When the Bills last met the Jets back in Week 10 things were much different. Buffalo was finally healthy after a much needed bye, two weeks prior, while New York was dealing with some injuries of their own. The Jets were also in the midst of a midseason slump that saw them eventually drop four of five between Weeks Seven and 11. This time around, Buffalo’s injuries have reached egregious levels and New York is hot as can be – having won five straight games coming into Sunday. There’s a chance to potentially keep New York out of the playoffs with a win so the Bills have something to motivate them, but they’ll certainly have their hands full.
1) The Bills must get pressure on Ryan Fitzpatrick
As a unit the Jets’ offensive line has given up the second fewest sacks this season with 21 for an impressive 1.40 per game average. They’ve also allowed just 66 total QB hits this season. Those numbers prove that Fitzpatrick has been well protected in the pocket, allowing him the time to stand in, scan the field and make the best throws downfield. Rattling him with pressure is something opposing teams have not had much success doing this season, but it’s crucial, especially with how well Fitzpatrick is playing right now. Over the Jets five-game win streak Fitzpatrick has thrown for 1, 525 yards, 13 touchdowns and just one interception.
Pressure on Fitzpatrick leads to turnovers – something Buffalo took full advantage of back in Week 10 when they picked him off twice. When the Jets were right in the middle of that midseason slump, Fitzpatrick was sacked seven times throughout the four losses in five games and threw four picks. Also, seven of his 12 total interceptions have come in Jets’ losses. In their first meeting Buffalo was able to muster up two sacks to go along with their two interceptions. Given the tear that Fitzpatrick is on right now Buffalo has to have a similar if not better outing against him. The only problem is with so many injuries on defense where do the Bills turn to generate that pass rush? Last week against Dallas the depleted unit didn’t earn a single sack and registered just one quarterback hit. Against Kellen Moore that’s okay, but against Fitzpatrick right now, that will get you burnt. Maybe the Bills will get one final, all-out effort from defensive end Mario Williams before he is likely cut this off-season, but they’ll need to count on more than that.
2) The Bills must find success running the football
New York continues to boast the league’s top run stopping defense this season, surrendering just 81.8 yards per game this season. That said, back in Week 10 Buffalo was able to scorch the Jets’ defense for 148 yards – the most they’ve given up all season in a single game. Obviously the Bills had a very healthy LeSean McCoy back then – who accounted for 112 of those yards himself – and they won’t on Sunday. But with how strong both Karlos Williams and Mike Gillislee have been running the ball in McCoy’s absence there is reason for to be optimistic about Buffalo doing much of the same against the Jets in their rematch. For the team that leads the league in rushing with 2,319 yards for a stout 154.6 ypg. average it should be manageable. The Bills have gone over 150 yards rushing in each of the last four games including two straight contests with over 200 yards on the ground (240 and 236) and they’ve only been held under 100 rushing yards twice this season. Even for a defense that bests the league in stopping the run, the Bills present a challenge. In four of New York’s five losses this season they’ve given up over 100 yards rushing to the opposing team, proving just how critical it is for the Bills to dominate on the ground tomorrow afternoon.
3) The Bills must limit WR Brandon Marshall
With the recent success of Fitzpatrick has come similar dominance from his top wideout Brandon Marshall. Over this five-game win streak the 10-year veteran has tallied 39 receptions for 576 yards and six touchdowns. Outside of the 74 yards he recorded against the Cowboys in Week 15, Marshall has gone over 100 yards in each of the other four games. He’s up there right now as one of the hottest receivers in the league behind Doug Baldwin so Buffalo absolutely must find a way to slow him down.
That’s easier said than done – sure they did it in their earlier meeting where Marshall was held in check for just 23 yards and a single touchdown on three catches, but this time around the Bills are missing their top corner in Stephon Gilmore and while rookie, CB Ronald Darby is expected to play he missed last week with a groin injury, leaving him still a bit banged up for Week 17. Ideally he isn’t bothered by the injury and can close out his solid rookie campaign with a shutdown performance on Marshall – a Bills’ win depends on it. Obviously even if they slow down number 15 they have Eric Decker to worry about as well, but Marshall is the bigger threat so taking him away is half the battle.