1 – A different defense
The New York Jets had the worst defense in football last season. Last in total defense and last in points allowed. But after a solid draft class headlined by cornerback Sauce Gardner, veteran free agent additions like safeties Jordan Whitehead and LaMarcus Joyner and continued investment in the defensive front the Jets defense has been transformed into a legitimate top 10 unit.
Ranked sixth overall, the Jets have top 10 rankings against the run and the pass and sit just outside the top 10 in points allowed (11th). Senior reporter for NYJets.com, Eric Allen in an appearance on One Bills Live this week, said the defense is strong from front to back, but believes the major upgrade at cornerback is the biggest difference.
"The dynamic at cornerback has flipped dramatically with the Jets with the addition of Sauce Gardner and DJ Reed," said Allen. "It's allowed the safeties to play a little more free, provide more help to the linebackers in coverage or sometimes play just single high safety if they want to because they feel so comfortable with Reed and Sauce Gardner on the outside."
DT Quinnen Williams has also been a force at defensive tackle, as he was just named AFC Defensive Player of the Month for October after logging 23 tackles, 4.5 sacks, a forced fumble, fumble recovery and batted pass in five games last month.
"Quinnen Williams is one of the most if not the most disruptive interior D-linemen in the game right now," said Bills QB Josh Allen. "C.J. Mosley is playing at a high level again. They've got some young guys flying around. You look at the corners, with their high draft pick, Gardner, he's playing really well right now. We've got to be ready for everything they can throw at us. They don't bring too much pressure. They just let four guys go. So, we've got to have a plan for their front four. When they do bring pressure, we've got to make sure we're protected the right way and making sure we're good on communication and where our hot (routes) are."
New York's big free agent acquisition last year was edge rusher Carl Lawson, who ruptured his Achilles in the preseason and missed all of 2021. He's back healthy and has four sacks in eight games for the Jets along with an NFL high 45 QB hits and pressures.
2 – An offense in transition
New York's offense has been a much different story. Things did look promising at times especially with the dynamic play of rookie RB Breece Hall. But two weeks ago, Hall sustained a season-ending ACL knee injury and the Jets have been trying to find a way to recalibrate.
"I think that's a fair assessment," said NFL on CBS color commentator Charles Davis on ‘One Bills Live’, who has called three Jets games this season and will again on Sunday. "I think what they want to do is a lot of what they've already established hence the trade for James Robinson. James Robinson in a lot of ways is a clone of Bruce Hall in terms of size, style, physicality. The one thing James Robinson doesn't have is that extra gear and then some. But I still think the Jets want to play the same way because Michael Carter's there. He gives them some balance; he can catch it and Michael Carter works best in a tandem backfield. But they're still getting their footing."
Life without Hall has been a major adjustment because the rookie ball carrier was their only consistent big-play threat.
"Breece Hall was outstanding. He was averaging 6.9 yards per touch. He was an explosive play waiting to happen," said Eric Allen. "He was the Jets' best offensive player in their first seven games. But they're in transition right now. They lost their best lineman in Alijah Vera-Tucker. And now receiver Corey Davis is nicked up with a knee injury. He missed last week's game against the Patriots."
That combined with an offensive line that has been shuffled on an almost weekly basis has left the Jets scrambling for continuity and consistency with their execution.
3 – Zach Wilson and pressure
The one trouble spot for the Jets has been their quarterback play. After missing the first three games as he recovered from a knee injury suffered in the preseason, Wilson's play has been inconsistent. His best outing came in Week 5 in a 40-17 throttling of the Dolphins where he had no turnovers and completed more than two thirds of his pass attempts.
But NFL opponents have been very successful in neutralizing Wilson's talents by applying pressure and collapsing the pocket. According to Pro Football Focus, Wilson has been the lowest rated passer under pressure. He's completed just nine passes on 47 attempts when under pressure this season with 10 sacks and a league-high 14 percent of turnover worthy plays. That's one more sack than completion when facing pressure.
"He's not getting better, but that doesn't mean he won't," said Davis. "His snapshot right now is not one that he wants, or the Jets want. In the last ball game, he didn't play very well. I don't care if he threw for 355 yards. The errors that he made were big. In terms of throws, not setting his feet and the ball sails. He's trying to throw it away from it from people and instead of getting it in the fifth row and letting someone have a souvenir, it's in the field of play and McCourty picks it off. Then he throws the last one and there were four Patriots defenders and only one Jets receiver in the picture. He just has not played to the necessary level when they've needed him to throw the football."
Wilson has the lowest passer rating among the 35 quarterbacks in the league with 10 or more starts since 2021 at 71.0. His completion percentage is also the worst in the league at under 55 percent (54.9%).
Unfortunately for Wilson, Buffalo ranks first in the league in opponent completion percentage (58.6%) and first in opponent passer rating since 2021 at 67.9.
Facing the Bills defense as a first or second-year quarterback is also a daunting task. Since 2021, Buffalo's defense ranks first in the following categories
- Points per game allowed 8.5
- Total yards per game allowed 218.9
- Passing yards per game allowed 126.5
- Opponent passing TD:INT 1:9
- Opponent passer rating 54.4
4 – Run game fixes
After giving up over 200 yards on the ground in their 10-point win over the Packers last week, Buffalo's defense is mindful that future opponents may try to employ a similar approach with their ground attack against the Bills defensive front.
"They're definitely looking forward to playing us," said Bills DT Tim Settle, who appeared on ‘One Bills Live’ this week. "Their last couple games they've been able to establish a run game, averaging 130-plus yards. We've got to definitely have that part of our defense sound and keeping that to a minimum. We're just going to continue to play sound defense and get after this young quarterback."
Jets' offensive coordinator, Mike LaFleur, is the brother of Packers head coach Matt LaFleur, who designed the run scheme for their game against the Bills last week. It's logical to assume that one brother called the other for some insight on what worked so well against Buffalo.
The Jets are expected to continue to blend the recently acquired James Robinson into the rushing attack as a tandem piece with Michael Carter after he got five carries last week.
"I would anticipate the Jets trying to get Robinson going more because last week what really stood out to me was they put the ball in Zach Wilson's hands 41 times they only had 15 rush attempts. That is not a ratio that's going to work for the Jets to win."
5 – Hines effect
Buffalo acquired RB Nyheim Hines at the trade deadline earlier this week, a player who adds wide-ranging versatility and breakaway speed to the Bills already high-powered offense. General manager Brandon Beane gave firm indication that Hines could be a factor in the punt return game this week.
"He helps us as a punt returner," said Beane. "We lost (Jamison) Crowder earlier in the year. Shakir has done a really good job but as a rookie, that's a lot and he's still trying to get his feet settled at wide receiver. So, to add a guy with his abilities on punt return, we just thought it made too much sense. Nyheim's done it for a longer time. It's a little easier, a little more natural. And so, if he's healthy and available, that gives us a guy so that Khalil can just focus on his roles that we need him for on offense."
Coach McDermott would not get into how extensive Hines' role could be on offense but did admit he was a challenge to defend when they played against the Colts the last couple of seasons. He didn't rule out the possibility that Hines could see some time on offense.
"We'll just take it one day at a time, really," McDermott said. "He's got to get a feel for us. We get a feel for him. We'll just see how it goes."
Hines sounded eager to master his responsibilities and assignments as he was preparing to spend extra time this week with running backs coach Kelly Skipper.
"I'm learning a new playbook," Hines said. "I've only been in one system, but I got some great help. And the challenge is learning new terminology. Coach Skippers has been finding a good way to find my old terminology and kind of bring it into the new terminology, so I get it. I'm picking up a lot, but I'm going to be studying a lot."