The Lead: Josh Allen vs Sam Darnold Round 2.
Sunday will only be the second time Josh Allen and Sam Darnold go head to head, despite being drafted three picks apart to division rivals in the 2018 NFL Draft. That is because both Josh Allen and Sam Darnold missed the November 11th game last season in the Meadowlands while nursing injuries. The infamous Matt Barkley game saw the Bills route to Jets on their home turf. Allen and Darnold are close friends off the field, but here’s to hoping this game kicks off years of bitter rivalry on it.
Key To The Game: Special Teams
The deciding factor in this game may ultimately end up being special teams. The Bills did nothing to improve their punter position this off-season and now must enter the season with Cody Bojorquez. Bojorquez did not look good in the preseason and proved last season to be a liability with the ball in his hands, turning it over twice in his short stint on the active roster. If Bojorquez cannot overcome those issues, he could put the Jets in favorable field position all day and put the defense in a tough position.
The Bills return game should get a nice boost with Andre Roberts in the fold. The former Jet made the Pro Bowl last season as a return man and could give the Bills a chance to overcome Bojorquez and win the field position game. That is, of course, if the flags do not come a-flying. The Bills continued their streak of multiple special teams penalties a game throughout the preseason. Let’s hope Heath Farewell can clean up the unit before Week One.
Update: Roberts was limited with a quad injury. If Isaiah McKenzie takes his role returning punts, he will need to show the promise he flashed this preseason and better ball security than we saw last season.
On the other side, the Jets did little to replace their reliable kicker Jason Myers. Despite having plenty of money to spare this offseason, the Jets let Myers walk to the Seahawks and replaced him with Chandler Catazaro. Catazaro abruptly retired in the preseason after multiple missed field goals. The Jets claimed Kaare Vedvik off waivers from the Vikings. The Vikings traded a 5th round pick for Vedvik but were forced to cut him after multiple preseason misses including one against the Bills. If he continues to miss field goals that could be the difference in a tight game.
What does the offense need to do?
It will be tough to run the ball up the middle of the Jets defense. Inside they have Dan Williams, Quinnen Williams, Steve McClendon, and Harvey Anderson. Middle Linebacker CJ Mosely is known for his run-stuffing ability as well. Therefore, in order to keep Josh Allen out of 2nd and 3rd and longs, the offense will need to attack the outside in the run game. If Gore and Singletary can break contain on the edge, the Jets defense is weak at OLB with names like Harvey Langi and Jordan Jenkins. Their slot corners, Brian Poole and Arthur Maulet, are not the most willing tacklers either. There should be room to run on the outside to set up manageable down and distances on 2nd and 3rd down.
In the passing game, it would be wise for the Bills to see how far along Josh Allen has come working the middle of the field. As mentioned above, the Jets nickel corner position is a weak spot, and CJ Mosley is not known for his ability to drop back into coverage. Allen will have to work the ball to Cole Beasley and his tight ends over the middle of the field to keep the offense flowing. He just needs to be wary of the very good safety combo of Marcus Maye and Jamal Adams. Trumaine Johnson and Daryl Roberts are not great corners. The Bills will have to take their shots deep in this game. If they can connect on one or two big plays down the field, that will open up room for Beasley and the tight ends even more when the safeties are forced to drop back.
What does the defense need to do?
Ed Oliver and Trumaine Edmunds will have to live up to their draft stock in order for the defense to be successful this Sunday. Jerry Hughes and Trent Murphy will have to focus on setting the edge vs. the Jets offense, more so than rushing the passer. We saw last year that despite his lack of pure athleticism, Darnold can make plays on the move. Le’veon Bell is also a threat in the flat as a receiver.
It will be imperative for the edge to be set to keep Darnold in the pocket and allow Milano/Alexander to have free access to Bell in the flat. If Oliver and Edmunds can generate pressure up the middle, and Darnold has no option to escape or dump off, that could leave ample opportunities for turnovers with Poyer and Hyde roaming the field waiting for Darnold to make a mistake.
Le’Veon Bell is the player the Bills should focus most intently on. Despite a year off, he is still a weapon. In the running game, as mentioned previously, it will be important for the ends to set the edge. This will allow the linebackers space to contain Le’veon Bell both in the run game and in the passing game.
In the passing game, the Bills may be wise to try and double Robbie Anderson. By putting a safety over the top, it limits what the Jets can do and makes Darnold more likely to look towards the center of the field, and with Chris Herndon suspended there are fewer options there. If the Bills can match Enunwa and Crowder on Johnson, Poyer, or Hyde they may have luck shutting down all aspects of the Jets passing game. Milano is a bit of a concern in coverage coming off an ankle injury from last season. He has seemed a tad rusty this offseason.
Prediction: Bills 23, Jets 17
In a game that is in every sense of the word a “toss-up,” I am going with the team whose coach I trust more. In what is most likely going to be a tight game, I have more faith in a McDermott led squad to be disciplined, patient, and ultimately victorious. I envision a Gase team coming out the gate sloppier, being overly aggressive, and making more mistakes than the Bills. This, along with a kicker I feel has at least one miss in him, should leave the Jets slightly behind the Bills all game and unable to eclipse them late.