NY Jets, Bills, Robert Saleh, Sean McDermott
New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, Robert Saleh, Sean McDermott, Getty Images, Jet X Graphic

Coming off a crushing defeat to their division rivals, the Jets face a far more fearsome foe this week

This was a scenario that the New York Jets did not want to face.

Prior to the Week 8 matchup with the Patriots, several podcasters at Jets X-Factor referred to the game as a “must-win.” It may have seemed melodramatic to call it that with the Jets standing at 5-2.

However, after the 22-17 defeat to New England, the Jets stand in the exact position that our podcasters feared. The mighty, AFC-leading, Super Bowl-favorite Buffalo Bills come into town, forcing the Jets to either beat them or face a two-game losing streak heading into the bye week. After the bye, the Jets face the Patriots once more in Foxborough, a tough matchup that could threaten the Jets’ playoff aspirations that shone brightly through seven weeks.

Buffalo truly feels like Big Brother the way the Patriots have under Bill Belichick. The Bills have few flaws and a dominant dual-threat quarterback who is the leading MVP candidate right now. Buffalo seems to be on a collision course with history, and it will be tough for the Jets to stop them.

That being said, anything can happen on Sunday in the NFL. The Jets know that better than anyone, having beaten teams they were not expected to beat each of the last three seasons, often as the far inferior opponent. This year, their defense has been good enough to hang with anyone thus far, lending more optimism that the Jets can pull off the unthinkable.

What would need to happen for the Jets to escape the Bills with a victory?

Win the turnover battle by at least +2

The Jets are 4-0 when they have less than two turnovers and 1-3 when they have at least two turnovers. That one victory was against Pittsburgh, when Zach Wilson threw two picks but the Jets nabbed four of their own.

Furthermore, when the Jets win the turnover battle this season, they’re 4-0, but when they lose it, they’re 0-3. The one tie was against Cleveland, when Joe Flacco‘s fumble was balanced out by Ashtyn Davis‘s pick.

In this game, winning the turnover battle likely won’t be enough. The Bills are so explosive on both sides of the ball that there are no guarantees to get enough points off turnovers to counterbalance them. In my mind, the only way the Jets win this game is if they force multiple turnovers while protecting the ball themselves. With the way Wilson played against New England, that appears to be a tall task.

The Bills are fourth in the NFL in defensive DVOA this season, including fourth against the pass and fifth against the run. They’re also tied for seventh with an 8.2% adjusted sack rate and ninth with 21 total sacks. The clincher: the Bills are tied for third in the NFL with 14 total takeaways, including 11 interceptions (1st).

Still, they’re eighth with a +2 turnover differential, which means they’ve turned it over 12 times themselves, the sixth-most in the NFL. Josh Allen is tied for second among all QBs with 13 turnover-worthy plays, but only six of them have actually turned into interceptions.

This is one of the only ways to beat the Bills: take the ball away and don’t give it back.

Disguise coverages

Josh Allen has absolutely murdered defenses these last few years by exploiting the holes in coverage. If teams play man coverage, he throws deep crossing routes or runs the football himself. If they play zone, he finds the defender in high-low conflict and hits his receiver.

The Miami Dolphins beat Josh Allen this season by constantly mixing up coverages so that he didn’t know where their pressure was coming from or who was dropping. They’d start with a Cover-0 look, fake coming on Allen’s hard count, and then drop out of it post-snap; they shifted high and low safeties constantly, and they made Allen think for that extra beat of time.

Like Tom Brady, who’s been nearly impossible to fool throughout his career, Allen has become a master at reading and beating coverage. The Jets have enough of a pass rush and good enough coverage to try to get after Allen if he needs to think for that extra beat or two. Disguise is not a forte of the Jets’ defense, but they’re going to need to follow that game plan in order to beat the Bills.

Limit the number of Buffalo drives

This is actually a combination of offensive and defensive strategies.

