New York Jets, Buffalo Bills will each look different than they did at MetLife Stadium in November
It was only five weeks ago that the 6-1 Buffalo Bills marched into MetLife Stadium to take on the 5-3 New York Jets, with New York pulling off the 20-17 victory.
Despite the relatively short span of time that has passed since then, both AFC East squads are looking quite different heading into their Week 14 rematch.
Here are some of the major lineup changes for each team in comparison to the Week 9 meeting.
Safety: Jordan Poyer returns
All-Pro safety Jordan Poyer missed the previous duel between these two teams with an elbow injury. Poyer also missed the following game against Minnesota, which was another Buffalo loss. He returned in Week 11 and the Bills have gone 3-0 since he came back. Poyer is good to go for the Jets game this week.
Buffalo is yet to lose a game with Poyer on the field this season. The Bills are 8-0 when Poyer plays and 1-3 when he doesn’t.
Poyer’s absence certainly aided the Jets’ victory over Buffalo. His replacement, Jaquan Johnson, led the team with three missed tackles and also committed a facemask penalty that helped set up a field goal drive for New York. Poyer has not committed a penalty this season and is averaging 0.9 missed tackles per game.
Linebacker: Matt Milano (likely) returns
Stud linebacker Matt Milano missed the Week 9 game with an oblique injury; it is the only game he has missed this season. Milano will likely be available this week, although it is not completely certain as he is considered day-to-day with a knee injury. He did not practice on Wednesday.
Milano is an extremely talented player in pass coverage. He has allowed a passer rating of 67.3 on throws in his direction this season, which ranks second-best in the NFL among qualified linebackers.
Like Poyer, Milano’s presence plays a crucial role in the performance of Buffalo’s defense. From 2020 to 2021, the Bills allowed 17.1 points per game when Milano played versus 28.4 points per game when he did not.
The Jets scored 20 points against Buffalo with Milano absent, although the scoreboard underrates the offense’s performance. It was efficient and controlled the clock.
Milano’s replacement, Terrel Bernard, actually played quite well in the Jets game. He made seven tackles while missing just one and only allowed 20 yards in coverage across five targets.
It’s worth noting that Milano’s tackling has taken a noticeable decline since he returned from his oblique injury. Milano missed six tackles over eight games prior to the injury (0.8 per game) but has missed eight tackles over four games since returning (2.0 per game).
We shall see if Milano’s recent tackling woes continue, but most likely, it is nothing more than a mirage for one of the league’s best linebackers. If Milano returns (which seems probable), he will make the Buffalo defense a much more talented unit than the one that took the field in New Jersey.
Right tackle: Spencer Brown returns
Starting right tackle Spencer Brown missed the Jets game with an ankle injury. Brown returned for the ensuing Vikings game and has been back on the field since then.
Brown’s absence against New York paved the way for David Quessenberry to take his place. Going into the game, this looked like a juicy mismatch for the Jets because of what they did to Quessenberry in Week 4 of the 2021 season while he was a member of the Titans. Quessenberry allowed a whopping total of 11 pressures to New York’s defense in a 27-24 overtime loss at MetLife Stadium.
The Jets wound up taking advantage of Quessenberry just like they did the year prior, most notably on Buffalo’s final drive of the game when Huff beat Quessenberry around the edge for a strip-sack on Josh Allen.
Brown’s return means the Jets will not get another chance to beat up on Quessenberry.
However, like Milano, Brown has taken a noticeable step back since returning from his mid-season absence.
Over six pre-injury games, Brown was pass-blocking like a league-average starter. He allowed 12 pressures on 217 pass-blocking snaps, a pressure rate of 5.7% (league average for OT: 5.5%). But over four post-injury games, Brown has allowed 16 pressures on 179 pass-blocking snaps, a brutal rate of 8.9%.
New York’s defensive linemen should be able to beat Brown just as often as they beat Quessenberry.
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Edge rusher: Von Miller exits
Future Hall-of-Fame pass rusher Von Miller is done for the season with a torn ACL. Miller was still an elite edge rusher at 33 years old, as he entered Week 13 tied for eighth among edge rushers with 45 pressures.
