The surprisingly competent New York Jets get a shot to improve their standing in the AFC East as they travel to take on their unsurprisingly incompetent divisional rival, the Buffalo Bills this Sunday.
We're over halfway through the 2013 NFL season and the Jets are above .500. In one of the biggest shockers of the season, a team expected to implode under Rex Ryan has started 5-4 and sits only two games behind the first-place Patriots.
The Bills, meanwhile, are in the division's cellar at 3-7 and are coming off three consecutive losses, including last week's 23-10 defeat to Pittsburgh.
Meet the Bills
Rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel returned from a month-long injury absence last week against the Steelers and, well, looked like a rookie. He completed just 56 percent of his passes for 155 yards, a touchdown and an interception. His task of moving the ball against a tough Jets defense will be made more arduous by a banged up receiving corps -- favorite target and fellow rookie Robert Woods has been ruled out and Stevie Johnson is questionable with a groin injury. The Bills will lean on a running game that averages over 140 yards per game, but will need a better performance from running back C.J. Spiller, who rushed for just 23 yards on eight carries against the Steelers.
The Buffalo defense has not been impressive in terms of yardage and points -- categories they rank in the bottom half of the league in -- but do lead the league in interceptions. Much of the credit for those picks goes to the team's ferocious pass rush, which has racked up 33 sacks (second in the NFL). Defensive end Mario Williams leads the charge with 11, and Jerry Hughes, Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams have all gotten to the quarterback at least five times.
Meet the Jets
Rookie quarterback Geno Smith was labeled a poor cold-weather quarterback coming out of the draft, thanks largely in part to a loss in a snowy Yankee Stadium for the Pinstripe Bowl to close his college career. The numbers, however, indicate the West Virginia product will be just fine in the cold: he went 4-1 in games where the temperature dipped under 41 degrees and completed 71 percent of his passes for 1,215 yards, 10 touchdowns and no picks. Nevertheless, with his own receiving corps maimed by injuries and the hard-running duo of Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell to rely on, look for Rex Ryan to lean heavily on the run this week.
The Jets are limiting opponents to a league-best 73.8 yards per game and have dominated the line of scrimmage so far in 2013. While the defensive front gave up 120 rushing yards during a 27-20 win over the Bills in Week 3, 40 of those were to a quarterback. They dominated Spiller, who rushed 10 times for an average of 0.9 yards per carry.
Local Takes: Bills
Brian Galliford at Buffalo Rumblings used some pretty awesome slides to break down how the Jets were able to slow Spiller in Week 3, and concludes that formation monotony and poor execution by the Bills were the major contributing factors:
The first thing worth noting: a lot of Spiller's runs were packaged play, read-option calls out of very similar alignments, and New York was very clearly ready for those plays. E.J. Manuel made some poor reads in the read-option, Buffalo had plenty of blocking breakdowns against the Jets' stout front seven, and Spiller wasn't particularly effective setting up blocks or reading holes, either.
Local Takes: Jets
While Smith hasn't really wowed during his rookie season, John B. at Gang Green Nation writes that he's been a major improvement over Mark Sanchez:
Even though the passing game is below average by NFL standards, it is less inefficient than it was last year. The Jets are getting more when they throw it. One could argue that Mark Sanchez's play left the Jets with minimal chance to win over half of their games last year. While Geno Smith has had numerous ugly moments, they have at least been a little less frequent.
The biggest change has probably been the big plays the offense has produced. Geno Smith already has 29 completions of 20 yards or more and 6 completions of 40 yards or more. That puts him in the top ten in both categories. For reference, Sanchez had 34 completions of at least 20 yards and 8 of at least 40 yards in all of 2012.
Follow the Fun
Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:
C.J. Spiller’s workload is officially a problem. He played 56.7% of snaps in 2012. Currently at 29.8% this season.— Buffalo Rumblings (@BuffRumblings) November 11, 2013
@pjscribe - Bills beat writer
#Bills sign DE Ikponmwosa Igbinosun to the practice squad and release DE Adewale Ojomo— Paul Jannace (@pjscribe) November 12, 2013
@BrianCoz - Jets beat writer
Example: From the Week 8 picks:
The Vikings have won their last five home games. Opponents have scored 15 points or less in three of the four wins Minnesota has this season under the Metrodome's iffy roof. Much of Minnesota's success this season has to do with Adrian Peterson, who is currently on pace for his best season since 2008. Add in a stable quarterback, Percy Harvin getting his wish to be a No. 1 receiver and a stifling defense, and the Vikings aren't such a surprise after all. Tampa Bay is also a surprise, a huge disappointment. The Bucs had 500 yards of offense last week and still lost to the Saints.
The pick: 23-13, Vikings
The Bills opened as 1½-point favorites at home, though the line has since moved to even in many of the major sportsbooks, according to Oddsshark.com.
The Jets head to Baltimore next Sunday to take on the Ravens, while the Bills rest up during a Week 12 bye.