When an offense is high-flying, you don’t want to give them that many drives. Per Football Outsiders, the Bills rank first in the NFL with 44.5 yards per drive, second with 2.81 points per drive, and second with a .783 drive success rate. They’re also tied for the Chiefs with the most offensive plays of 20+ yards with 37. Considering that level of efficiency, the Jets don’t want the Bills to have that many opportunities to score.

There are a number of ways to get to that place: one is, obviously, to run the football effectively and control the time of possession. The Jets have not actually done the latter well this season, as they’ve won the time of possession battle just twice in eight games (although, against Pittsburgh, they lost by one second).

Another way to limit the Bills’ possessions, though, is to force them to go on long drives. For all of the Patriots’ success on third down early in the game against the Jets, their offense only managed 13 total points when they didn’t start the drive in field goal range. The Patriots ate up large portions of the second and third quarters with their drives and came away from those with 10 points.

As Robby Sabo has pointed out, the Jets have gone with a two-high, keep-everything-in-front-of-them, bend-but-don’t-break defense this season, and it has worked. They are tied for fourth in the NFL with 5.8 yards per pass attempt allowed and second with 3.8 yards per carry allowed.

Per NFL Next Gen Stats, the Jets are tied with the Bills for allowing the fourth-fewest plays of 20+ yards, with just 22. They’re second with 26.6 yards per drive allowed, sixth with 1.71 points per drive allowed, and fourth with a defensive drive success rate of .672, per Football Outsiders.

In this game, the last two statistics are going to be very important. Allowing Buffalo to move the ball while limiting them to field goals will serve two purposes: clearly, to bend but not break and limit the damage, but also to kill some of the Bills’ own clock time.

The game that always comes to mind when discussing this kind of strategy is the 2007 NFC Divisional Playoff between the Giants and Cowboys. The 13-3 Cowboys, led by Tony Romo, Marion Barber, and Terrell Owens, were a far superior team to the 10-6 Giants. However, Dallas went on two 90+ yard touchdown drives, which turned out to be their only two touchdowns of the game. Although the Cowboys dominated time of possession 36:30-23:30, they had just nine drives, the same number as the Giants.

Obviously, the Giants’ defense did a good job limiting the output of the Cowboys on those nine drives, as only three resulted in points. However, New York did not force any turnovers in that game; they simply kept everything in front of them and did not allow the Cowboys the quick score against them.

I believe that this is the kind of game the Jets will need to play. Let Josh Allen dink-and-dunk his way downfield. Make him chew the clock to get his scores. This strategy will work only if the Jets don’t turn the ball over, but it’s often the best way to stop a high-flying offense.

Hit the Bills’ skill position players hard

Another Giants game that comes to mind is the 1990 Super Bowl, when the high-flying Bills offense met Bill Belichick’s defense. Belichick crafted a game plan that was designed to punish the Bills’ receivers, especially Andre Reed. They sat back, let Thurman Thomas run the ball, and converged on all throws in front of them, laying hard hit after hard hit. The Bills’ receivers were reluctant to make catches over the middle.

Scott Norwood ensured that this game plan would go down for posterity, but it went into the Hall of Fame for its brilliance in stopping one of the greatest offenses in NFL history. The Bills scored just 19 points, and the backup QB-led Giants won the Super Bowl.

The Jets have some thumpers on their defense. Quincy Williams is the headliner, but Kwon Alexander, C.J. Mosley, Jordan Whitehead, and D.J. Reed have shown their willingness to throw their bodies around over the middle. This cannot come at the cost of wrapping up, which cost the Jets dearly on a 35-yard run by Rhamondre Stevenson against the Patriots. Still, if they can lay the wood on the Bills’ players, they should do so early and often.

Target Taron Johnson in coverage

The Bills’ backend coverage is excellent, even with the loss of Micah Hyde for the season. Jordan Poyer is still a top safety, and the Bills seem to be able to plug-and-play their cornerbacks despite Tre’Davious White’s prolonged absence.

The Bills have activated White this week, but there has been no word on whether he will play or not. If he does not play, Taron Johnson is the Bills’ most vulnerable coverage man at nickel corner.

