The NFL regular season is a four-month marathon for teams, but for the Buffalo Bills and the first two games of their season, it’s an outright sprint. Just four days after their loss to the Baltimore Ravens, the Bills now must turnaround and take on the New York Jets.
Will the Bills be able to improve enough in their second game to avoid an 0-2 start to the season?
Five things to watch for when the Bills play the Jets at New Era Field:
1) Can Tyrod get back on track?
- On Sunday in Baltimore, quarterback Tyrod Taylor wasn’t able to capitalize on the progress he showed in the summer, and the offense — specifically in the passing game — played well below expectations. The root of the problem against the Ravens for Taylor was an overall lack of throwing it down the field, which he seemed to have corrected in the second half of the 2015 season. in fact if it wasn’t for an unscripted 33-yard throw to Charles Clay that featured a scrambling Taylor, the Bills wouldn’t have completed a throw over 20 yards, and they may not have actually scored a touchdown in Baltimore. The point is, this all needs to change — and in a hurry. Taylor left a lot of yards on the field by not taking advantage of open targets. He settled for an underneath, safe throw far too many times, leaving players like Robert Woods, Clay, and even Sammy Watkins running open on certain plays that he didn’t see. The progress we’ve seen from Taylor through the offseason and training camp indicates that last week’s performance is not the norm, and that it would be fair to expect him to come back at least to the level we came to know from him in 2015.
2) The Jets weakness on defense?
- In order for Taylor to get back on track, he’ll be going up against a talented New York Jets defense that showed well against a talented Cincinnati Bengals team. The Jets had some early success, but then the Bengals ultimately settled in once they went mainly to a three wide receiver set. By doing that, the Jets were forced to bring cornerback Marcus Williams on to the field, and when they do so, it moves starting cornerback Buster Skrine inside to take on the slot receivers. Once the Bengals did that, they targeted Williams on many occasions and had quite a bit of success doing so. That can be a spot to attack for the Bills as well, and if Darrelle Revis is following around Sammy Watkins on Thursday night, that would open a major opportunity for either Robert Woods or Marquise Goodwin to help get the passing attack on track. I would expect that Williams will be a focal point to go after for the Bills.
3) L. Williams, McClendon taking off
- Perhaps another reason to spread out the field a bit more with smaller wide receivers is because of how talented a defensive line the Jets have. Muhammad Wilkerson has been a star for years, Sheldon Richardson is another great piece, and now the Jets have two more extremely talented players to go along with them. Leonard Williams, the former first-round pick out of USC, is now in his second season and flat out dominated against the Bengals on Sunday. He was an indispensable piece to their defensive effort, as was nose tackle Steve McLendon. Against Cincinnati, McLendon showed off great athleticism for the position and penetrated the pocket quite a bit. The Bills offensive line, who actually all had a pretty solid performance against the Ravens, have their hands full against one of the top defensive lines in the NFL. I think the key is Leonard Williams, who has the potential to be the best player on that line, and the Jets will likely use him all over the line of scrimmage.
4) How much will the Bills get from Watkins?
- Early on Thursday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Watkins wants to play on Thursday night and he “probably will.” So, at the very least, the Bills will have their star wide receiver out on the field — even if it may not be the most logical decision coming off just four days of rest. The question, now, is how much he’ll be able to do on the field Thursday night. If he is in fact going to play, just to stay on the safe side, the Bills might want to limit his snap count against the Jets. In Baltimore, Watkins played all but seven snaps, but in order to preserve him best for the rest of the season, it might be smarter to try and give him less — especially considering the extended break after the game is over. With him on the field, he can certainly serve as an occasional threat, and a decoy to keep Revis — who isn’t the same player anymore, but certainly still efficient — attached to him whenever on the field.
5) Keep your eye on Hughes… again
- While the Bills had their struggles in Baltimore on Sunday, left outside linebacker Jerry Hughes certainly did not. Hughes was one of the best players on the field, and helped lead the defense to an incredibly productive play in all three phases. He got to the quarterback successfully (two sacks), he blew up run plays in the backfield, and he successfully thwarted a big play in coverage with his athleticism. He had a matchup to exploit, and he did so to a large degree. Now, in Week Two, Hughes has yet another opponent that he can do quite well against. Without normal starting right tackle Breno Giacomini (placed on PUP list last week), the Jets were forced to go with a combination of Ben Ijalana and Brent Qvale — neither of whom really inspired confidence in their regular season debut while on the field. Hughes is the best pass rusher on the team, and given those opportunities against either player, he could be in line for another big day — and not just at bringing down quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Jets starter has always been good at getting the ball out quickly, but if Hughes can get in the backfield quickly enough, he can force Fitzpatrick into making an erratic pass, which in turn can present opportunity for the Bills defense to change the game. Just like last week, keep your eyes on No. 55.
OUT: S Colt Anderson (foot), T Cordy Glenn (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: TE Charles Clay (knee), WR Sammy Watkins (foot), DL Jerel Worthy (knee), TE Jim Dray (ankle), CB Kevon Seymour (hamstring), QB Cardale Jones (right shoulder)
New York Jets
OUT: QB Bryce Petty (right shoulder)
DOUBTFUL: LB Jordan Jenkins (calf), CB Darryl Roberts (foot)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Bruce Carter (shoulder), LB David Harris (shoulder), DE Muhammad Wilkerson (ankle, toe)
Prediction: Bills over Jets
- Yes, we watched the same Bills team last week, but I don’t think that offensive output was a true representation of what they can be in 2016 — at least, they sure hope it isn’t. The Jets have a daunting defensive line, which is going to make it incredibly tough to get the rushing attack working at a high level. The Bills actually have some favorable matchups against the Jets secondary, which can help make a difference in the outcome. This will likely come down to be a battle between defenses, and Rex Ryan has done notoriously well against Fitzpatrick in his career. At the end of the day, I think the Bills can force the Jets into a turnover or two that will help flip the game, and prevent them from starting the season 0-2.