Miller came up big in the previous Jets game as he recorded a strip-sack on Zach Wilson, which the Bills recovered. It squashed a drive that would have ended in at least a field goal attempt.
Buffalo has a deep defensive line that will look to replace Miller’s impact by committee. Keep an eye on second-year man Gregory Rousseau, who has the 10th-best pass-rush win rate among qualified edge rushers (21.1%).
The Bills’ defense was great before Miller arrived and it will continue to be great without him, but there is no doubt that their pass rush is less threatening with Miller sidelined.
Cornerback: Tre’Davious White returns
Two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Tre’Davious White tore his ACL in 2021 and missed the first 10 games of 2022. White returned two weeks ago and the Bills have been slowly ramping him up.
In his first game back, White only played 16 snaps (23%). The Bills pumped him up to 33 snaps (61%) in the following game. That was last Thursday, so White has had three extra days to continue preparing for what could be another ramp-up against the Jets this week.
White is playing well over his limited sample so far. On 28 coverage snaps, White has allowed 3-of-4 passes in his direction to be completed for 21 yards and one first down. White has made four tackles and is yet to miss one.
It’s still TBD as to whether White is the same superstar he previously was, as he has only played a tiny sample of reps and is still in the midst of a ramp-up. Still, his arrival undoubtedly raises the ceiling of Buffalo’s defense to a new level. A full-form White can offset the star power lost in Miller.
New York Jets
Quarterback: Mike White replaces Zach Wilson
Zach Wilson actually played quite well in the Jets’ win over Buffalo. New York dialed up a quick-passing, one-read gameplan to simplify things for Wilson and it worked effectively. Wilson got the ball out quickly and decisively as he led an efficient offense.
Unfortunately, Wilson could not build on that game as he responded with a brutal performance in New England. It represented his fourth poor outing in five games. That performance landed him on the bench, with Mike White taking his spot.
While it has only been two games, the Jets’ offense has looked significantly better under White than it did under Wilson.
New York leads the NFL in yards per game over the last two weeks since White took over. The Jets racked up 466 yards against Chicago and responded with 486 yards against Minnesota. Granted, those are two of the league’s lowest-ranked defenses, but each number is still impressive even when considering the competition. New York’s 466 yards against Chicago stands as the most allowed all year by the Bears’ defense, and the same goes for the 486 yards against Minnesota.
White’s worst career game came against the Bills in Week 10 of 2021 when he threw four interceptions and got benched. He must prove he can conquer Buffalo. Still, the Jets have to feel more confident about the QB position going into this Buffalo game than they did going into the last one.
Running back: Zonovan Knight replaces James Robinson
In the previous Bills game, Michael Carter and Ty Johnson were joined in the backfield by James Robinson. It was a decent game for Robinson, as he caught a touchdown on a screen and had some crucial rushes late, but overall, Robinson still gained only 48 yards on 13 carries (3.7 per carry).
Robinson has run the ball poorly since joining New York. In four games, Robinson has gained just 85 yards on 29 carries (2.9 per carry), looking devoid of any explosiveness or power. He’s forced a measly total of two missed tackles and is averaging a minuscule 1.7 yards after contact per attempt.
This week, Robinson will be replaced by a much more dynamic ball carrier: Zonovan Knight.
Knight was hanging around on the practice squad when the Jets and Bills last played. He made his NFL debut three weeks later against the Bears and has quickly emerged as a force for the New York offense. Knight has eclipsed 100 yards from scrimmage in each of his two career appearances and ranks second among all NFL running backs with 12 missed tackles forced over the past two weeks.
With Knight out there instead of Robinson, the Jets’ backfield is far more electric than it was five weeks ago.
Right tackle: George Fant replaces Cedric Ogbuehi
The Buffalo game was Ogbuehi’s second start at the position. Ogbuehi played surprisingly well that day. He threw a number of key blocks in the run game.
This time around, it will be George Fant starting at right tackle.
Fant returned off injured reserve in Week 13 and enjoyed an excellent game against the Vikings’ elite edge duo of Za’Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter. Fant and Duane Brown teamed up to limit both Smith (4.4%) and Hunter (6.0%) to their respective season-lows in pressure rate. Entering the game, Smith and Hunter were averaging a combined 9.5 pressures with a 14.5% pressure rate, but against New York, they combined for 5 pressures with a 5.3% pressure rate.
