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Saturday Preview: Buffalo Bills @ New York Jets

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I didn’t think the excitement among the fanbase for this year’s home opener could be beaten. But after the worst loss in the McBeane era, arguably one of the worst Bills losses ever, fans have been checking their calendars vigorously to see if it was Sunday yet. The Buffalo Bills have a chance to right the ship and attempt to get rid of the bad taste in their mouths. Let’s take a look at the matchup.

Bills-Jets: The Last Five

Bills 18 Jets 10 (2020)
Bills 27 Jets 17 (2020)
Jets 13 Jets 6 (2019)
Bills 17 Jets 16 (2019)
Jets 27 Bills 23 (2018)

Things have been pretty close since Sean McDermott took over as coach. The Bills are 5-3 in the eight games in his tenure. Among the victories are a last-second win in the 2019 opener and the Tyler Bass six FG special in 2020. For the Bills’ sake, fans are hoping for the biggest win against the Jets in McDermott’s tenure.

What To Watch For: Buffalo Bills

The Run Game – Truthfully, the line should read “What run game?” What the Bills have fielded at times this year has not been an NFL-caliber run game. The lack of run game came to a head last week. The team became so one-dimensional that the Jaguars weren’t even respecting it anymore. Dropping into coverage and daring the Bills to run, knowing they wouldn’t, was a death sentence for the Bills. McDermott was critical of his run game this week, admitting he expected them to be further along at this point. The Bills still have time to figure out scheme and technique related issues this year. A deep playoff run depends on it. But do they have the players to do so?

With the trade deadline come and gone, the Bills have to roll with who they have. The coaching staff also shares some blame for some head-scratching gameday decisions in the run game. In the season opening loss to the Steelers, McDermott made Zack Moss a healthy scratch. In last week’s loss, the Bills did not dress Matt Breida. With Moss going down with a concussion during the game, the Bills had no choice but to roll with Singletary.

Cover 2 Shell – A lot has been made this week about the defensive scheme deployed by the Jaguars to slow down, and ultimately stop, the Buffalo Bills offense. Cover 2 is when the safeties move deep towards the sidelines after the ball is snapped, taking away deep ball opportunities. That is why we have seen the Bills unable to connect on, or really attempt, deep balls the past two weeks. The cornerbacks and linebackers drop into zone, which allows the defense to “keep plays in front of them.” The Jaguars were daring the Bills to beat them with short, underneath throws for minimal gains. As we all saw, they executed the scheme perfectly.

Despite their offensive struggles against the teams that used this scheme, there are ways for the Bills offense to exploit the Cover 2 Shell. The first is establishing the run. Without the threat of a run game, the defense will have no reason to stop sending their two safeties deep. If the Bills were able to rip off runs of 10-12 yards at a time, it would dissuade the safeties from playing so deep.

Another way to exploit the scheme is finding pockets in the zone for players like Cole Beasley to sneak into. Beasley missed most of the 4th quarter as he is still dealing with a rib injury, and it certainly hurt the Bills’ comeback bid. Without Dawson Knox in the lineup, the Jaguars knew the Bills didn’t have a serious threat in the middle of the field. If there were such a threat, you would have seen a safety closer to the action, which would have opened up a 1-on-1 opportunity on one side of the field.

Naturally, none of these strategies to exploit the Cover 2 Shell can happen without decent blocking from the offensive line to give receivers time to find the gaps and Allen enough time to diagnose the defense. As we know, the Bills offensive line was miserable on Sunday, and they stood no chance of success. As Sean McDermott often says, it is a copy cat league. I am sure that the Jets will start the game borrowing from the Jags playbook. How the Bills combat it this week will determine the outcome of this game.

The Offensive Line – The aforementioned offensive line had themselves a rough week. As if taking heat from the fanbase and media wasn’t bad enough, McDermott was more critical of his team than usual. He emphasized that the team was not ignoring the offensive line woes. When asked specifically about Dion Dawkins, McDermott candidly said that they need to see more consistency from him. When asked overall about the offensive line, McDermott simply said, “I can promise you adjustments are being made”. While it may read as a standard quote, those of us who know McDermott’s demeanor know the intensity inherent in his remarks. Needless to say, I would not have wanted to be a player in the offensive line meeting room this week. The Bills may get Spencer Brown back this week, which should instantly improve this unit on Sunday.

What To Watch For: New York Jets

Mike White for MVP? – Kidding… obviously. In his first career start against the Bengals, White went 37/45 for 405 yards and 3 TDs. The 82% completion percentage is mostly unheard of these days, especially from a player making their first start. White came out on a mission to “let it rip”, and he certainly did that. The numbers he posted are up there among the greatest numbers of all time for a debut.

After getting injured early against the Colts, where he was off to a hot start as well, White will re-enter the lineup against the Buffalo Bills. The Bills defense has been a challenge for young quarterbacks during the McDermott tenure. Mike White talks a big game, saying that he “should have been the first overall pick” in 2018. While the man starting at quarterback across from him has made a stronger case up to this point, the confidence White brings to the table is certainly something Jets fans are enjoying.

Can Saleh Slow Allen? – Last year, before the Bills and 49ers Monday Night Football game, a lot was made of Robert Saleh’s defense. At the time, he was looked at as the “big fish” hire in the upcoming head coach hiring season. Many Bills fans remember that game as one of the best in Allen’s career.

Allen had another breakthrough game in primetime, lighting up Saleh’s defense, the scoreboard, and Twitter all in one game. The everyday NFL fan saw just how big of a leap Allen made in Year 3. In that game, he went 32/40 for 375 yards and 4 TDs. Allen carved up Saleh’s defense with ease last year. Will Saleh be able to contain Allen this time around? With a less impressive defense in New York? If not, we might have to add Robert Saleh to the same list as the Miami Dolphins – things Josh Allen dominates in the AFC East.

Prediction

Bills 35 Jets 17 The sentiment among Bills fans this week is that the Jets are in for a pummeling after last week’s embarrassing loss to the Jaguars. They took their lumps from the loss, but a lot of the national media is staying on the Buffalo Bills bandwagon. The Bills are a great team with great players. Fans and media alike believe that they will correct what they need to correct and get back to their Super Bowl contender ways. The offensive line getting healthier, and Dawson Knox returning to the lineup will help. I do think the Bills put forth a much better showing and come out of New Jersey 3-0 in the division and 6-3 overall.

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