Preview: Jets (4-3) at Bills (5-2)

Florham Park, N.J.- A lot has been made of the fact that this year’s Jets team is undefeated at home, but has yet to win a game on the road. The ludicrous assumption many people are jumping to, without actually assessing the situation, is that the Jets don’t play well on the road. The Jets have played four games at home and three on the road, but those three road games were against the three best teams they have faced this year (Oakland with a healthy Jason Campbell was set to make a serious run, now with Carson Palmer I’m not so sure). And, oh yeah, two of those three games were without their All-Pro center Nick Mangold and I think everyone can agree this Jets team is much better with Mangold in the lineup.

How soon everyone seems to forget that last regular season this Jets team only lost two road games and they have managed to win two road playoff games each of these last two seasons on their way to the AFC Championship. So basically, I’m not buying that the Jets all of a sudden can’t play on the road. It’s way too early in the season to start making declarations for this year’s league MVP, but with missing those two games Mangold has made a solid case for himself as the clear cut MVP of this Jets team and it’d be a big mistake to use the Raiders or Ravens games as a basis of what to expect from this Jets offense as long as Mangold is playing. With Mangold back to 100 percent and being a full participant in practice the Jets must look to continue their own momentum from before the bye week and hand the Bills their first home loss of the season to give the Jets a ever so slightly lead on the Bills in the division race.

Last game for the Jets it was all Plaxico Burress doing the damage through the air. Will it be Santonio Holmes this week? (Jetsinsider.com Photo)

WHEN AND WHERE: Ralph Wilson Stadium, Orchard Park, NY. Sunday @ 1:00 p.m. EST (TV-CBS/Radio-ESPN 1050)

Injury Report (11/4)

Jets - QUESTIONABLE: WR Plaxico Burress (low back), DT Mike DeVito (knee), DT Kenrick Ellis, CB Isaiah Trufant (hamstring)/ PROBABLE: DT Marcus Dixon (knee), LB David Harris (ankle), C Nick Mangold (ankle), Calvin Pace (groin), DE Ropati Pitoitua (knee).

Bills - OUT: T Demetrius Bell (shoulder), CB Aaron Williams (chest), DT Kyle Williams (foot)/ QUESTIONABLE: T Chris Hairston (ankle), LB Chris Kelsay (calf)/ PROBABLE: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (chest), WR Donald Jones (ankle), G Andy Levitre (shoulder), RB Johnny White (illness).

GAME KEYS:

Contain Fred Jackson - Yesterday Rex Ryan was asked if Jackson has gotten better or just had more opportunities and he said, “He’s always been good. He really has, but he is certainly getting more opportunities this year.” Jackson has been one of the breakout players of the season so far, anyone who watched him these past few years knew the kid was talented, but this year he has exceeded everyone’s expectations and is proving how good he is to people who had never even heard of him until this year. What makes Jackson so dangerous is his versatility, he can run the ball between the tackles or bounce it outside and he is deadly in the passing game. The versatility is what makes containing Jackson so challenging.

“It’s very challenging.” Ryan said, “The fact too, the way they spread their formations, you have to protect against the run. A lot of times when teams are spreading you out, it’s to throw it, but Buffalo will (run it). Like I said, they have 20 more rushing attempts than we do and I think that tells you about how they are committed to the run, as well.”

Jackson is currently the fourth leading rusher in the league with 721 yards on 132 carries (5.5 ypc and 103 yards per game, only LeSean McCoy is out gaining Jackson on a per game basis and only by 4.7 yards per game). Jackson also has 27 receptions for 353 yards (13.1 yards per catch and just over 50 receiving yards a game). The Jets must make sure to stop Jackson when he is running the ball, but the also must shadow him on every pass play because he is a constant threat to take a simple screen pass and turn it into six points. Contain Jackson and the game will be there for the Jets to take.

