1. We’ll start with a look at the injuries. Steve Johnson was out of practice on Thursday before participating on Friday with an aggravated groin. It seems to be that at some point this preseason Johnson experienced a re injury in the spot that plagued him last year, although playing through it last season Johnson was able to stay productive against Darrelle Revis. Hopefully the same is the case this year. Brad Smith is probable, and at this point likely to play. If he doesn’t the Bills won’t be running their version of the wildcat. Kraig Urbik is also probable with a lower back injury
For the Jets, DT Sione Pouha and S Eric Smith will both be out, and both injuries should set the Jets back. DE Mike Devito and TE Dustin Keller are both dinged and are listed as probable.
2. In the chapter of the Bills Jets that has featured Chan Gailey’s offense against Rex Ryan’s defense, the contests have been marked by the Bills struggles against physical, play that features quite a bit of press coverage and cover 0. Gailey’s usual quick slants and timing routes have been far less effective than usual as a result. The way you would usually counter this type of play would be by throwing downfield. This is especially true against the Jets, who will start two safeties who are not stellar in coverage (Laron Landry and Yeremiah Bell), and only have one backup, Josh Bush, who himself is questionable with a concussion. If Bush doesn’t play, the Jets will have only two safeties available. Not only is the deep part of the field a vulnerability for the Jets, but is key to opening things up for the rest of the Bills offense.
3. Specifically, how can Buffalo accomplish that? All of the receivers will need to fight every pass play to get off the line of scrimmage without getting hit. As far as attacking the deep and middle part of the field, TJ Graham and his speed were drafted with exactly this in mind. He may run downfield a few times, but I think the key player in this regard will be Donald Jones. Jones has sufficient speed, will likely be on the field more than Graham, and likely won’t be covered by Revis. Thus, if he can get over the top of the defense and catch a few balls, things should open up for the rest of the offense. David Nelson and Scott Chandler will also be key in testing the Jets safeties in the intermediate part of the middle of the field.
4. On the other hand, the receivers can only do so much. Ryan Fitzpatrick will need to be able to deliver the ball down field on time and accurately, which he did a poor job of in the first game against the Jets last year but was able to accomplish in the second game. One of the most questionable parts of Fitzpatrick’s game has been his ability to throw deep, and Sunday we should be able to see if new QBs coach David Lee has improved his game on at all.
But Fitz can only throw deep if he has the time, which is where Cordy Glenn comes in. Last year, Fitz was sacked less than any other QB in the league, but while the pass protection was solid, Fitz didn’t always have the time to stand back and deliver the ball, and would instead get rid of the ball early which lead to Fitz’s 23 picks. Glenn, the rookie LT was drafted specifically to give Fitzpatrick more time, and he’ll be tested right away against Jets rookie 1st rounder Quinton Coples, who will likely see lots of time in for the injured Devito. Coples has played well in the preseason and is a beast athletically, so that will be a key matchup to see how the two highly talented rookies perform against each other.
5. The final part of the Jets defense that is vulnerable is on the flats. The Jets are very physical up the middle due to drafting defensive tackles every year, but are a little bit slow on the edges. Bart Scott was weak in coverage last year, and Bryan Thomas and Calvin Pace are both solid against the run but starting to show their age and lack of speed on the edges. The Bills hopefully will use this as an opportunity to attack the area in between the OLBs and CBs. I also believe that this will lead to CJ Spiller having a larger role in the Bills attack than many expect. And while the Jets are stout up the middle, Kenrick Ellis is not nearly as good as Sione Pouha, so there is a chance the Bills could have some success there. But David Harris will be waiting, who always seems to have a career day against us.
6. However, despite all these opportunities, there shouldn’t be as much pressure on the Bills offense as in the past due to the fact that the Jets shouldn’t be able to get away with 8 minute, grinding drives. On one hand, the Bills will have Kyle Williams back, Mario Williams is as good against the run as he is the pass, and should be in general more competent due to Dave Wannstedt replacing George Edwards. The Jets run game hasn’t exactly looked great either, featuring Shonn Greene. Still. So I think that if the Bills offense gets off to a slow start, it won’t be as much of an issue because the Jets are going to be forced to throw the ball more than they have been in the past. Which leads me to…
7. Dustin Keller, who always seems to have big games against us (mainly because he’s a TE, and all TEs have big games against us). Keller is questionable, so if he plays, he might not be at full speed. But it any event, it’s going to be critical that George Wilson, Bryan Scott, Nick Barnett, and who ever else is charged with covering him be effective.
I think the Jets are a worse team than they’ve been recently, and the Bills will be better. That said, the Jets style of football is particularly well suited to attacking the Bills, so I think those two factors will combine to make this a tough, low scoring game with lots of punts. No matter what, we should instantly learn quite a bit as far as how much the Bills have improved this offseason.
Be sure to check back tomorrow, where we will be live blogging the game!