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7 things to watch for in Bills vs. Jets | Week 14

Stefon Diggs (14) touchdown celebration Buffalo Bills vs New York Jets at Highmark Stadium, January 9, 2022. Photo by Ben Green
Stefon Diggs (14) touchdown celebration Buffalo Bills vs New York Jets at Highmark Stadium, January 9, 2022. Photo by Ben Green

1 – The Mike White effect

For the second time in two seasons, Mike White has been asked to come in on a white horse and make the Jets offense functional. He was able to do that for a short stretch of time last season with mixed success. Called in to reprise his role, White has been tremendously productive this season with back-to-back 300-yard passing performances in a win and a loss the past two weeks.

"Mike White cooked against the Chicago Bears and then put up 360 against the Vikings," said CBS SportsHQ, Jets analyst, Leger Douzable in an appearance on 'One Bills Live' this week. "It was some of those big-time throws like the one to Corey Davis on 4th-and-10 with the game on the line on the in-breaking route with the safety on Davis' back. He put it only where Davis could catch the ball. I know the Vikings defense is one of the worst in football, but kudos to Robert Saleh for turning to White."

Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur clearly trusts White with his decision making more than Zach Wilson, who has been a healthy inactive the past two games. LaFleur opened up the playbook to give White a chance to stage a comeback last week when the Jets were down early 20-3.

The biggest beneficiary of White's insertion into the lineup has been rookie receiver Garrett Wilson, who leads all NFL players the past two weeks with 257 receiving yards. But there is a way to effectively defend White according to NFL Network analyst Michael Robinson, who appeared on 'One Bills Live' this week.

"What Mike White sees pre-snap needs to be totally different from what he sees post-snap," said Robinson. "That alone will force a little bit of hesitation from Mike White. Josh Allen, Ken Dorsey and the Bills' offense has a lot to do with this. In order for Mike White to be effective the Jets have to play the game a certain way. Throwing the ball 57 times isn't the way to do it. I think they want to run the football and lean on the run game and be explosive with the pass on play action and play strong defense. Josh Allen could score every time they have the football and put up points and talk Mike LaFleur out of their run game and play action and get the pass attempts up around 60 and that's when Mike White will throw you one."

And Buffalo's defense will look considerably different in their second meeting with the Jets. Back in Week 9, the Bills did not have All-Pro cornerback Tre'Davious White, All-Pro safety Jordan Poyer or LB Matt Milano in the lineup on defense. Poyer and White will be in the lineup with Milano more of a question mark with a knee injury.

2 – Red Zone and third down issues

As productive as Mike White has been in racking up passing yards for the Jets the past two games, he has just one victory to show for it. Part of the problem has been the offense's red zone touchdown efficiency, or lack thereof.

Over the past two games with White in the lineup, the Jets have scored touchdowns on just two of their eight red zone possessions, with one against the 26th ranked red zone defense (Chicago) and one against the 20th ranked red zone defense (Minnesota).

"On offense lack of execution in the red zone has been the culprit," said Douzable. "I think Mike LaFleur would like to have a few play calls back. Zonovan Knight was running with purpose, and they went away from him in the red zone last week."

New York went 1-for-6 in the red zone against the Vikings and rank 26th in the league with a touchdown rate of 48.6 percent this season.

Meanwhile, Buffalo's defense has been a top five red zone defense for much of the season. They currently rank third in the league allowing opponents to score just over 47 percent of the time (47.2%).

Third down conversions have also been tough to come by on a consistent basis. The Jets offense hasn't been able to reach a 40 percent conversion rate on third down in six of their last seven games. Last week they went 3-16 (18.75%) against the Vikings.

3 – Ground effects

Buffalo's run game has become a more potent part of the team's offense over the past month, and it's been largely executed without the rushing exploits of Josh Allen. In their last four games, the Bills have three of their four highest rushing attempt outings including last week's season-high 37 carries.

"I felt like they lined up last week and said we're going to control the game with the run game," said NFL Films Senior Producer, Greg Cosell in his weekly appearance on 'One Bills Live.' "We'll throw it, but Josh Allen won't have to be Superman for us to win.

"They had a 14-play 56-yard drive in the second quarter that took almost eight minutes off the clock, they had eight runs and six passes. Then in the fourth quarter they had the 15-play, 96-yard drive that had eight runs and seven called passes. I think this is something they feel they have to do in order to become a better team overall. It's hard to play every week and ask your quarterback to be special all the time."

While running back Devin Singletary has been a constant throughout the season, rookie James Cook and trade acquisition Nyheim Hines have seen their snap counts steadily increase as the season has worn on.

"Hines played more snaps than he had in any other game with the Bills," said Cosell of the Bills win at New England. "They had 13 snaps of the pony package with Hines and another back in the game. It was Cook and Hines 12 times, it was Singletary and Hines one time. On 12 of those 13 plays they put Hines in motion. They basically ran the ball from the pony package. They started to do some more things. They want to utilize these concepts to help their offense. Cook's 28-yard run last week came out of the pony package."

Cook's snap count doubled from what it had been to 32 snaps against the Patriots, and he delivered with 105 total yards from scrimmage.

The Jets rank 12th in run defense and have a formidable front. But even if handing the ball off isn't productive, Cook, Hines and Singletary are all more than capable of catching passes out of the backfield. They've combined for 10 receptions over the last two games, with Cook accounting for six of them last week alone.

That's why Michael Robinson foresees an even larger role for Cook going forward.

"It could be a lot bigger role," said Robinson. "I can envision more of that pony package with Cook and Devin Singletary in the backfield at the same time with three wide receivers, or two receivers and Dawson Knox. I don't know how a defense defends that.