Johnson is allowing 1.24 yards per cover snap, which is in the 16th percentile among 85 qualified cornerbacks (min. 170 coverage snaps). By contrast, Dane Jackson is in the 84th percentile at 0.68, and Kaiir Elam is in the 44th percentile at 1.01. Christian Benford, who missed some time and does not qualify, has a mark of 1.17, which would place him in the 36th percentile.

The reason I’d go after Johnson, beyond the yards per cover snap, is who the Jets play in the slot. Though Mike LaFleur had said that he was considering playing Elijah Moore in the slot more, and Moore did play four of his seven passing snaps there against the Patriots, it was too small of a sample size to draw any conclusions. However, Garrett Wilson has played well in the slot this season, and Moore has the skills to do damage there, as well.

When Johnson is covering the slot, he’s slightly better in yards per cover snap, in the 29th percentile despite allowing a higher total of 1.47. That number is still poor enough to make him the primary target in coverage.

The Jets had gotten away from Wilson over the past few weeks, but they went back to him to the tune of six receptions (seven targets) for 115 yards against New England. Wilson is going to need to succeed again for the Jets to win.

Note: you may wonder why covering Stefon Diggs is not listed. I thought that goes without saying, but beyond that, I imagine it will appear on a list of key matchups against Buffalo, likely coming from Michael Nania. Therefore, I decided to leave it out of this article.

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Rivka Boord has followed the Jets since the age of five. She is known locally for her in-depth knowledge of football. She hopes to empower young women to follow their dreams and join the sports conversation. Boord's background in analytics infuses her articles with unique insights into the state of the Jets' franchise and the NFL as a whole.
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mlesko73
mlesko73
27 days ago

As you said, “on any given Sunday…”, but this is a tall order.
Taking the air out of the ball is essential; no track meets (not sure we’re capable on our end anyway).

DFargas
DFargas
27 days ago

In the last game of last season, the Jets hung in pretty well against Buffalo, losing 27-10, the same score by which the Packers lost last week. But the Jets have improved far more since last year than Buffalo has, in my opinion. One feature of the last game, as I recall, is that Echols did very well in holding Diggs down to reasonable yardage, and we can expect whomever the Jets put on him this time to do at least as well. Another hopeful sign is that Packers last week gashed the Bills on the ground pretty consistently. I think the maddening loss to Pats last week could be great preparation for this game, and I expect it to be competitive.

Jonathan Richter
Jonathan Richter
27 days ago

There’s only one way to win this game. White tops and black pants.

Last edited 27 days ago by Jonathan Richter
Jimjets
Jimjets
27 days ago

Great work Rivka.

Robert Fazio
Robert Fazio
28 days ago

Rivka your analysis is always excellent 🏈

Peter Buell
Peter Buell
28 days ago

As I’ve mentioned in the past, trades and some formations I’m not to well versed in.
Without Corey Davis it seems our wide outs play better in the slot.
Is there such a formation as a 2 slor WR with say Conklin moving outside or let’s say if all healthy
Moore and Wilson on the inside on either side with Davis and Conklin on the outside again on either side.
Is that possible….Thanks folks

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28 days ago

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Jets71
Jets71
28 days ago

Keep Josh Allen in the pocket as much as possible. I saw Mac Jones escape too many times to keep drives alive or turn a “would be sack” into a couple yard gain.

I like it, I think they will win. Buffalo didn’t look great in the second half last week and they have shown a tendency to turn it off and on based on who they are playing. I don’t think they will try to sleep walk through this one but they can get careless too.

I fear their pass rush. Yes, Zach was bad last week, he also faced more pressure than any QB who played last week. That’s not a good combination for getting the offense going.

I say Zach bounces back, and impresses people this week.

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28 days ago

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wa2k99
wa2k99
28 days ago

Here’s the answer. Kidnap Josh Allen. End of article.

dudizt
dudizt
28 days ago

I really think our D matches up well and can keep us in this game. My big worry is Josh Allen’s scrambles. We need to be disciplined in rushing the the lanes and holding contain while still creating pressure.

Hopefully the offense can produce some and we can pull off the upset.

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