Ground and Pound - Since Mangold’s return the Jets have shifted back into more of a ground and pound mode. With the Bills opportunistic defense (tied for league lead in takeaways with 18, league high 14 interceptions as well as four fumbles) it will be that much more important for the Jets to find success running the ball. With the Bills giving up 4.9 yards per carry and 120 rushing yards a game the Jets should be to run the ball down the Bills throat fairly consistently. Pound the rock to set up the pass and the Jets should be able to expose the weaknesses in this Bills defense and control the game.

Protect the Ball - As stated above the Bills have a league high 18 forced turnovers, 14 of them interceptions, and we all know about Mark Sanchez penchant for throwing the occasional inexplicable interception. Watching tape of the Bills will tell you many of those interceptions were lucky tipped balls, but watching tape of Sanchez will tell you he often throws those types of pickable passes. The Bills have improved in many ways this season, but having a turnover differential of plus nine through seven games is the biggest reason why they are 5-2. If the Jets can win the turnover battle or at least keep it even the Bills offense might not be enough to win the game without extra chances. Sanchez must be extra careful not to turn the ball over tomorrow.

Disrupt Fitzpatrick’s Timing/ Limit Passing Options - Ryan Fitzpatrick has been playing at an incredibly high level so far this season and in order for the Jets to change that this week they will need to apply heavy pressure and bump the Bills receivers off their routes. The threat of Jackson, combined with the way the Bills spread the field is what has made the Bills offense such a high flying success this season. The Jets will have to design blitzes that can not only get to Fitzpatrick in a hurry, but also disguise the coverages so Fitzpatrick never quite knows where to go with the ball. As we’ve seen from the Jets they are susceptible to passes underneath and in the middle of the field, if the Bills can continuously find those open spots it will open up the rest of the field and could mean a long day for the Jets defense. The Bills don’t have any one superstar receiver to worry about, but they have a number of different solid options in the passing game, similar in style of the Patriots, which means you can expect the Jets to run a similar style of defense to combat the Bills attack.

X-FACTORS:

Aaron Maybin - The ex-Bill will not be greeted with a warm welcome when he returns to Buffalo, but he will return as a Jets team captain for the game and he will also be returning with some momentum of his own, determined to prove to the team that drafted then cut him that he can in fact be an impact player in this league. Maybin’s skill set was a perfect match for this Jets defense and with the way he has been playing this season it makes sense that Ryan would look to get Maybin on the field more. With a little extra motivation and fire in his gut, Maybin could find himself in a position to help the Jets knock the Bills back down to earth.

Joe McKnight - McKnight had a rough start to last season, but that last game in Buffalo gave Jets fans a glimpse of just how good this kid can be. Since the Jets won’t be resting their starters this time out against the Bills don’t expect McKnight to get 158 yards rushing again, but earlier this week Ryan did say McKnight will, “absolutely get more opportunities this week.” Following the bye week self-scouting process by the Jets coaching staff I expect to see the Jets line McKnight out wide more often and try to get the ball in his hands in open space considering how dangerous he has proven to be in those situations. Still where McKnight will make the most impact is in the role where he replaced ex-Jet Brad Smith as the kick returner. McKnight is the league’s leading kick returner and even if he doesn’t break one, he consistently gives the Jets great field position to work with and a big return or two could wind up being the difference between a win and a loss.

PREDICTION: 27-17 Jets

Until the Jets can string together three or four games where they get out to a fast start I will refuse to believe that they can do just that, especially coming off a bye week where they have had even more trouble than normal with starting fast under Ryan. The Bills will likely grab an early lead after Jackson breaks a big run/screen pass or two, but once the Jets settle down and get into a rhythm I expect Fitzpatrick to struggle and get frustrated by the trickery that this Jets defense brings. Fitzpatrick has never seen the type of heavily disguised blitzes the Jets will throw at him this week and by half time the Bills offense will be sputtering. As long as they can avoid turnovers the Jets will be in striking distance by half time and the second half will belong to the Jets as they wear out the Bills defense and slowly pull away to a big division win.

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