"The more touches that Cook gets and the more speed and acceleration he puts on tape, that's going to force defenses to pay more attention to him. And then Ken Dorsey can use him as a chess piece to scheme up some matchup opportunities."

4 – Bam-Bam

Two weeks prior to the Jets' first meeting with the Bills they lost rookie running back Breece Hall for the season to a season-ending ACL injury. It took a few weeks, but New York may have found their best possible replacement in rookie running back Zonovan "Bam" Knight.

Over the past two weeks, Knight has rolled up 100-plus scrimmage yards making him just the second undrafted rookie in the common-draft era with at least 100 scrimmage yards in each of his first two career games joining Phillip Lindsay. Knight got the start last week and had 20 touches in the game with 15 carries for 90 yards and five receptions for another 28.

"I honestly feel that he deserves to start," said Douzable. "He runs with purpose. He's a one-cut get downhill runner. That's what you need in Mike LaFleur's system. He makes a decision and runs through contact and can catch out of the backfield. He got the start last week. It would not surprise me to see him get the start again versus Buffalo."

Knowing the Jets' offensive scheme is centered around the run game, Knight is likely to get a lot of carries early to see if they can set up short down and distance for White come third down. The down-to-down consistency in the run game is something that the Jets are still trying to capture.

"Bam Knight ran for 90, but one went for 48 yards, so the other runs combined on his 14 carries averaged three yards per carry. And that starts up front. Hopefully they can bring that continuity with that offensive line and that zone scheme."

5 – Diggs closing in on rare single-season double

The Bills offense may have shifted to being more varied, but their top wideout still drives the team's passing game. Stefon Diggs ranks second in the league in receptions with 91 and is third in receiving yards with 1,202.

He'd need to put together a pretty productive day against the Jets' sixth-ranked pass defense, but if he can pull in nine catches on Sunday, he'd become just the sixth player ever to record at least 100 receptions and 1,200 receiving yards in three-or-more consecutive seasons.

The only other receivers in league history to accomplish the feat are Antonio Brown, Hall of Famer, Marvin Harrison, Herman Moore, Hall of Famer, Jerry Rice and Michael Thomas.

Diggs, who has been impressed with the offense's ability to diversify their attack of late, believes things may swing back to their passing game sooner rather than later.

"We've got the backs that can make explosive plays, they just do a great job," said Diggs of the team's recent surge in rushing production. "I feel like it helps the passing gagme. I anticipated it, having been something we've been working on. You never know, we might even start passing the ball a little bit."

Nine receptions by Diggs would also make him the first player to ever accomplish at least 100 receptions and 1,200 yards in each of his first three seasons with a team.

6 – Quinnen is winning

The Jets' defensive front has been the linchpin on which the team's success hangs. When they're disruptive and productive, New York often puts themselves in a winning position. Ranked sixth in the league in sack percentage, the leader on that front has been DT Quinnen Williams with a team-leading nine sacks.

"Robert Saleh and this Jets team is all about defense. They have a great secondary. They know how to get after the passer and what scares me about this matchup for the Bills is Quinnen Williams," said NFL Network analyst, Michael Robinson. "That dude is having an All-Pro season. He's a guy that's a playmaker at the three-technique position. He has the ability to split double teams. Offensively, from a run game standpoint, the Bills have to get their double teams ready to double team that guy. Don't worry about going to second level, make sure you take care of Quinnen Williams in the run game."

The Jets' front four was a problem for Josh Allen in the first meeting. Since Week 4, the Jets defense has recorded the second-most sacks in the league with 31. Five of them came against Josh Allen in Week 9.

"They were a pain in Josh Allen's side," said Jets' analyst Leger Douzable. "They had five sacks and forced two interceptions and it should have been three. Jordan Whitehead dropped another one later on in the third quarter. Some of those plays you don't routinely see Josh Allen make. But this defense gets after you, and they got after Josh. It's the game he got injured when Bryce Huff got by David Quessenberry and hit Allen's elbow as he tried to throw. If Dawkins can't go this week, I think the Jets like their situation with Spencer Brown and Quessenberry on the outside."

"They're a high effort group. They're playing really good defensive ball right now," said Bills QB Josh Allen. "They've got some playmakers over there. And obviously last game, I didn't feel like I played very well. I made some boneheaded decisions, but learning from those and just trying to make good
decisions, and end every drive in a kick, whether it be a punt, field goal, or a P-A-T."

7 – Fourth quarter warning

On more than one occasion this season, the Bills have put distance between themselves and their opponents on the scoreboard from the second to third quarters where they've collectively outscored their opponents 194-64 for a point differential of plus-130.

Even if they're able to do that on Sunday against the Jets, Buffalo shouldn't think the game is over. That's because New York has outscored their opponents in the fourth quarter 94-40 this season.

"They lead the league in fourth-quarter point differential," said ESPN.com Jets beat reporter, Rich Cimini, in an appearance on the 'Bills by the Numbers' podcast. "It's been one of the keys to their success. In five of their seven wins, the game has been decided in the fourth quarter. They've had some good halftime adjustments and their roster depth has a lot to do with it. They've kept players fresh into the fourth quarter, particularly with their defensive line where they rotate eight to 10 players. They get better in the fourth quarter. They run the ball better in the fourth quarter as well, which is why that point differential is where it is."

The Jets' defense has held their opponents to just a single touchdown in the second half over their last three games, which came last week in the fourth quarter on a Justin Jefferson touchdown. The only other points allowed in the second half by the Jets the past three weeks came on a punt return touchdown by New England at their end of their Week 12 game against the Jets' special teams unit.

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