Tale of the Tape: Two keys to a Bills victory vs. Jets

With the fall of the Patriots last Sunday, Buffalo is the de facto “team to beat” in the AFC East.

Not Bill Belichick and his rings, not Rex Ryan and his Jets, but their inconspicuous rival -– Chan Gailey’s Bills. Having already knocked off the Patriots, the Bills (5-2) now have a chance to shut down the Jets (4-3) and stay atop one of the NFL’s most competitive divisions.

But if they are going to do it, they need to maintain two goals:

  • Efficiency in the pass game
  • Discipline versus the Jets’ running attack

Bills pass game

Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick commands a passing offense that is based on timing. They don’t like to run their receivers behind a secondary, but rather underneath in the quick game.

On the outskirts of the Jets’ defense, Fitzpatrick will find two cornerbacks who hover around 200 pounds, Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie; both are strong enough, and athletic enough, to press the Bills’ top outside receivers and throw their passing game off its rhythm.

At the same time, Buffalo could counter by using various bunch formations and stacked receiver sets to force the Jets’ man corners to have to play off and communicate with one another on potential switch releases. Keep in mind, Fitzpatrick doesn’t eye any particular receiver, and not one of the receives for more than 30 percent of his targets (Stevie Johnson leads with 28 percent).

The Bills’ passing attack, as a whole, can’t be asked to shoulder the load, either. Against the Jets’ 25th-ranked run defense (126.9 yards per game), the Bills’ offense must attack this weakness in order to be efficient versus New York’s strength –- their pass D. On early downs, Fred Jackson has to gain yardage and keep Fitzpatrick in manageable situations.

The Jets’ strength is pressuring quarterbacks on third-and-long (opponents convert for first downs on less than 29 percent of their passes versus New York’s blitz), however, the Bills will make them cover by spreading them out. On third down, Buffalo runs four-wide 30 percent of the time, more than any other formation.

At the end of the day, the Jets have limited opposing quarterbacks to a league-low 60.5 quarterback rating, equaling a tough assignment for any signal-caller.

Jets run game

New York’s ground game is a two-faced attack, because it designs more outside runs for LaDainian Tomlinson and downhill blocking schemes for Shonn Greene.

We would expect the Jets to attack off-tackle against Buffalo’s front seven, because the Bills’ strength seems to be inside with Marcell Dareus; he’s been moved to nose tackle in the absence of Kyle Williams but wreaked havoc against Washington in Week 8. Moreover, the Jets’ interior offensive line has lacked push upfront when facing dominant defensive tackles (i.e. Haloti Ngata and Vince Wilfork).

In recent weeks, you have seen the Jets get away from the run. First of all, they have been behind in games. Secondly, there seems to be an effort to run more 11 personnel  (one back, one TE and three wide receivers) to put the ball into their playmakers’ hands (Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress and Dustin Keller). That has shrunk the amount of 21 personnel (two backs, one tight end and two receivers) the Jets play to 28 percent on first down and 22 percent of the time on second down.

But an established run game, and maybe more 21 personnel, could be key to New York’s success, and it will be interesting to see how they try to stress the Bills defensive front with Williams still out. And it’ll be just as interesting to see if Buffalo counters with the same defensive strategies that held the Redskins to 26 rushing yards last week.

On 54 defensive snaps, the Bills showed a 4-3 line 22 times, including seven alignments with Chris Kelsay representing a fifth linemen in the form of a stand-up linebacker. By loading up on the edge, they could discourage New York’s power and outside zone schemes, forcing the Jets to cater more called runs to the middle –- or daring Mark Sanchez to beat them.

Result

With the Jets’ run defense struggling and their offense looking like a 29th-ranked unit on film, it seems from our tape study that their defense will have to score points or gift-wrap field position. You cannot depend on these scenarios in preparation.

Therefore, in our analysis of this game, we believe the Bills can accomplish two goals of efficiency and win early downs with runs of four or more yards; that will, in turn, keep them within range of their intermediate to short passing game on 2nd and 3rd downs.

And that might just keep them ahead in the East.

“Playbook” — the ultimate football Xs and Os show — airs Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m. ET on NFL Network. Check the NFL Network broadcast schedule for further details. Follow “Playbook” on Twitter @NFLN_Playbook.

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