Fant is undoubtedly an upgrade over Ogbuehi, especially in pass protection. In 2021, Fant was one of the sharpest pass-blocking tackles in football, allowing only 18 pressures on 594 pass-blocking snaps (3.0% pressure rate).
While Ogbuehi surpassed expectations and played well in the last Bills game, I think Fant will allow the Jets to open up their offense more than in the previous matchup. Ogbuehi run-blocked well in that game, but his pass-blocking responsibilities were eased thanks to the Jets’ quick-release passing attack. Ogbuehi was exposed in the passing game when he had to hold up for longer periods of time in both games against New England.
Having a trustier pass-blocker in Fant will allow Mike LaFleur to feel more confident about running long-developing passing plays against Buffalo than he did in the previous game – especially with Miller out and White under center. New York will not have to rely solely on the quick game.
Wide receiver: Corey Davis replaces Denzel Mims
Davis is a substantial upgrade over Mims. He is a better route-runner and provides a much more reliable pair of hands.
The pass-catching woes that plagued Davis in 2021 are a thing of the past. Davis is back to being a sure-handed target. He has a 3.8% drop rate this season while catching 53.8% of his contested targets. Mims has a 25.0% drop rate while catching 20.0% of his contested targets. In fairness, that’s over a small sample size for Mims, but his career numbers are still poor: 11.9% drop rate and a 25.0% contested-catch rate.
New York also benefits greatly from Davis’s elite-level blocking skills for the wide receiver position. While Mims is no slouch in that area, Davis is on a whole different level.
Mims was quiet in the previous Bills game. He caught just one of his four targets for 12 yards. The one reception was a clutch catch in the fourth quarter, but Mims did nothing in the passing game prior to that point. Two of his three incomplete targets were catchable passes that he couldn’t pull in. On the positive side, Mims does deserve credit for his run-blocking effort in that game.
Wide receiver: Elijah Moore is out of the doghouse
Davis’s return is not the only boost New York will be getting at wide receiver in comparison to the first Bills game. The Jets also head into this week with Elijah Moore being more involved in the offense than he was five weeks ago.
Moore was still working his way out of the doghouse when the Jets and Bills last played. He was benched two games earlier and played only 10 snaps in the previous game against New England.
Against Buffalo, Moore played 27 snaps (45% of the plays) and saw zero targets. The Jets essentially used him as a decoy. Moore barely got more snaps than Braxton Berrios (21 snaps / 35%).
But Moore has begun to reemerge in the offense since then. He played 58 snaps on a 68% ratio against the Vikings this past week; each mark was his highest since Week 4. Statistically, Moore had little impact as he caught two passes for 7 yards and had one rush for 10 yards, but on film, you could see the big-play opportunities were there. Mike White missed Moore on a handful of occasions when he was open. White will see these plays on tape and make it a point to reward Moore when he gets open in Buffalo this week.
However, Moore can also do a better job of helping out White. Moore failed to drag his feet in-bounds on a well-thrown sideline pass that would have been a big gain. On one wheel route that had potential, White threw an anticipatory ball in a nice spot, but Moore stopped running his route.
One week earlier, White showed chemistry with Moore as he unlocked the talented receiver after weeks of inactivity. Moore grabbed a 40-yard catch and a 22-yard touchdown on his only two targets.
Between Davis’s return and the gradual improvement of Moore, the Jets figure to have a better group of wide receivers on the field this Sunday than they did in Week 9.
This looks like an improved Jets offense
On paper, the Jets’ offense looks to be in much sturdier shape than it was five weeks ago.
- QB: Zach Wilson → Mike White
- RB: James Robinson → Zonovan Knight
- WR: Denzel Mims → Corey Davis
- RT: Cedric Ogbuehi → George Fant
Meanwhile, the Bills’ defense appears to be stronger than it was in the last meeting.
As we know, football games are played on football fields, not on paper. The Jets need to prove they can maximize the benefits of this seemingly improved offensive lineup by storming into Orchard Park and taking down the Bills’ top-notch defense.