In the first two games after their bye weeks, both losses, the Bills have put up only a combined 22 points, and have the league’s lowest red zone touchdown percentage (38.89%), and have scored touchdowns on just a third of their red zone possessions the last three games (33.33%).
Head coach Doug Marrone is sticking with Kyle Orton at quarterback despite the recent offensive struggles, as he has only one touchdown pass in the past two contests after nine in his first four starts, and has only completed seven passes for 59 yards on 17 targets to rookie stud receiver Sammy Watkins. That combined, with a running game that has a combined 41 carries for 165 yards (4.o yards per carry) in the two losses but hasn’t been used much compared to the passing game (90 dropbacks for 436 yards, 4.84 yards per pass play), and despite the best efforts of the defense to keep the Bills in the game with 11 sacks and three forced turnovers, the lack of productivity on offense is not enough to beat AFC playoff contenders.
The game versus the New York Jets on Sunday is the definition of a must win, as a loss would put them at 5-6 with games at Denver, at New England, and versus Green Bay upcoming, while a victory would allow them to be tied with a few potential 6 win teams in the AFC, such as the Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals, Miami Dolphins, Houston Texans, and San Diego Chargers for playoff spots. But it won’t be easy, as the Jets beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 10 before going on their bye week, and have allowed only 16 points in the last six quarters, so Buffalo’s offense better fix its issues quickly, or a defeat against a 2-8 New York team will essentially end their season.
Plus, with Michael Vick playing much better than Geno Smith and Leodis McKelvin now on injured reserve, the Bills can’t afford to let Percy Harvin and Eric Decker have the opportunities to make big plays, or it may not matter much at all that Buffalo plays much better and more efficiently on offense.
With ten days to prepare for a Denver Broncos offense that suddenly looks very vulnerable after only scoring 7 points against the St. Louis Rams, the Dolphins will go to Colorado a lot more confident in their ability to stop a quarterback like Peyton Manning than they would early in the season.
In the last seven games, Miami has allowed just 97 points (13.9 points per game), and is tied for third in the NFL in sacks (30), which works well with a secondary that is led by Pro Bowl candidate Brent Grimes, and also has talented players like Reshad Jones and Louis Delmas at safety. Grimes limited Sammy Watkins to three catches for 32 yards in the game last Thursday versus Buffalo, and also had a highlight-reel interception on a pass intended Calvin Johnson two Sundays ago, so he has proven capable of covering elite receivers, something he will have to do versus Demaryius Thomas.
The other cornerbacks for the Dolphins, Cortland Finnegan and Jamar Taylor, have revived their careers this season, and have to continue their success against the secondary players for the Broncos, though with Emmanuel Sanders (concussion protocol) and Julius Thomas (sprained ankle) potentially on the mend, their job may be easier. Regardless of who is playing alongside Peyton Manning, if Miami’s defense can limit Denver’s offense to the point that the Rams did, and use a similar offensive gameplan to the one that helped give them a 22-9 win last Thursday, in which Ryan Tannehill was efficient (26 of 34, 240 yards and two touchdowns) and the run game was productive (125 yards on 24 carries), their chances of going on the road and beating the Broncos go way up.
New York Jets
The last time the Jets played the Bills, a six turnover disaster on offense gave New York a seventh straight loss, and forced them to go to a new quarterback in Michael Vick.
Now, they will be taking the trip to Buffalo with much more confidence coming off a victory against the AFC North-leading Pittsburgh Steelers, and will be well rested due to their bye week. While their record is 2-8, the lack of resources at key positions due to injury such as cornerback (undrafted free agent rookie Marcus Williams and 2010 seventh-round pick Phillip Adams are the starters) and safety (rookie first-round pick Calvin Pryor has had concussion issues), and the quarterback situation has made head coach Rex Ryan’s job a lot harder, and a late-season run with a less than ideal situation could allow him to keep his head coaching position past this season.
After the game at Ralph Wilson Stadium, the rest of the schedule has some opportunities to pick up some wins, as the Jets will then play at home versus the Dolphins, at the Minnesota Vikings, at the Tennessee Titans, home versus the Patriots, and at Miami, where New York had an upset victory last season. The key will be getting the defense to play the way that it did against Pittsburgh (only 13 points allowed) consistently, and having Vick and the offense avoid turnovers, control the clock with the rushing trio of Vick, Chris Johnson, and Chris Ivory, and get occasional big plays from guys like Percy Harvin, Eric Decker, and rookie tight end Jace Amaro in the passing game.
With plenty of close games early in the season in losses to Green Bay, New England, Chicago, and Detroit, the Jets and Ryan have the opportunity in the next six games how big a difference better quarterback would have made early in the season to help entice owner Woody Johnson to stay with the current coaching staff and/or the front office led by general manager John Idzik.
New England Patriots
Darrelle Revis was the most talked about addition in the Patriots’ secondary, but it could be argued that Brandon Browner is the most important.
Since his four game suspension, Browner has gotten more and more playing time to the point where he is now a starter along with Revis, and his unique frame for a cornerback (6’4”, 220 pounds) allows him to matchup with players that Revis cannot. For example, he limited Pro Bowl tight end Julius Thomas to two catches for 33 yards and also got an interception, and played against Coby Fleener when he lined up out wide on Sunday, which allowed Revis to match up with a player like Reggie Wayne that does not have great size or breakaway speed, while having nickel corner Kyle Arrington use his quickness to limit T.Y. Hilton.
Browner’s presence will be huge against the Detroit Lions this weekend, as he can definitely match up physically with Calvin Johnson (6’5”, 240 pounds), allowing Revis to play against Golden Tate for much of the game. The ability of both players to match up one-on-one makes safety Devin McCourty’s job a lot easier, as he has two interceptions on the year, including one against the Colts in which Revis tipped away a pass from Revis that McCourty was able to grab to end a promising Indianapolis possession.
The play of the secondary allows the versatile Jamie Collins to cover running backs and tight ends, and also play defined roles in which he can let his unique speed and athleticism at the linebacker position to be showcased. With the past tests against the two best passing offenses in the NFL being completed with flying colors (only four touchdown passes to three interceptions to Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck), there should be little doubt that New England can again limit a talented offense.
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