3TFO: Jets @ Bills, Week 11
This game features two of the best defensive fronts around the league with players from both ranking among the best of their position in almost every category. The Buffalo Bills have the third-highest graded 3-4 defensive end in Kyle Williams (+20.9), the third-highest ranked defensive tackle in Run Stop Percentage in Marcell Dareus (12.5) and two 3-4 outside linebackers in the Top-10 in Pass Rushing Productivity, Jerry Hughes (14.4) and Mario Williams (10.9). Of course the New York Jets have their ‘Sons of Anarchy’ in Damon Harrison, Mo Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson wreaking havoc in every offensive line they face.
The battle in the trenches will be decisive in the outcome of the game but it won’t be the only factor. With two rookie quarterbacks at the helm and both teams missing playmakers – Jeremy Kerley is out for the Jets, Robert Woods and maybe Stevie Johnson for the Bills; it’ll be important how they adjust and try to get the most of their opportunities.
Rookie Quarterbacks: Round Two
Back in April E.J. Manuel (-14.7) and Geno Smith (-15.1) were the first quarterbacks to be drafted in the 2013 NFL Draft. Now, ten weeks into the season, they are the two worst-graded quarterbacks in the league. Both have had their ups and downs this season but lately there have been more negative than positive – Manuel came back from his knee injury last week earning a -3.1 grade vs. Pittsburgh and Smith had a combined grade of -9.8 in his last two games. This Sunday they’ll meet again in a game that will bring different memories to each one. Manuel had his worst grade of the season vs. the Jets in Week 3 (-6.8) while Smith graded out at a season-best of +3.6.
Nathan Jahnke pointed out in his 32 Observations this week how the Bills quarterback has been playing against the blitz: his Accuracy Percentage drops from 70.3% to 54.5% when blitzed which is the second-largest difference in the league. He’s also having issues when throwing under pressure as his QB Rating drops from 91.1 to 40.6 and his grade from -2.4 to -10.5. Geno Smith’s numbers aren’t much different to Manuel’s in these areas as he’s also having issues when facing the blitz and his game suffers when under duress. That’s expected in rookie quarterbacks so they have to be productive at what they do best and that’s where they are different.
Manuel’s average time to throw is 2.84 seconds and his dropbacks split evenly between over and under 2.5 seconds but in the 109 dropbacks when he was less than 2.5 seconds in the pocket he has completed 61.5% and has a QB Rating of 85.7. When the Time In Pocket is greater than 2.5 seconds Manuel is completing 50.6% and his QB Rating is 64.0. Throwing quick would help avoid the pressure and get into a rhythm with his receivers. Geno is averaging longer time in the pocket, 3.12 seconds which is 2nd-highest in the league and it translates to him throwing 14.7% of his passes for over 20 yards which is the 5th highest in the league. The Jets deep passing game has regressed over the last two games but they had their best day in the first game vs. the Bills so they could dial it up again this Sunday.
Bills Secondary vs. Jets Receivers
Things have changed since the first meeting in the Bills secondary: Justin Rogers who allowed 247 yards and two touchdowns in that game hasn’t played since Week 5 and Stephon Gilmore and Jairus Byrd have established as starters after being injured for the start of the season. That doesn’t have to be good as Gilmore is allowing the 2nd-most Yards Per Coverage Snap among cornerbacks at 2.37. He was heavily targeted in the last two games allowing 15 catches for 167 yards and one touchdown in 23 targets – earned a combined coverage grade of -6.6. At the safety position things look better. Byrd (+6.6) is the 5th-best graded safety in coverage, still has to grade negative in coverage in one game and is allowing the second fewest Yards Per Coverage Snap at 0.11.
The Jets receiving corps has also suffered changes due to injuries. Santonio Holmes will probably be back this week after missing five games but Jeremy Kerley will be out with an elbow injury. A former Bills player, David Nelson, filled in for Holmes and has been productive playing most of the time, 70.2%, in the outside despite being used to be the slot receiver in Buffalo. With Kerley out he might go inside and take that role and let Holmes handle the outside. Stephen Hill could be a key player considering that his two best games in the NFL were vs. the Bills. In the first game of last season he dominated Gilmore with three catches in four targets for 67 yards and one touchdown and did it again vs. Rogers this season with two catches in three targets for 96 yards and one touchdown. If the Jets want to control the passing game they have to be able to exploit their matchups against the Bills cornerbacks.
Can the Bills Run the Ball?
The whole Bills offensive line grades out at -23.9 with only one of them earning a non-red grade: Cordy Glenn (+0.1). Eric Wood and Erik Pears are the second worst graded players at their position in run blocking both at -10.4. The running backs have to produce yards on their own given how the line is blocking and Fred Jackson is being the best at it averaging 2.62 yards after contact per attempt – 5th-highest in the league. It’s still unclear how healthy C.J. Spiller is after playing less than 25 snaps in each of the last two games and he’s far from his numbers in 2012 when he averaged 3.58 yards after contact per attempt. This season he is averaging 1.89 which is the 25th-lowest number among running backs.
In front of them there will be the highest-graded defensive tackle vs. the run, Damon Harrison (+22.2) who will be a great matchup for Eric Wood in the middle of the trenches. Next to him Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson won’t be easier to dominate either – they combine for 31 defensive stops in run defense. The Jets front seven is one of the most difficult to run against and it’s not only because how dominant their defensive line – they are avoiding mistakes and have just eight missed tackles together vs. the run.
Follow Gonzalo on Twitter: @PFF_Gonzalo