3TFO: Bills @ Jets, Week 3
This matchup features a battle of rookie QBs as the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets, each 1-1, are looking to get their first division win. Even though it’s still early in the season, it’s key to avoid falling too far behind the Patriots and Dolphins in the standings. E.J. Manuel and the Bills are coming off of their first win at home against the Panthers, a late thriller in which Manual threw the game-winning TD with seconds to go.
The Jets and Geno Smith enter Sunday with a few extra days rest after their equally close battle with the Patriots, one that unfortunately did not go their way. Smith was strong early, but faltered late with three fourth quarter interceptions. Which rookie plays better will be a major determinant in the outcome of Sunday’s game, but let’s take a look at three other storylines to watch in this divisional showdown.
Will the Jets Run More?
While Geno Smith has done enough to keep his team competitive in both of their games this season – with a win in Week 1 – it’s still evident that he’s having some rookie struggles. Entering Week 3, he’s our 29th-graded passer with a 53% completion rate and just one player has thrown more interceptions than Smith’s four. In his defense, the Jets’ receivers have been less than helpful, having dropped 8.2% of his passes – the seventh-highest rate in the NFL.
Given those stats, the team may want to adjust its run to pass ratio to reduce the pressure on their rookie QB. So far Smith has dropped back to pass 90 times, while the team’s top two backs, Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory, have combined for less than 50 rushing attempts. Neither back has done much to inspire confidence with their attempts, though, as both have averaged less than 3.5 yards per carry. Ivory, whom the Jets traded for this offseason, has particularly struggled. He’s forced just two missed tackles in 22 attempts after forcing 12 in 40 carries last season, a better rate than even that of Bills’ counterpart C.J. Spiller. Some of his struggles can be attributed to facing more box defenders as is the case with an inexperienced rookie quarterback, but he also simply hasn’t been as good this season. Nevertheless, the Jets might want to increase their effort to get Ivory and Powell going, especially against a run defense that’s in the bottom third of the league.
The Buffalo defense comes into this matchup having allowed more than four yards a carry after a big improvement in Week 2, though they still own our third-lowest cumulative run defense grade of -12.7 with just two players in the interior front seven having positive grades. Look for the Jets to attack the left side A-gap between Nick Mangold and Vladimir Ducasse – the gap where they’ve run most often and have been most successful. Conversely, Buffalo’s allowed 8.3 yards per carry between center and left guard, so the Jets should have some success there, especially against Marcel Dareus.
Taking Advantage of Colin Brown
Through two weeks, Colin Brown owns the distinction of the being the league’s lowest-rated player. Certainly Buffalo’s starting LG has had a tough draw in those games as he opened the season against Vince Wilfork and Chandler Jones of the Patriots. He then followed that up with a matchup against a stout Panther front, but Brown has put up little resistance. His efforts have been equally futile against the run and in pass protection, an overwhelmingly weak link on what’s been a strong line. The unit has allowed pressure on just 29% of passing plays, the seventh-best (lowest) mark in the league. And for a team that has averaged 4.3 yards a carry on the ground, the success has been limited running behind or around its LG, gaining 3.1 yards per carry through the left A and B-gaps.
Unfortunately, Sunday’s game provides no relief for Brown as the Jets boast arguably the league’s most talented defensive line. He should get a good look at each of Muhamed Wilkerson, Damon Harrison, and Sheldon Richardson, not to mention reserve Kenrick Ellis. All four players have received snaps all along the line with “Snacks” Harrison and Ellis primarily lining up at NT when on the field. While none have excelled rushing the passer as the most productive has been Richardson with three hurries in two games, yet the four have all been tough to handle in the run game. The rookie, Harrison and Ellis have each graded above +3.3 in that area and all three have made stops on over 14% of run plays. Wilkerson has been the lone disappointment after a breakout sophomore season, but Brown could provide the perfect opportunity to get on track. Ellis, on the other hand, has been exceptional in limited snaps, making a stop on 25% of run plays when he’s been on the field.
No matter who’s on the field across from the Bill, this is a matchup that, on paper, the Jets should win. But fortunately the game isn’t played on paper and, like Wilkerson, Brown has a great opportunity – albeit a tough one – to right the ship and avoid PFF’s ‘Had a Bad Day’ Team for a third consecutive week.
Johnson and Woods vs. Jets Secondary
The other rookie quarterback in this matchup has passed the ball reasonably well given his experience; his 68% completion rate is among the best in the league so far, but his 6.9 YPA is less than spectacular. Against New York, he’ll be looking to get the ball to the Bills’ top targets Steve Johnson and fellow rookie Robert Woods. Both receivers have had early success with Johnson leading the way as he’s caught 11-of-16 targets for an average of 13.6 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Woods has also gotten into the end zone in each of the first two weeks, once as a touchdown and last week on a two-point conversion. They’ll line up all over the field, with Johnson getting a higher percentage (72%) of his work from the slot.
We’ll see if the duo can get loose against the Jets’ secondary led on the outside by Dee Milliner and Antonio Cromartie. Based on the first two games, it shouldn’t be too difficult as the two Jets rank 88th and 90th, respectively. You wouldn’t necessarily think that to be the case based on the numbers; only six of 16 passes thrown into Milliner’s coverage have been completed. However, two of those six have been touchdowns, and he’s benefited from a few drops and poor throws when he’s been beaten. For example, Aaron Dobson smoked the rookie on a slant-and-go at 7:34 of the second quarter in last Thursday’s game, only to have the sure touchdown fall through the receiver’s hands. Cromartie’s play has also been worse than the opposing QB rating of 84.8 on balls thrown his way would indicate. Slot corner Kyle Wilson has been stronger having allowed only 0.52 Yards per Cover Snap from the slot – the third-best figure in the league – and may have the toughest assignment of the three, dealing with Johnson when he’s inside.
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