.
Controlling the Line of Scrimmage
The tone was set by the Jets’ defensive line as all three starters graded in the green, led by DT Damon Harrison (+3.8). His one assisted tackle tells nothing of the story as he was the one moving blockers rather than it being the other way around and he also forced a fumble that was negated by penalty. DE Muhammad Wilkerson broke out as a pass rusher (+4.8) with seven pressures (two sacks, one hit, four hurries) on his 56 rushes. Of course much of his damage was done against LG Colin Brown who is now grading at -23.7 through three games. Rounding out the trio is Sheldon Richardson (+2.6) who continued his strong play and posted his best pass rushing outing of his young career at +1.1.
While the defensive line did their damage, LB David Harris was the star behind them. Don’t be fooled by the gaudy tackle numbers in recent years, Harris hasn’t performed as one of the league’s best, but he’s showed well to this point in 2013. He graded at +3.5 in the game as he got in on six stops and notched a sack and two hurries on just a handful of rushes. Perhaps most importantly, he hasn’t been displaced in the running game as he has in recent years and the impressive play of the defensive line has certainly gone a long way toward giving him clean reads against the run.
– Jets DL/LB Quinton Coples saw his first action of the season as he played 55 snaps. He lined up all over the place, including 34 snaps at defensive end, 15 at defensive tackle, and nine at outside linebacker.
– There were a number of blunders in the Bills’ backfield as C.J. Spiller fumbled twice while RB Fred Jackson had a fumble (negated by penalty), dropped pass, and two pressures surrendered.
– Bills’ LT Cordy Glenn may have been jinxed into surrendering his first pressure of the season, but one lone hurry on 60 pass blocks isn’t shabby (+1.6 pass block).
PFF Game Ball
With strong work against the run, as a pass rusher, and in coverage, David Harris gets the nod.
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